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*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

After our late night in Windsor, we slept in and had a leisurely morning. We went down for breakfast and were at first disappointed by what looked to be a simple continental buffet with a few pastries and some juice. However, we quickly learned that this was only the first part and a full English breakfast soon followed with eggs and meats and other delicious stuff.

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A true English breakfast for our final morning in the UK.

Our hunger satiated, we went back to our room and began the laborious final packing of our suitcases for the trip home. With some concern over the weight of the bags, we checked out of the hotel and set off to the airport. After refueling the rental car and hitting up one last Tesco grocery store, we arrived on the airport grounds despite some odd routing from Samantha. However, we then drove at least 10 more miles in what felt like circles around Heathrow as we followed the signs for the rental car lot! At least we got to see lots of airplanes.

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We drove around and around Heathrow airport before we finally found the rental car return….at least we got to see cool airplanes!

We returned the rental car and learned that the attendant was completely unaware of the rules and equipment required for driving in France. Apparently, it just isn’t that common for people in London to make that drive. We then boarded a shuttle and promptly found ourselves on route to the wrong terminal (somehow we had missed the distinction in shuttles and terminals). Thankfully, the shuttle driver was awesome and he made a special trip to take us to the correct place after dropping off the other passengers.

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Our ridiculous path for the day.

The lady at the ticket counter didn’t even seem to notice or care that Rose’s bag was a few pounds overweight. Philip, on the other hand, had a few issues as his camping backpack needed to go to a different counter to be put into a larger plastic bag due to the dangling straps. We walked with the agent across the ticketing area toward the other counter, passing a large Indian family along the way. As we passed the group, an incredible stench of body odor hit us like a brick wall. It was bad enough that the British (aka polite) ticketing agent commented on it to us once we were out of earshot of the group.

To our dismay, there was an issue when we got to the second counter, necessitating a trek back past the smelly group to the first counter followed by yet another return voyage. Needless to say, we were grateful once Philip’s bag disappeared down the luggage conveyor and we could move along to security and fresher air.

The line at security was thankfully short and before much longer we were headed to our gate. Philip made a quick stop to grab some food (Moroccan meat balls), which we snacked on at the gate as we waited for our plane. The flight back to the US was long, but uneventful. We sat next to a lady from Phoenix who had been on a cruise and enjoyed chatting with her for a while. A marathon of movies filled the remainder of our flight time to Houston.

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Pretty sure this is the west coast of Ireland down below our airplane.

The line at Houston Customs was very long, though interestingly the response was always “20 minutes” any time we asked an attendant about how long it would take to get through. Philip spent a while trying to download and use the heavily advertised Mobile Passport phone app that would let us bypass much of the line, but eventually gave up as the back end system was having major issues presumably due to high demand.

We were getting worried about catching our connecting flight at this point, so Philip talked to an agent and she instructed us to get into a different smaller line so we wouldn’t miss our flight. This certainly gained us some dirty looks from several other passengers. Ultimately, we made it through customs with plenty of time and arrived at our gate for the final leg of our trip back to Denver.

The flight home was uneventful but felt excruciatingly slow after traveling for so long and with home so close. To add to our frustration, the baggage claim at DIA kept getting stuck and we waited at least 20 minutes as mechanics kept attempting to solve the problem. Finally, an announcement directed us to a different carrousel and our bags arrived there almost immediately. On the shuttle ride to our car, we had a fun time chatting with a large family from Aurora who had just visited Disney in Orlando. At 10:45pm, we pulled into home and were greeted by two very, very excited puppies!

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We couldn’t go an entire trip without at least one graph! Here is the breakdown of how much we moved around each day and by what mode of transport.

We had a blast in Europe and can’t wait for our next trip somewhere new and exciting. We are both surprised by how much we loved France, especially given its reputation of not being particularly friendly to foreigners. We aren’t certain what comes next but we will be sure to write about it here when the time comes!

Summary

  • The grand tour of Heathrow Airport’s roadways
  • Taking a ride on the wrong shuttle bus
  • Dirty looks in Houston
  • Home at last!

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 4.3 miles | 9,004 steps
  • Distance in Car: 19.6 miles

Grand Total Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 145.35 miles | 311,727 steps
  • Distance in Car: 1,219 miles
  • Distance on Bus: 163 miles
  • Distance on Train: 31.4 miles
  • Distance on Boat: 38.1 miles
  • Distance on Bike: 23.4 miles
  • Grand Total Distance: 1,620 miles
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The total journey. East out of London, across the ferry for a clockwise loop of north east France, and back across the channel tunnel before completing the clockwise loop back to London.

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*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

NOTE: Our sincerest apologies that this post is 3 months late. We aim to be much more timely on our next journey.

It’s finally here, our last full day of the trip. We are both excited to be heading home soon and disappointed that our travels must soon come to an end. If it weren’t for our two dogs waiting for us in Colorado and the unfortunate need to earn some sort of income, we could happily travel like this for significantly more time.

Anyways, we awoke after sleeping in a bit, packed up, and were out the door of the hotel around 9am. We made a necessary stop at the Tesco Express grocery store in town to get our morning pastries and then set off the few miles to the city of Bath. Our intent was to first visit the Bath Abbey before checking out the famous Roman Baths from which the town gets its name.

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Bath Abbey in all of its Gothic glory.

We arrived at a Parking Garage on the outskirts of the city center and soon discovered that it only accepted coins (no cards, no paper money). Fortunately, we were able to scrounge up enough coinage to cover our stay, though only by digging deep into the recesses of Philip’s backpack. The walk to the abbey took only a few minutes and we noticed that the city was already getting crowded with tourists even at this early hour. Bath is only about an hour and a half from London and seems very popular for day trips from the capital.

We chose to first explore the interior of Bath Abbey before going on our final tower tour of the trip. Compared to many of the cathedrals we have seen, Bath Abbey is relatively modest in size. It is packed with tombs, but they mostly have low profiles and thus do not make the church feel crowded (something that cannot be said of Westminster Abbey). The highlight of the interior is the beautiful stained glass and we spent some time admiring it as we walked around the sanctuary. Much like the cathedral in Wells, the stonework in the abbey is mostly unadorned, though it is of a richer and warmer brown color rather than the stark gray common in so many other old buildings.

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An art display within Bath Abbey.

A few minutes before 10am, Philip got in line outside the still closed gift shop in order to buy tickets for the tower tour. The door opened a few minutes later and we were the first to get our tickets. Our guide for the tour was a young local guy named George and he was awesome! Not only was he a wealth of information, but he also had a sense of humor and was happy to answer any questions we had (and Philip took full advantage of this).

Our first stop was above the nave in the space between the ceiling below and the roof above where we could clearly see the structural members holding up the lead roof. We then continued on into the bell tower and sat on some benches around the edge of a fairly large room. It was here that George explained about the abbey’s bells and all of the different ways they can be rung. Hanging from the ceiling were 10 ropes used for the obnoxiously loud and tiring method of “full circle ringing”. The much more humble manual mechanism was along the side wall, consisting of 10 smaller ropes aligned in a row. George went over to them to play a few bars of a hymn and we remembered back to the same mechanism we had seen (and played with) in a bell tower in Cork, Ireland. Many different songs have been played on the bells in Bath, including both Living on a Prayer and Highway to Hell, but the clergy supposedly prefers hymns over the anthems of 80’s rock legends.

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This is the original automatic bell ringing instrument at Bath Abbey. It has “memory” for a handful of songs that were played 4 times a day.

George also pointed out several other mechanisms in the room. One was a large machine that was configured with 10 different songs. This machine used to play a song 4 times a day signifying the start of work, lunchtime, end of work, and bedtime for the residents of Bath. These days, that machine has been retired for a digital version mounted inconspicuously on the wall that has a much larger capacity.

The room also contains the clock mechanism and George then led us out into the small room behind the clock face. Here he told us about the very uncomfortable job of lantern keeper, who had to ensure the lantern to backlight the clock stayed lit during 12 hour shifts. The room was very warm from baking in the sun and would have been miserable to stay in for 12 minutes, let alone hours. Factor in the small chimney for the lantern that would also allow in rain water and you have the perfect conditions for a sauna.

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The backside of the clock at Bath Abbey. This room was tiny and toasty and must have been miserable for the lantern keepers on their 12 hour shifts.

We quickly came back to the mechanism room and Philip asked about a small analog clock above the clock mechanism that happened to be numbered in reverse. George indicated that this was a tribute to the fact that Bath Abbey’s 10 bells are arranged in the opposite order compared to most churches. It is a significant challenge to overcome for visiting bell ringers. In keeping with the backwards theme, someone decided one day to go all in and mounted the backwards clock as well.

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The bells in the bell tower at Bath Abbey and our awesome tour guide, George.

We climbed some stairs up into the large bell room and then continued up and out onto the roof of the bell tower. This is the first tower of the trip that we have truly been able to summit. We spent a long while on the roof enjoying the views from the single central bell tower atop the quire (as opposed to the more common dual bell towers at the front of the nave). While there, we also chatted with George about various things including the difference between an abbey and a cathedral, and what life is like in a town like Bath.

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A beautiful view of Bath as seen from the top of Bath Abbey.

Eventually, we descended back down the stairs and made our way out of the abbey and into the plaza outside. To our dismay, there was a very large line in front of the entrance to the baths. We got in it to wait our turn. While we waited, we observed several security guards make a complicated mess out of what should have been simple crowd control. Considering that these guys face crowds like this probably on a daily basis, it was interesting to see a process with so much confusion and disorder.

A street performer with an acoustic guitar sat on a stool just a few feet away from our line and we spent several minutes listening to his impressive instrumental performance. He was good enough to cause Philip to step out of line to throw a few coins into his open guitar case. At exactly 11am, the man stopped playing and another guitarist arrived to take his place. It seems that these guys have a very rigid schedule as to who gets the prime position in front of the crowds (when we came out later, a violinist was now occupying the spot).

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Shift change for the musicians in the square between Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths.

After about 20 minutes in line, we were allowed into the building and we entered another smaller line to actually purchase our tickets. We also realized at this point that we could have pre-purchased online and avoided the majority of this waiting…we’ve been pretty good throughout the trip on avoiding lines but we dropped the ball here on our last day. After snaking our way through the stanchions, we purchased tickets, picked up our audio guides, and set off into the very crowded facility.

We first came to a terrace that overlooks the great bath down below. To our surprise, we found the bath to be a rather sickening green color due to the algae growth in the warm water. We can only hope it was cleaner back in Roman times when people actually bathed there (the fact that it had a roof back then may have helped some with controlling the algae). We then spent the next 30 minutes or so on our own walking through the museum-like sections of the facility and navigating through the dense crowds.

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The algae-tinted Great Bath with the Victorian terrace above.

The highlight of our visit to the baths was a free guided tour that began at noon led by a guide named Catherine. We had expected the tour group to be massive given the number of visitors but in the end there were only about 15 of us following Catherine around as she explained what we were seeing. The great bath had been rediscovered in the early 1900s and the people of the time had built on top of the ruins in an attempt to enhance the experience. This is very different than the more modern philosophy of “hands-off” preservation that prevails today. In general, she told us that anything above “neck height” was new and the stones below the neck date back to Roman times.

At one point on our tour, Catherine passed around an example instrument that was used for scraping oils and dead skin cells off of the body (kind of an ancient version of a loofah). It turns out that the Roman bathing experience was quite involved and consisted of multiple stages of bathing in waters of various temperatures and the application/removal of numerous products.

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These stacked tiles formed the subfloor of some of the rooms at the Roman Baths. Heat was pumped into the room beneath the floor and was captured in these tiles and re-radiated up into the room above.

From an architectural perspective, one of the coolest things to see was the construction of the floor in one of the women’s sauna rooms (men and women used different areas of the bath complex). The floor was raised on stacks of tiles that would retain heat and radiate it upwards into the room. Much of the upper floor had worn away but we could still see the tile stacks throughout much of the room. Another cool thing Catherine showed us was a long section of original lead pipe still present in a channel in the floor that carried water from the source spring into the great bath. Obviously, the Romans had not figured out that lead is really bad for the body.

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A section of 2000 year old lead pipe at the Roman Baths.

The final stop on our tour was an invitation from Catherine to taste some of the water that feeds into the great bath. Fortunately, all lead piping has been removed between the spring and the drinking fountain so we gladly stepped forward to give it a try. The water definitely did not taste good (too warm and way too many minerals) but it wasn’t quite as disgusting as she had made it sound.

When we left the baths, we stopped to grab lunch at a nearby pasty shop as we were both getting pretty hungry. The shop was very tiny and we were quickly confused by the signage that indicated a distinction between a dine-in price and a slightly cheaper take-out price. Unless we wanted to crouch on the floor next to the counter, there really was no place to dine in. As we ordered our food, the lady at the counter explained that the restaurant actually has three locations and really applies to the location in Bristol. Apparently, it was just cheaper to get three copies of the same signs!

We took our relatively inexpensive and bountiful lunch back towards the bath house and sat on some steps outside a large window of the attached Pump Room Café, which we would later learn is amongst the most posh places to dine in Bath. As we were finishing our meal, a guy walked up the few steps and stood next to us, apologizing as he did so. We were confused for a moment as to the reason for his apology, but quickly figured it out as the previously unseen tour group of 20 or so people started gathering around us. As the guy launched into his spiel about the Pump Room Café, we grabbed the remnants of our lunch and slid out of the center of the group.

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An interesting art display above a street in Bath.

Stuffed and happy, we set off back towards our car for the return trip to London. During the 2 hour trip to our hotel in west London near Heathrow Airport, we finally finished our audio book (The Escape by David Baldacci). We found our hotel without any issue, parked in the lot behind the hotel, checked in, and carried our bags through a labyrinth of hallways to our room. Just as we got there, the room phone started to ring as the front desk guy called to tell us our car alarm was going off! Philip jogged back to the parking lot and after several attempts managed to unlock and relock the car to fix the errant alarm.

We spent the rest of the afternoon taking a lovely nap and then set off for one last adventure in London, an escape room! We drove about 45 minutes to south London and finally found the correct building in a warehouse district after going around the block a couple of times (we passed the first test).

The Mystery Cube escape room is run by a very energetic Hungarian lady and we had a great time. We successfully escaped with less than 1 minute left out of our allotted hour and then spent another 20+ minutes talking with the owner about the various escape rooms we’ve done and the different groups she’s seen come through her room.

Since the night was still young (at least by our recent European standard), we decided to go check out the nearby town of Windsor, home of the famous Windsor Castle. We found a parking lot but quickly learned that it was cash only so we decided to keep looking. After just a few minutes, we found a cheaper and closer option, parked, and walked the few minutes into town.

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A glimpse of Windsor Castle during our evening in Windsor.

After walking around for a bit, we found a fish and chips shop and split one last order together. Philip followed dinner up with a delicious ice cream cone and we then continued our walk around Windsor, focused mainly on getting some views of the castle atop a hill. Unfortunately, there really aren’t many places to get good castle views from outside the gates. At one point, we ran into a locked gate at the end of a street with a beautiful park on the other side. Confusingly, there were people in the park so it was apparently open, but just not from this particular street.

We backtracked and eventually found a different area with a tree-lined walkway. Near the end of the path, we discovered a smaller grass area with a complex brick pathway. A sign indicated it was intended as a game for kids that could be played many different ways. While it wasn’t the most fun thing in the world, it was cool to see a tangible and interactive introduction to graph theory that kids could enjoy and explore.

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This set of brick pathways is actually a graph-theory inspired playground.

We eventually made our way back to our car and returned to the hotel to call it a night. Just one last night in Europe before we head home tomorrow. While we are sad to say goodbye to a great vacation, we are definitely ready to be home and back to life as normal with our furry family!

Day15_Windsor

Our path around Windsor. A: Our failed parking lot. B: The good parking lot. C: Final fish and chips along the river. C->D: Walking around Windsor and getting stuck at a gate. D->E->B: Walking back to the car with a stop at the “graph theory” park at E.

Summary

  • A final tower tour at Bath Abbey
  • Some Roman history a long way from Rome
  • Back to London we go
  • What to do on our last night? How about an escape room!
  • A late night exploration of Windsor

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 5.5 miles | 11,521 steps
  • Distance in Car: 181.3 miles
Day15_Full

Our path for the day. A->B: Drive from hotel to Bath. B: Explore Bath. B->C: Drive to hotel in west London. C->D (white): Drive to Mystery Cube Escape Room. D->E (red): Drive to Windsor. E: Explore Windsor. E->C (purple): Drive back to hotel.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

We arose on Friday morning and quickly packed up our belongings. The manager was not yet awake when we left so we followed his instructions to lock the door behind us and stick the key back through the letter slot. On the way out of town, we swung by the grocery store again to pick up some pastries for breakfast, which we ate during the relatively short drive to the Stonehenge Visitor Center.

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Good picture of us…not such a good picture of Stonehenge.

The parking lot was quite empty when we arrived and we got a great spot near the front. That said, there was already a small line at the ticket office, even for those of us with pre-purchased tickets and a specific entry time. At 9am, the line began to move and by 9:06 we had our audio guides and were power walking to the bus stop to get a ride over to the actual site. We could have walked the mile and a half instead, but we figured riding the bus would get us there sooner (first group of the day, in fact) and we could enjoy the site with fewer people around.

The ride only took a few minutes and we stood up in our seats to move into the aisle and exit the bus. Just as we were about to step out, a German guy pushed past us and started speed walking ahead of everyone towards the site. This guy epitomized the stereotype of bad tourist throughout our visit and possessed an alarming lack of general self-awareness and common decency.

We walked towards the stone circle and began a counterclockwise (or anti-clockwise…we are in Britain after all!) walk along the path circling the site. For very valid reasons of preservation, tourists are no longer allowed within the center circle, but the path does go within a few dozen feet of the outer ring of large stones in places. The path also does not quite complete the full circle, stopping short so as not to cross over the historical “avenue” that was the original entry way to Stonehenge.

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Stonehenge!

At the far end of the path, we stopped for more pictures (we’d been taking lots the whole way around). We were about to take one of our patented extended-arm selfies, when a friendly guy offered to take it for us instead. Not sure who he was but he just seemed to radiate a general happiness for being alive.

On our way back around the path, we stopped frequently to listen to our audio guides. Unfortunately, some of the numbered placards did not seem to align with the commentary, but we were able to figure out where to look with relative ease. In addition to information about Stonehenge itself, the audio guide also told us about other features off in the distance, particularly several small hills, which are actually burial mounds from 3000+ years ago. It also talked some about the “ongoing renovation” to alter the car park and build a new visitor center. Ongoing is in quotes because the audio guides were from 2014 and this work had long ago been completed.

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The lighting got noticeably better during our time at Stonehenge and we were able to get this beautiful picture.

On that note, English Heritage has done a nice job of making the site a nice place to visit. Apparently, in the past, the car park and visitor center were located very near to the stone circle and the enchantment of the ancient place was severely degraded. By the time we visited, this was gone and the stone circle is once again surrounded by nature and a simple walking path…and a highway a few hundred yards away but there’s really nothing they can do about that one and it really isn’t as distracting as we had feared.

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Two happy travelers checking an item off their travel bucket list!

We also found it interesting to hear about some of the preservation work that has been done on the site. Several stones that were leaning dangerously in the past have been righted and their bases reinforced with concrete. For the most part this is completely invisible, though there is one stone that has suffered some severe wind erosion (we assume) near its base and there is some visible concrete there to shore things up.

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Many of the stones at Stonehenge have been reinforced with concrete, though this is one of only a few where the concrete is visible. For the most part, they just reinforced the base beneath the ground.

At one point, we noticed a large group of school children led by an adult teacher that had appeared just outside the fenced area. As far as we can tell, they had walked in across a large field and were bypassing the ticket office. Realistically, they were only about 50 feet further away from the stone circle than the paying guests, so perhaps this was a shrewd move.

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A group of school kids outside the fence at Stonehenge. It seems that they walked across the field to visit the site rather than pay the entrance fee.

After a while at the site, we walked back towards the bus to head back to the visitor center. Just as we were about to climb aboard, an elderly woman rushed past us and jumped on ahead. As there was plenty of room still onboard, this wasn’t too big of a deal but yet again we are often amazed at the inconsiderate behavior of some people. Back at the visitor center, we were “conveniently” routed through the expansive gift shop, though we quickly escaped without purchasing any tacky souvenirs.

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The super modern visitor center at Stonehenge.

In front of the visitor center are a handful of example dwellings (simple tent like structures) that might have been used by the people who built Stonehenge. There was also a rope attached to a large rock where one could test their pulling strength and see how many of them would it take to pull one of the large stones on rollers. Philip of course had to try this for himself and, despite his svelte physique, it would still take 100 of him to move the stone!

We stopped next at the attached museum, which mostly contains miscellaneous artifacts found around the site or in some of the nearby burial mounds. The coolest part was a circular room with projectors in the center showing a 3D view from the center of the stone circle and changing with the seasons and time of day.

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Our visit to Stonehenge. A->B: Walk to the bus. B->C: Bus to the stone circle. C->C: Walk around Stonehenge! C->B: Bus back to the visitor center. B->A: Explore visitor center and back to car.

After a quick walk through the handful of rooms, we returned back to the parking lot (much, much fuller now than when we arrived) and set off for our next destination. Our original plan for the last two days of the trip was rather geographically inefficient and we fortunately figured this out in our hotel room last night. Thus, we now headed west to the town of Wells to see its impressive Cathedral.

Along the way, we made a stop at a service station to purchase some much needed window washing fluid (known as windscreen fluid). Yes, not only did our rental car agency do nothing to prepare us for the regulations of driving in France, but they also gave us a vehicle that was bone dry in the windshield fluid department. We were shocked by the price of a small bottle of the fluid (roughly 5 pounds) considering we can buy a full gallon at home for less than 3 US dollars. Nevertheless, it was a necessary purchase and made the remainder of our driving much more enjoyable.

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The large lawn in front of Wells Cathedral was packed with school kids eating lunch during their visit to the cathedral.

Wells Cathedral has an enormous grass park in front of it, which is rather unique in the cathedral’s we have visited. We found parking on the street adjacent to the park and stepped out of the car. Our first sight was of hundreds (if not a thousand) school kids on the lawn enjoying their lunches. A bit overwhelmed and concerned about what might be awaiting us inside, we walked into the ticket office and got two tickets for entry. Technically, it is free to enter the cathedral, but they strongly recommend a 6 pound donation per person and we were more than happy to comply.

The inside of the Cathedral was a bit reminiscent of that in Salisbury with a very open feeling, relatively few adornments, and the use of multiple bands of stone. Unlike Salisbury, though, Wells still does have is choir screen separating the nave from the quire and altar. There was also a large modern projection screen set up in the nave, which was not ideal for taking photos. A docent informed us that it was kid’s day at the cathedral and they would be having a service starting at 1pm (about 20 minutes away). This explained the plethora of children on the lawn and also gave us a bit of urgency in our visit.

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Beautiful scissor arches inside Wells Cathedral.

The highlight of the physical architecture of the main cathedral space is certainly the large scissor arches. Here, a normal arch sits on top of an upside down arch to beautiful effect. The cathedral also features an ancient clock, which features jousting knights moving around in a circle with the passing of each quarter hour. While in the same spirit as the magnificent clock we saw in Beauvais, this one just cannot compare in complexity or beauty.

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The animated clock in Wells Cathedral. Not as cool as the one in Beauvais but still fascinating.

We stepped out of a door to the side of the quire and saw a beautiful sloping set of stairs leading up to the chapter house. Philip has come to realize that he really love chapter houses and could happily spend a long time just hanging out in these peaceful spaces. Below the chapter house sits the stronghold of the cathedral, a secure room that was easily defensible and thus housed anything of value. Today, it serves as a small museum, though we found it relatively uninteresting compared to the magnificent architecture around us.

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The magnificent ceiling in the Chapter House of the cathedral in Wells.

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These are the beautiful stairs leading up to the Chapter House in Wells Cathedral.

We proceeded around the back of the apse, where there were several chapels, each devoted to a very specific prayer purpose. We also stepped into the quire area featuring original wooden choir stalls from the middle ages. From this side, we could also see that the choir screen separating the nave from the quire is actually an enormous pipe organ.

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Looking along the massive interior of Wells Cathedral.

After finishing our path back along the nave, we stepped out into the cloisters. The cloisters at Wells Cathedral are entirely enclosed walkways, rather than the covered yet open air walkways that are more common. Also unique is that the area in the center of the cloisters is a cemetery rather than just a small garden.

By this time, we were getting hungry and decided to take advantage of the 10% discount at the cathedral café we had earned by purchasing entry tickets. Rose got her first scone of the trip (shocking it took this long) and Philip went for a large slice of ham and cheese quiche. Satiated, we made a quick trip to the bathroom before heading back to the car. When we entered the bathrooms, the area was more or less deserted. By the time Rose emerged 3 minutes later, 30 girls were piling into the bathroom in a scene of general chaos. As we walked away, thankful for our fortunate timing, we talked about the signage we had both seen at the sinks. In both bathrooms, there are signs warning that the water coming out of the taps is incredibly hot and can cause burns. In America, we would have fixed the water temperature…here, apparently, a sign is sufficient. And the water was definitely uncomfortably hot. Rose had to move between three different sinks in short bursts to avoid scalding her hands!

We exited out into the park in front of the main façade and walked around a bit to get some pictures. It was here that we noticed that the cloisters attach at the very front of the church as a direct extension off of the façade. Typically, the cloisters sit further back towards the apse and aren’t quite so prominently visible from the front.

We also made a quick walk around the corner to check out Wells’s other main attraction, the Bishop’s Palace. The walk was actually longer than necessary because Rose let Philip navigate again and we definitely missed the direct passageway next to the church that would have had us there in 30 seconds. We spent just a few minutes outside but didn’t have time (or significant interest) to pay the entry fee to see the interior. The walk back to the car was much more expedient and we set off towards the area of Cheddar.

The drive to Cheddar (yes, it is where cheddar cheese originated) was a bit of an adventure. Construction caused some serious traffic jams and, at one point, we decided to bail down a very narrow hedge-lined road to try and get around. We weren’t the only car that had made this decision, which was good for us because we didn’t have to worry about passing anyone coming the other direction. We did feel a bit bad for the car coming the other way that was stuck in a pull-off area waiting for all of these cars to come through the single-lane road.

Our detour was a success and we reached the entrance to Cheddar Gorge without further incident. Our plan was to drive through the gorge first to see it in its entirety, then back track to a car park to visit the caves there. As we drove, the road just kept descending further and further in what was both a very cool and somewhat eerie feeling. We snaked along the bottom of the deep ravine (spotting some rock climbers) and, after a few miles, the walls opened up and we saw the town of Cheddar ahead of us. We made a U-turn and returned back up the gorge a mile or two to a car park on the outside of a bend in the road.

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Looking across Cheddar Gorge at the steep hillside on the other side.

As we walked from the car towards the entrance of the Cheddar Gorge Caves Ticket Office, we saw several people rock climbing on the cliff wall across the road. As we walked past, we noticed that there were artificial hand holds installed into the rock, like what you would typically find at a rock gym. Usually you get either natural stone or fake walls with handholds. It was weird to see the combination of artificial features installed into a natural cliff face.

At the ticket office, we showed our pre-purchased ticket confirmation and were given two paper tickets for our cave adventure. The tickets gave us access to five different attractions (2 caves, a staircase up the cliff, a lookout tower, and a hiking trail). We were informed that our tickets were good for 10 years, so it was ok if we didn’t get to everything today. Not sure how many of their visitors would ever take advantage of the ticket longevity but they were definitely excited to offer it.

The first attraction on our visit was Gough’s Cave, which we entered right next to the ticket office. We were given audio guides, which were again very cheesy in their presentation (narrated supposedly by Gough himself, the guy that discovered the cave) but they did have a lot of really interesting information. Gough’s Cave is a series of several cool caverns and also features the “Cheddar Man”, a skeleton from the time before Stonehenge discovered a few dozen feet inside the cave’s entrance.

Having visited a lot of caves in several different countries during our travels, we have seen the different ways they can be explored and are presented. This cave was a bit different, primarily because of its focus on showmanship. In fact, the audio guide told us about the history of Cheddar and the presence of these “show caves”. Proprietors competed to attract visitors to their caves and Gough told us (on the audio guide of course) all about how he used lighting and even artificially constructed reflecting pools to bring out the best in what the cave had to offer. It’s likely that other caves we have visited have had the same consideration paid to lighting and water reflection, but this is the first time we have thought about it specifically and we found it very interesting.

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One of the man-made reflecting pools in Gough’s Cave.

Midway through the cave we also saw a metal rack off to the side, where hundreds of wheels of cheddar cheese were going through the aging process. Despite its heritage, Cheddar Gorge does not play a major role anymore in the production or aging of cheddar cheese and these wheels are the only product still made in the gorge (though we assume there is more cheddar cheese made in and around the city of Cheddar). The metal racks with tight metal mesh surrounding serve to protect the cheese from rats during its aging process.

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Wheels of cheddar cheese aging inside Gough’s Cave. The metal rack protects the cheese from unwanted rodents.

Touring the cave took the better part of an hour, primarily due to the length and quantity of audio guide presentations. When we returned to the surface, we accidentally routed ourselves through a Costa Coffee shop before exiting out to the street in front. We walked down the gorge and stopped at a small shop to buy a pasty as a snack. The girl that served us was quiet but very nice and had never heard of Colorado before. We got the impression that she had grown up in Cheddar and has rarely seen life beyond this area and the nearby city of Bristol.

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Though smaller than Gough’s Cave, Cox’s Cave was cool because it was lit up in beautiful colors.

We next ventured to Cox’s Cave, which was discovered by Gough’s uncle before Gough discovered his cave. Cox’s Cave serves as an experiential journey called Dreamhunters, which is a story of early man on the hunt presented on the cavern walls using projectors and colored LED wash lighting. We were on our own as we ventured through the various rooms. When the show in each room finished, we were able to “follow the running man” projection (white figures running frantically across the wall) leading us towards the next space. The caverns themselves are not as impressive as Gough’s Cave, but it was cool to see a cave lit up in this unique way. The projected story itself was a touch on the gruesome side as the hunters fought off wolves and eventually took down a buffalo.

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One of the projections inside the Dreamhunters exhibition in Cox’s Cave.

The exit of Dreamhunters led us back into the bright sunlight, which was a bit of a shock to the senses after the cool darkness. A few dozen feet away we saw the starting point of Jacob’s ladder, a staircase climbing directly up the side of the gorge. Thankfully, it has a few landings cut in to offer rest points, though a switchback design may have been even nicer. We climbed up, pausing a few times at the landings, and commenting on how different the climb felt compared to the spiral staircases of church bell towers. There was a young couple climbing up with us who seemed to be on their honeymoon (as evidenced by their giddy laughter and puppy dog eyes whenever they looked at each other…as well as the baseball caps they were wearing that appeared to contain the other’s name). At one point, she got tired so he picked her up over his shoulder and kept on climbing.

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Jacob’s ladder…a daunting staircase straight up the side of Cheddar Gorge.

At the top of the staircase, we walked a hundred yards to the right to a lookout tower. We climbed the 4 flights of stairs and were rewarded with beautiful views over Cheddar and the rest of the surrounding countryside.

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The lookout tower on top of Cheddar Gorge.

We learned from the information pamphlet attached to our ticket that both the tower and Jacob’s ladder were built for the sole purpose of attracting visitors by Roland Pavey, a rival of Gough and Cox. Pavey desperately wanted a show cave of his own, though never discovered one. Instead, he built the stairs, original wooden lookout tower, and even put a roof over part of his rock quarry to make it look like a cave. It was very obvious during our visit that Cheddar Gorge has always been a place of tourism, even back in the late 1800’s.

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The view of Cheddar from the top of the lookout tower.

After coming back down from the lookout tower, we began a walk (more of a hike, actually) along the top of the gorge. The path supposedly follows the east side of the gorge before crossing and coming back down on the west side. We had brief intentions of walking the whole thing, but quickly changed our minds when we realized that “crossing the gorge” meant descending back down to the bottom and then climbing up the other side. Instead, we hiked to a point just shy of the summit and then turned back towards Jacob’s ladder.

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Goats confidently clinging to the hillside at Cheddar Gorge.

The highlight of the hike, other than the views, was the plethora of mountain goats in the area. We saw several kids (baby goats, not humans) traipsing along with their mothers on terrifyingly steep terrain. In spots, the goats came up onto the top and were hanging out in the middle of our walking path! We did our best to keep a safe distance as we walked so as not to anger mommy goat and give her no reason to turn her large horns on us.

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One of the adorable goats we saw while hiking on top of Cheddar Gorge

The descent back down Jacob’s ladder was significantly easier and faster than the ascent and we exited out to the street through a turnstile we had not noticed previously. We had actually joked about our ticket and how three of the five attractions (the steps, the tower, and the hiking path) were seemingly wide open to the public. While not perfect, the turnstile does at least discourage unticketed people from using the stairs, though there are other valid ways to get to the top of the gorge and the lookout tower.

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A fascinating “gate” to a pasture on top of Cheddar Gorge.

As we walked back up the gorge towards our car, we noticed that the entire area had shut down for the night, much like Salisbury had felt the day before. This area is clearly driven by tourists and when the buses leave for the day, everything comes to a stop. We drove north back out of the gorge, stopping a few times due to goats on the road. We also noticed some people walking along the road back towards the car park whom we recognized as people we had seen on the path atop the gorge earlier. It seems they had bailed on the hike at the halfway point and were now resigned to the somewhat dangerous stroll down the narrow road with tight turns back to their cars (glad we weren’t among them!).

With Samantha’s help (our GPS), we made our way to the outskirts of Bath to the small town of Peasetown St. John. Actually, Samantha was only somewhat helpful and she took us on what seemed to be a very unnecessary “scenic route” near the end of the drive down some very narrow roads. She also made it seem as if the hotel was located directly adjacent to a roundabout, which was clearly not correct as there were no buildings anywhere on that intersection.

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Our path around Cheddar Gorge. ->A (white): Driving through the gorge and back to a parking lot. A->B: Walk to entrance of Gough’s Cave. B->C: Walk through Dreamhunters and up Jacob’s Ladder to the lookout tower. C->D->A (green). Our abandoned hike along the top of the gorge. E is where we think the descent would have been back to the bottom so it looks like we only made it about half way. 

A bit confused, we drove a half mile into town and stopped for directions at the grocery store where the clerk quickly set us straight. It turns out that Samantha was not that far off and had we gone just a hundred yards or so beyond the roundabout, we would have seen the entrance to our hotel.

Like last night, we were again staying in a combination bar/restaurant with rooms above, though this time missing the biker hangout outside. We checked in with the owner and relaxed in our room for a while to go through pictures. When hunger started to set in, we went back down to have dinner in the restaurant. For some reason, lasagna sounded good to Philip and Rose stayed true to form with some steak and ale pie. The food was adequate and filling, though nothing special. Rose did also enjoy a kiwi-lime hard cider, which isn’t something we’ve seen in the US.

After eating a lot of food, we set off on a walk around town to stretch our legs and help our digestion. Peasetown St. John was quiet, though there were some kids (humans this time) out playing soccer in the cool air of evening. After a few miles, we made it back to hotel and quickly fell into bed. Tomorrow is our last full day in Europe 😦 We’ll make our way back to London via Bath before heading back home and back to real life.

Summary

  • The iconic site of Stonehenge
  • Well’s Cathedral and way too many school kids
  • Some cool caves in Cheddar Gorge
  • An abandoned hike and lots of goats

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 9.01 miles | 19,298 steps
  • Distance in Car: 80.2 miles
  • Distance on Bus: 2.54 miles
Day14_Full

Our path for the day. A->B: Drive to Stonehenge. B: Explore Stonehenge. B->C: Drive to Wells. C: Explore Wells Cathedral. C->D: Drive to Cheddar. D: Explore Cheddar. D->E (red): Drive to Peasetown St. John. E (green): Evening walk around town.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

After the late night, we were grateful that Rose’s conference began a bit later on Thursday morning. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with some of the other conference goers and then returned to the room to get packed up. Rose went down for the final session of the conference and Philip got the fun task of finishing the packing and checking out of the hotel. We aren’t used to staying in one hotel for three nights in a row and it took a little longer to pack up after we had settled into our room more than usual.

Once the car was loaded and the room key returned, Philip hung out in the lobby to work on the blog and then to get caught up on work emails (ugh reality). He also used the lobby phone to call ahead to Salisbury Cathedral to get booked for the tower tour we hoped to do later in the day. We had tried booking online but missed the one day cutoff.

Rose was the final presenter at the conference and she emerged just after 1pm, glad to have it behind her. She changed into less formal attire, bid her new friends farewell, and we hopped in the car to continue our journey…after a quick stop at our kebab shop/convenience store in town, of course. We ordered some kebab wraps, thinking they would travel a bit better, and enjoyed talking with the guys again. Of all the people we have met thus far, the Turkish guy who works the counter at the convenience store might be our favorite. We bought a few snack items to bring back for people at home and were surprised when he gave us a discount (we also got a discount on the kebabs too…these guys rock!).

Okay, quick note about kebabs. Obviously, we like kebabs a lot and have for a long time. In Italy, they were a staple for us as we were traveling on a budget and offered the best grams of protein per euro ratio we could find…and they are delicious. We have also eaten kebabs from various places at home in America (both Arizona and Colorado). We ate kebabs in France and now also in England.

We were surprised that they are really quite different in each place. Yes, the meat is mostly the same everywhere (lamb/beef mix roasting on a vertical spit and shaved thin), though we do have a place in Colorado that does it differently. It’s the toppings that seem to vary widely, particularly the sauces. Some places have a more traditional tzatziki sauce, other have mayonnaise, and yet others have a very garlicy sauce. It has been fun experiencing the different kebabs around the world and we look forward to trying even more as we travel other places in the near future. Perhaps we will make it to Turkey sometime and can try a real Turkish kebab in the homeland rather than restaurants elsewhere run by Turkish expats.

Anyways, with our kebabs in hand, we said farewell to the guys and walked back to our car to head north to Salisbury. We made it to town without incident and drove into a parking lot. Unfortunately, we soon learned that not only did this lot only take cash, but they also did not accept the new 1 pound coin. We were low on coinage anyways and the small collection of 1 pound coins in our possession were of the new variety so we headed back out to find a different option.

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The spire of Salisbury Cathedral rising above. Pictures do not seem to capture just how large the cathedral is topped with its massive spire.

We ended up at a parking garage instead and walked the short distance up to Salisbury Cathedral. This cathedral is very, very large and is dominated by its ridiculously enormous central spire. Even on such a massive building, the spire is so tall that it still feels out of proportion. You can pretty much see the spire from anywhere in town as it soars above everything.

We had about 40 minutes until our tower tour, so we started our visit in the Chapter House to see what is claimed to be the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta. There are only a handful of these 12th century documents remaining and Salisbury’s is in relatively pristine condition. We stepped into the small viewing hut (there to keep the document shielded from sunlight we presume) and spent a few seconds trying to read even a single word of the heavily scripted old English on the page. Unsuccessful, we moved back out into the larger chapter house to make room for others to have their turn. Even if it isn’t particularly legible to us, it’s really cool to see something as fragile as parchment that has survived for 800+ years. It’s even cooler when you think about the significance of this document in English and even world history.

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The Chapter House at Salisbury Cathedral. This is where we saw the best preserved remaining copy of the Magna Carta.

We left the Chapter House and went back into the large cloisters where two of the cathedral’s stone masons were set up at tables doing demonstrations. Salisbury is one of the few cathedrals that employs stone masons to actively maintain and replace decaying parts of the church. They also lend them out to other churches as needed. This may be part of the reason why we saw signs claiming it takes 14,000 pounds per day to keep the cathedral up and running!

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Two of the stone masons employed by Salisbury Cathedral. They actively carve and replace stones all over the enormous building.

Our first impression of the interior of the cathedral was its openness. Unlike most Gothic cathedrals which feature at least a choir screen and a screen behind the altar, Salisbury is open all the way from the entrance of the nave to back wall of the apse behind the altar. This gives the church a very unique and airy feel that is not matched by most of the Gothic cathedrals we have seen on our journey thus far.

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The long nave as seen from the gallery. The lack of choir screens makes the sight lines at Salisbury Cathedral unique. You can also see the very modern baptismal font down below.

The second thing that jumped out at us is the use of multiple colors of stone. While the walls and columns are relatively unadorned, the use of different bands of stone gives a nice effect that is a bit reminiscent of the cathedral in Orvieto, Italy, though in a much more subtle way. At the center of the church, you can see how the four main columns have started to bend slightly due to the incredible weight of the spire sitting above, which is both fascinating and a touch unnerving, though Rose was confident the structure is sound!

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Some odd (and creepy) art temporarily exhibited inside Salisbury Cathedral.

We made our way back to the front of the nave, passing by the very modern baptismal font (literally a fountain with water flowing off all four sides and disappearing into the floor).  Over the next few minutes, our tour group assembled and 13 of us got ready to go up into the towers. Technically, this was one more than the allowed maximum of 12 but we made it work. Alan, our tour guide, was soft spoken but very friendly and we spent the next hour and a half (or even a bit more) with him as he led us up into the upper reaches of the church.

Before we began the climb, he pointed out an old clock that was sitting on the floor of the nave. Once we climbed up the spiral stairs to the gallery of the nave, we could see the clock’s bell hanging there as well as the cathedral’s only medieval stained glass (the rest is mostly Victorian). Alan talked to us about the lightweight tufa rock that was used for forming the cathedral ceilings and the process of binding it together with molten mortar.

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The tower tour at Salisbury Cathedral was fascinating for two engineers. We learned a lot about the building materials and techniques used to keep the building and the massive spire standing. This is the wooden framework above the nave to support the heavy lead roof.

We continued up a bit higher into the space above the nave and spent a long while looking at and discussing the wooden structure in place to hold up the roof. It was cool to see the mirrored roof supports on either side of the center where the builder had cut a section of tree in half and used one for each side. Alan also pointed out the lathe roof backing to which the lead roofing was attached as well as some cross bracing running diagonally along each side. These had been added at the request of the great English architect Christopher Wren and were made of ship’s masts cut in half.

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The roof above the nave at Salisbury Cathedral is supported by paired natural beams like this one…it’s sibling is directly opposite on the other side.

Alan led us across the walkway above the nave (nicely illuminated by brand new lighting) and we climbed a beautiful wooden spiral staircase up into the base of the spire. Here, we saw the mechanism for chiming the cathedral’s main bells, though the bells were located much higher up in the spire.

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One of two wooden spiral staircases used on the ascent up the spire at Salisbury Cathedral.

We also talked at length about the iron support structure in this section, some of which was original from the 1300s and coated in lead to prevent rust. There were also additional metal support that had been added in subsequent centuries, the most dominant of which was another brainchild of Christopher Wren. One of the most interesting aspects was how the builder’s used wedge shaped pins to join sections of metal, just like they had done for joining timber. Alan pointed out that the builders joined metal the only way they knew how…the manufacture of threaded nuts and bolts did not come about until at least 50 years later!

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Some of the metal work in the spire. You can see metal from three different ages, some as old as the 13th century!

We climbed higher up another wooden spiral staircase, which took us to a walkway around the top of the room. This was a workaround because the stone spiral staircases in the corners had been filled in below long ago in an attempt to add more stability to the structure (questionable whether it made any difference). From this point, though, we were able to enter the single unblocked staircase in one of the corners and up to the base of the steep spire roof. Here we could see the bells, as well as the immense wooden scaffolding within the spire roof.

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The scaffolding inside the spire is quite elaborate and actually hangs from the top rather than supporting from the bottom.

This room had doors on each of the four walls leading out onto small viewing galleries. We were only able to go out onto three of them, because the fourth was currently being occupied by a peregrine falcon nest and a trove of BBC camera equipment to film said nest. Two of the galleries were so tight that we had to let half the group out, close the door so they could shift to the other side, and then let the remainder of the group out.

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Rose on a very narrow walkway atop the spire at Salisbury Cathedral.

The views from the top were spectacular and we felt no rush to move along quickly. It was nice to have a tour that could last almost two hours and not feel pressured to keep hurrying along so the next group could come up. Alan was more than happy to answer any questions and he gave us a lot of interesting information about the building, the surrounding area, and lots of other things.

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A view from the top of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral.

Eventually, we worked our way back down from the spire and emerged out into an almost deserted cathedral. We were on the tour so long that the tourists were long gone but for a few stragglers. We exited through the cloister and saw that the masons had called it a day as well.

We walked outside and took pictures of the cathedral from every angle and then set off on a short walk through some “water meadows” nearby to hopefully get more views of the cathedral (some famous painter also did a lot of paintings from the path). Most importantly, Philip saved the day for a puppy playing in a small stream that had lost its tennis ball on the opposite bank from its mommy. As we walked, we had a spirited discussion about whether or not pedestrian walking norms align with the driving norms (left side or right side) for a country. Rose seemed to have the winning theory based on our observations (as she usually does) with her view that pedestrians walk on the right despite driving on the left.

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A bridge on our walk to the water meadows in Salisbury.

After a relatively short walk (by our travel standards, at least), we turned around and back into town and towards our car. It was quite noticeable that tourist hours had passed as the city seemed to have shut down for the night already. Our best guess is that Salisbury is sustained in a significant way by tourists on day trips from London or other nearby major cities. Once the buses leave for the day, Salisbury turns into a sleepy little hamlet with a totally different feel than the hubbub we experienced when we arrived.

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Our walking path around Salisbury including our jaunt out through the water meadows.

Our hotel was actually located well outside of Salisbury in a small town called Bulford. We picked it because of its proximity to Stonehenge, which we would be visiting in the morning. As we drove down the road, we passed what appeared to be a small circle of stones off to the left, which Rose dubbed “little baby Stonehenge”. Philip quickly deduced and pointed out that it was in fact the real Stonehenge, which does indeed sit not far from a fairly major thoroughfare. All in all, our first view of the iconic site was very anticlimactic, though we were still excited to see it up close (and hopefully have it feel much, much bigger).

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Our first and very rapid view of Stonehenge as we drove by on the adjacent highway.

We pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, which is actually a bar/restaurant with a few rooms above. The parking lot is also shared with what appeared to be the headquarters of a group of motorcycle enthusiasts (the kind that wear matching leather jackets). We checked in without any paperwork and were led to our room. It was adequate, but certainly did not match what we had for three nights at a 4 star hotel.

We spent a bit of time going through pictures and proofreading some blog entries and then realized that it was time to figure out dinner. Philip went downstairs to check on a menu for food from the bar and the bartender informed him that food service had ended for the night (which is something we knew from our check-in but had promptly forgotten). So, we hopped in the car instead and drove a few minutes to a fish and chips shop where we shared an order for dinner.

After eating, we went next door to a grocery store (Tesco Express) and picked up a few necessities (a hard cider for Rose, an ice cream cone for Philip). A short drive later, we were back at the hotel and getting ready for bed when we realized that we had not been provided with any towels. Philip went downstairs where the manager and a lady who was likely his mother/business partner were hanging out with their three dogs! She apologized and went to fetch some towels while Philip took full advantage of the situation to make some new friends. The largest one, a Doberman of some sort, had a tennis ball that Philip threw a few times and the other two just wanted to be petted nonstop. In fact, the terrier growled at Philip when he dared stop for a moment to throw the ball.

Towels in hand and puppy quota satisfied, Philip returned to the room and we called it a night. We listened for a few minutes to our book, though Rose didn’t last very long before drifting off. Tomorrow, we get to finally visit Stonehenge for real, which is something we have been looking forward to. It’s nice to be on the move again after being in the same place for three whole days, though it’s settling in hard that our trip is coming to an end soon. But, we still have a few more days and we intend to make the most of them!

Day13_Full

Our path for the day. A->B: Quick stop in Brockenhurst for kebabs. B->C: Drive to Salisbury. C (green): Explore Salisbury Cathedral. C->D: Drive to hotel. D (red): Drive out for quick dinner.

Summary:

  • Conference over…Rose survived!
  • One last visit to our new friends at the kebab / convenience store
  • Salisbury Cathedral and a very in-depth tower tour
  • A very different hotel experience
  • Missing towels leads to puppies!

Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 4.46 miles | 9,397 steps
  • Distance in Car: 38 miles

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

Day 2 of the conference began with another enjoyable breakfast down in the restaurant, after which Rose set off for another morning of timber conferencing and Philip set off on his solo adventure of the area on bicycle.

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Looking cool while riding around New Forest.

He rented (hired is the correct British term) a bicycle from the hotel and was given a handful of maps highlighting suggested routes around the New Forest area. After handing him a drawstring bag with some bike repair equipment, a lady from the front desk took him around to a shed out back to grab a helmet and bicycle. This equipment collected, he set off down towards town to get on the trail system.

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Horses everywhere! The young ones are the most fun to watch as they venture away from mom but not too far.

Even at this early stage, things began to fall apart. The maps were not particularly helpful and Philip quickly realized he did not know how to get onto the trail system. He stopped at a bicycle shop near the train station for a bit of advice on where to go. Armed with that new information, but still without much of a true destination in mind, he set off again down a different road and eventually found an entrance to the trails.

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The entrance to just one of New Forest’s numerous bike paths.

New Forest is home to many, many miles of compacted gravel trails as well as numerous other on-road cycle routes. Numbered signposts indicate current location and there are several suggested routes that can be followed and which are called out with arrows on some of the sign posts. Unfortunately, the route Philp happened to find (number 2) did not correspond to one of the maps he had in hand (numbers 1 and 4). On the plus side, he did have a third map of the entire region showing the locations of many of the signposts, though the print was extremely small and it did not show all of the trails and junctions.

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A cool stockade built right along the train tracks but otherwise seemingly in the middle of nowhere in New Forest.

With a general understanding of the geography of the area and the assumption that he really couldn’t get too lost, he set off following route #2 and hoping for the best. It led for a while through the forest, though at one point it went along a country lane for a bit before diving again into the trees. Another rider passed along the way and Philip asked him for some navigation help to figure out where the path was headed. Eventually, the path went through a campground before exiting the forest and out onto a lonely moor. The contrast was quite striking of being in the trees one minute and then out on a barren landscape the next.

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Philip saw this traffic blockage scenario more than once while biking around New Forest.

The route wound along a lonely road with only occasional car traffic. More than once, cycles and cars had to stop for horses and cows crossing the road at their own leisurely pace, which was another somewhat surreal experience. After making a couple of turns at intersections to keep following the route, Philip found himself at a 4-way intersection without any markings for the cycle path. He was pretty sure of his location based on his tiny map, but fortunately the same cyclist from before came riding up behind and was able to confirm and suggest a good path for returning back to Brockenhurst.

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If the cows are allowed to cross the road at will, why not the horses too?

The ride back went through a small town named Beaulieu. After an unintentional detour up a hill to England’s National Motor Museum (and then right back down the hill), Philip finally made his way into the town and stopped at a small shop to enjoy a well-earned ice cream cone (salted caramel to be precise). He ate it out in front of the shop and then set off once again back towards home.

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Nothing like an ice cream stop near the end of a long bike ride!

After a mile or so on road, he turned back onto the gravel bike paths. A very happy dog came running up at one point and of course he stopped to say hello. After a few more turns, Philip came upon another older couple walking towards him with yet another happy (and very wet and dirty) dog. The dog had apparently just gone for a swim and was having the time of its life. The couple asked if Philip was headed to Beaulieu, to which he responded no because he had just come from there. At this point, they informed him that he was in fact riding the wrong direction on this path! Fortunately, they had a much larger map and were able to give him better directions to make it the rest of the way back to the hotel.

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Some of New Forest’s ponies that came within a few feet of Philip near the end of his bike ride.

The path exited onto a road less than half a mile from the hotel. Along the way was a small parking lot, which was currently playing host to about 8 New forest ponies. Philip stopped his bike and one of the ponies walked within a foot or so of him on its way to a new field!

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Not the finest bike in the world but it was sufficient for a 23 mile bike ride.

Just before noon, Philip made it back to the hotel and went to the front desk to return the bike. To his surprise, the lady at the desk (different lady than handled the bike checkout earlier) just handed him the key to the bike shed and did not show any interest in coming along to make sure everything was put away properly. A refreshing shower followed and then the wait began for Rose to get out of her conference.

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Philip’s bike ride. A->B: Ride into town to the Bike Shop for directions. B->C: Ride through the forest and exit out onto the moors (first time asking guy for directions). C->D: Ride along lonely road (meet guy again at D and he suggests return route). D->E Ride towards Beaulieu but errantly venture up hill to Motor Museum. E->F: Quick ride around Beaulieu capped off with an ice cream cone. F->G: Head back home (couple at G with happy but wet dog informed me I was heading wrong way). G->A: Made it back to hotel!

The afternoon was spent on a conference field trip to a wooded area called Hooke Park. Philip was able to tag along and we boarded a coach bus for what we thought was about a 60-90 minute drive to the west. It actually took us two and a quarter hours, partially due to some very narrow lanes and tight turns. At one point, the driver had to go fairly significantly out of his way to make a U-turn and come back from the opposite direction because the road just wouldn’t allow him to make the right turn he needed.

Hooke Park is a center of learning and of experiment in the field of timber structures. Specifically, they place great emphasis on using wood that is considered undesirable and not usable by others. The first three buildings on the site were constructed primarily of just this type of wood. In this case, the forest had been poorly managed for various reasons and never thinned properly. As a result, there were a lot of very tall and very spindly trees that were not useful for most applications. Through creative designs, the builders here were able to utilize this timber to create some very beautiful and unique structures.

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The workshop at Hooke Park, which is one of the three original structures built using only the slender trees usually considered to be waste timber.

The more recent structures are interesting as well, particularly two of the open-walled pavilions. One utilizes short board segments in a complex web to hold the roof. The other is a practical demonstration of the relatively new capability of laser 3D mapping of trees and custom designing around the available materials. This building uses two enormous arches running diagonally, comprised entirely of tree forks. The 3D mapping allowed the builders to plan out exactly where each one would go and to ensure that the two arches had the correct shape and joined successfully at the midpoint.

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A pavilion at Hooke Park built using only short pieces of wood bent into a beautiful structure…Apparently, the failure rate of bending the wood was extremely high at first, but they eventually learned how to select the correct wood grain pattern for success.

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A pavilion at Hooke Park built using 3D scanning technology to choose the correct placement for forked tree limbs.

After a little more than an hour (we could have definitely stayed longer to talk to the guys there and see the buildings in more detail), it was time to pile back onto the coach bus and head back east to Brockenhurst. The trip back went faster, despite the need for some near-miraculous driving from our driver. We were on a one lane road not much wider than our bus with tall hedges on each side when we saw a car coming at us. Fortunately, there was an indentation where the car could pull over so we could just barely squeeze by. Just as we cleared the car, we saw a large tractor lumbering towards us! We’re still not sure how, but the two drivers somehow negotiated the passing without as much as a scratch.

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Beautiful countryside in southwest England, as seen from the bus on the way home from our field trip to Hooke Park.

We also spent some time talking to one of the conference attendees, a mostly-retired man who now lives on the coast of Spain. When we pulled into the hotel, we had a few minutes to rest before Rose headed downstairs for the official conference dinner. This was an extravagant affair at a restaurant a few miles away called the Rhinefield House Hotel. Since we had no desire to pay the 70 pound cost for Philip to join, Rose was on her own for this one.

Once the group left, Philip settled in at a table on the hotel patio to do some writing and to eat one of the more amazing cheeseburgers of his life (most likely due to the “rarebit” topping, which is some sort of flavorful Welsh cheese). His tummy happy and the night air getting a bit chilly, he migrated inside the lobby to sit on a couch there.

At one point, a lady (turns out she was from New Zealand) came by and asked if he would be a signature witness for some legal documents for a power of attorney. He was happy to comply with the request and they joked about an American witnessing a signature in the south of England for legal business taking place half a world away in New Zealand. She was very grateful and even sent a waiter over a bit later in the evening offering to buy Philip a drink.

Rose returned from dinner at 10:30pm and, after chatting with her fellow conference mates for a few minutes outside the lobby, we soon headed to bed. Tomorrow is the final day of the conference and we will be moving on from New Forest in a roundabout route back to London over the next few days.

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Our path for the day. A->A (blue): Philip’s 23-mile bike ride. A->B (red): Conference field trip to Hooke Park. B: Walk around and see cool timber structures. B->A (magenta): Return trip back to hotel…didn’t realize the route was so different until we looked at the GPS track later.

Summary:

  • An enjoyable morning on a bike ride
  • Field trip to Hooke Park to see experimental timber structures
  • Fancy dinner for Rose, amazing cheeseburger for Philip

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 2.5 miles | 5,000 steps
  • Distance on Bike: 23.4 miles
  • Distance in Bus: 148.5 miles

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

Tuesday began with a lovely breakfast including everything from pastries, cheese, and prosciutto to grilled portabella mushrooms and poached eggs. After eating, we wandered along to the back of the hotel so Rose could do her conference check-in and get her bag of swag.

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Even the smokers get pampered at the 4-star Balmer Lawn Hotel. Philip particularly liked the wit expressed with this sign.

The morning was spent with Rose conferencing and Philip sitting in the hotel lobby catching up on a major backlog of blog writing. We have had more challenge keeping up with it on this trip than any of our others, most likely because we have had many more late evenings than usual. Philip also chatted with a Turkish guy for some time whose wife was also attending the conference and he was along for the ride.

Unexpectedly, Philip was able to join the group for a barbecue lunch at the nearby lodge of the company hosting the conference. We all piled onto a coach bus and traveled about 10 minutes to the headquarters of the Wessex Institute, which consists of a lovely collection of brick buildings set into a small clearing in the middle of the woods and goes by the name of Ashurst Lodge.

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One of the beautiful brick buildings at Ashurst Lodge.

A large tent was set upon the lawn and we entered there to get our food and drinks before finding a spot at a small table with another couple. They were from Oregon and she was tagging along just like Philip. After lunch (and dessert) was finished, we embarked on a brief walking tour around the grounds and then climbed back aboard the coach for the trip back to the hotel.

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The setup for our barbecue lunch at Ashurst Lodge, home of the Wessex Institute of Technology.

We spent the afternoon doing more conferencing and a lot more blog writing. The Turkish guy from earlier had asked to borrow our laptop and Philip lent Rose’s to him to use while sitting in the lobby. Apparently, he and his wife had a travel arrangement disaster going on and he was trying to figure out lodgings both here in New Forest as well as in London. Also of great importance is the awesome puppy Philip got to meet while sitting there. She was so full of energy and a love for life and even gave him a few unexpected kisses. The hotel seems to be very dog friendly and the added charge for having a pet is only a few pounds, which is far better than what we have typically seen in America. Most of the hotels in which we have stayed on this trip seem to have a similarly dog-friendly policy.

The conference ran about an hour later than expected, though several people seemed to wander out early near the end. Philip sat and chatted with the Turkish couple and a Slovak couple for a while but then decided that he needed to get up and do something other than sitting. He first checked out the hotel gym, though a lingering bruise on the palm made most upper body weight lifting untenable. The gym has a feeling of relatively low usage by the normal clientele of the hotel (this is a very, very wealthy area of the country and most patrons are elderly). While he did his 15 minutes of weight lifting, the only other visitors were one guy who came in solely to get a cup of water and a young girl who entered twice to work on her makeup using the big mirrors along the wall.

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Horses on the small cricket pitch in front of our hotel.

Since Rose was still not out of the conference, Philip went for a quick run around the cricket pitch on the front lawn and then stopped by the front desk to get recommendations on what to do with his time the next day. He eventually settled on renting a bicycle and exploring the region in that manner.

Once Rose emerged, we hopped in the car and drove a mile or so into the small village of Brockenhurst and quickly settled on a kebab/pizza shop for dinner. While we waited for Rose’s pizza to bake, we had a very amusing conversation with the Turkish guy behind the register at the adjoining convenience store that covered everything from politics to relationships to why we don’t yet have any children of our own (maybe he had been talking to Phil’s mom!).

We took our food back to the hotel and sat in a park next to the grounds to eat. Again, we had been given way more food than we could possibly consume, which seems to be the norm for southern England kebab stands. After finishing, we went back inside so Rose could prepare more for her presentation and so we could get some sleep. This was a much more relaxing and sedentary day than we have had since the trip began. To be honest, it was nice to not push too hard and have a chance to relax and let our bodies recover.

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Our very brief path for the day (we forgot to turn on the tracker at times so some of the paths are approximate). A->B->A: Riding the coach bus to lunch at Ashurst Lodge and then back to the hotel. A->C (including clockwise trip around the triangle): Searching for dinner and stopping at kebab shop. C->A: Driving back to hotel (you can see that Philip missed the turn at first).

Summary

  • Day 1 of the Timber Conference
  • BBQ lunch at the Wessex Institute
  • Hanging out with the Turks
  • Fun conversations at the kebab shop

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 3.06 miles | 6,199 steps
  • Distance in Car and Bus: 9.98 miles

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

NOTE: Diligent followers of our blog may have noticed a significant lag in our posting of these blog entries in the last few weeks and we apologize for the delay. Now that we are back home, life has resumed full force (particularly the unexpectedly time consuming task of rebuilding our deck) and we have struggled to find the time to get these online. We will definitely post the details of the rest of our trip…it just might take longer than usual.

The day began earlier than normal at 6:15am, since we had to be headed out of Amiens by 7 in order to get to Calais in time to check in for our ride through the Channel Tunnel. To our delight, the local pastry shop at the end of the block was already up and running by 7am so we were able to grab some pastries to take with us on the road.

The drive was mostly uneventful right up until the end. Had we just stayed on the highway, we would have been deposited right at the entrance to the Eurotunnel complex. Instead, we followed the directions Samantha (our GPS voice) gave us and embarked on a 15 minute journey around the outside of the fenced complex on dirt roads. It was only after Rose gave up on her and figured out the route on her own that we were able to get back on a major road and into the complex via the correct entrance.

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Our last bit of France before crossing through English border security prior to boarding a Channel Tunnel train.

Check in was very straight forward at the automated machine and we then passed through French outbound passport control with ease. British passport control was a bit more rigorous with the lady asking us several questions about our travel plans and arrival dates in order to verify our authenticity (we apparently got enough of them correct because she let us through!).

We were then routed into the parking lot of a food complex, so we hopped out to take a quick look. Finding nothing of interest to us (though there was a massive duty free store), we hopped back in the car and got into the correct line for boarding our train. After a few minutes, our line started moving forward and we were directed up a ramp and into the top deck of a train car. The drive through the cars to the front was pretty narrow, particularly where the wall juts out to contain the car’s bathroom. As we passed one of these jut outs at a speed of about 10 mph, we may have come an inch or so from losing our passenger side mirror…but since close only counts in horseshoes (and hand grenades), no damage was done.

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One of the rather ugly (but highly functional) trains used when crossing via the Channel Tunnel.

The crew for our journey was British (as evidenced by the accent of the people speaking over the intercom), though we only saw a single crew member during our journey. He hung out in our train car and was chatting with the driver behind us. We mostly stayed in our vehicle for the crossing and used the time to listen to our audio book. We would have reclined our seats to be more comfortable, but as we learned while waiting for the ferry a week ago, the pump mechanism to do so requires something like 100 pumps to recline an inch and we just didn’t have that workout in us.

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Our little car somewhere beneath the English Channel aboard a Channel Tunnel train!

We pulled into the terminal in Folkestone, England in just 35 minutes (way faster than the 1.5 hours for the ferry ride) and drove out of the train car just a minute or two later. The Channel Tunnel cost us about twice as much as the ferry (can be a bit better or much worse depending on when you book and when you travel). With the delay we experienced in our ferry ride, taking the train was ultimately about 3 or 4 times faster all together including the check in process. With the change in time zone, we actually arrived in England 25 minutes before we departed from France!

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The white cliffs of Dover with the port in the background.

We headed back east to Dover to go visit the White Cliffs, which we had deferred last week due to time concerns. Rose switched her mantra back to “drive on the left, drive on the left” and we made it there safely in about 25 minutes. The traffic going the other direction looked pretty slow due to construction and we hoped we would not need to travel through that later in the day.

When we got to the White Cliffs Park, we stopped at the guard booth to pay our 3 pounds for parking at the site. To our surprise, the man informed us that he could not accept our 5 pound note because it was the older variety that had been replaced as of mid-May. He reassured us that it was still legal tender, but we might have to take it to a bank to get it swapped for one of the newer plastic notes as most vendors likely would not accept it anymore. We used a different bill to pay for parking and then headed to the car park.

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The white cliffs tower over the sea.

We stopped by the visitor center to inquire about a tour of some WWII tunnels in the cliffs. We were instructed to walk about 30 minutes to the tunnel entrance and that we could buy tickets there. While tours were limited to only 12 people, she didn’t anticipate us having any issues getting on the first tour and explained that tours launched every half hour so we wouldn’t have to wait too long if we did miss it.

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This thing that looks like a weed is actually a rare type of cabbage that grows in the highly chalky soil of the white cliffs. The park staff have to watch out for “poachers” that will attempt to steal these plants from the park and sell them to high end restaurants in London!

Nevertheless, we power walked our way there and made it in about 20 minutes. This ensured we got on the first group, though it ultimately was not an issue since there were only 3 visitors on our tour. We were a bit early for the first tour at 11am and we spent a while just sitting in the shelter at the tunnel entrance talking to one of the tour guides (named Ken) about all manner of things. Ken used to work for IBM in Dallas and told us all about the world in his thick British accent. Of most amusement were a few statements he made about the French, oftentimes showing his disdain for them. At one point we chatted about the ferries and he explained that there is British ferry company (P&O, which is what we took) and there used to be a French company but they went out of business cause the workers went on strike too often and thus there boats were purchased and are now operated by the Danish.

Ken also explained that he goes to France fairly often, but typically just to buy cheap wine. Apparently, wine is about half price in France compared to England and the English customs allows one to bring in 363 bottles or fewer of wine without needing to declare and pay taxes. We asked him if he ever brought in that many and he assured us with, “no, only a few hundred”.

At about 10 ‘til, we were given hard hats and Ken began a safety briefing for our trip to the tunnels. The highlights were that the ceilings are low in places, the climate is extremely humid to the point of dripping and standing water, and please don’t touch the chalk walls. Those logistics complete, our ragtag group of 5 (1 guide, 3 visitors, and a fairly awkward teenage kid who may have been related to one of the guides and was “training as a guide”). Our guide was a man, probably in his 50’s, whose father had served in these tunnels during WWII. As such, he had not only a lot of information about the tunnels but also anecdotes and stories that he no doubt heard from his father. He also had a reverence and a passion for the history of the war and these tunnels in particular that was touching to see and ultimately made for a great experience.

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Inside the tunnels at the white cliffs.

We descended the concrete stairs carefully as they were very wet and slippery near the bottom. We then proceeded on our 45 minute or so tour of the tunnels, stopping frequently to look and listen. Like many places, the tunnels have a lot of graffiti carved into the soft chalk walls. While some is recent (last 20 years), a lot of it is from the time of the war and was carved by the soldiers. It is easy to imagine a solider standing in a long line for one of the few toilets, absentmindedly carving his name into the wall.

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After the war, a company attempted to salvage some of the steel ribs from the tunnels. They quickly decided it wasn’t worth the effort or danger once the ceiling started collapsing in on them.

Some of the graffiti was a bit more creative, including two poems in the hallway leading towards the outdoor toilets. One said, “I in such a caper having shit and got no paper. Parade is due, I dare not linger. Here goes, I’ll use my finger.” The other rhymed nicely with “When you come into this hall, use the paper not this wall. If no paper can be found, run your ass along the ground.” Apparently, young men have always had a sense of humor that finds poop jokes to be the height of wit.

At one point, we stepped out of the end of the tunnel onto the face of the cliff and saw two acoustic dishes made of concrete. These are parabolic dishes, hailing from WWI (some of the tunnels originated in WWI but were expanded greatly in WWII…all in less than 100 days from start to finish), which are were used as a means to detect incoming aircraft and ships. A soldier would stand at the focus point of the dish with a listening horn and sound the alarm if he heard the sound of the enemy. One of the dishes is tilted upward at a slight angle and was likely used for detecting aircraft; the other is angled a bit more towards the water below, and is thus presumed to have been used for detecting ships. The sensitivity is such that one could supposedly hear a mouse running through the weeds.

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One of the two audio reflecting dishes used for detecting approaching aircraft and boats.

On our way back towards the tunnel entrance, we stopped by the officer quarters. While the officers had a bit more space than enlisted soldiers (and a dedicated bathroom), their sleeping area did have the unfortunate characteristic of being the low point and thus flooding on an annual basis with several inches of chalky sludge.

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The WWII tunnels in the white cliffs had a major problem with humidity. However, this galvanized metal duct work is rust free despite being original from the 1940s.

We exited the tunnels, thanked our guide, and set off a bit further to see the light house at the end of the park. We decided not to spend the time to go up into it, so we stopped well short and headed back towards the visitor center after taking a few pictures. On the way back, we took a lower route at a fork in the trail, which we thought was the marked trail along the edge of the cliff. We became concerned as the trail continued to descend towards the port below rather than climbing back up towards our car.

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Our detour on the way back through White Cliffs Park took us through a horse pasture. In the background is the port of Dover, from which we departed on our ferry to France a week ago.

Eventually, though, we spotted a long ramping trail along the cliff edge and were able to walk up that and emerge into a horse pasture with several horses. Stepping carefully, we crossed the pasture and down a short trail through a tunnel of trees and emerged right next to the visitor center.

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This green tunnel fortunately led us back to the Visitor’s Center.

 

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Our walking path around the White Cliffs of Dover. A->B: Walk to the tunnel entrance. B: Explore the tunnels. B->C: Walk to the lighthouse (almost). D: The actual location of the lighthouse. C->E: Return trip taking the lower fork. E->A: Back to the visitor center via a horse pasture and a tunnel through the trees.

We elected to have a simple lunch at the visitor center and then walked to our car and began the trek west across southern England. Our drive to Bodiam took longer than expected, partially due to the construction traffic and partially due to the back roads we took for much of the trip. Nevertheless, we made it to our destination safely and parked in the car park to visit Bodiam Castle.

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Bodiam Castle sits in the middle of a very impressive moat.

After buying tickets in the visitor center and paying for parking at the automated machine, we set off up the small hill towards the beautiful castle. We started by doing a lap of the large moat (50+ feet wide), taking pictures from several different angles. We also admired a flock of geese in the grass next to us, which were far more attractive than the Canadian geese we typically see back at home.

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The main entrance of Bodiam Castle.

Exploring the inside of the castle was a fun experience and we explored it all, guided by our handy map. Bodiam has the oldest known portcullis (spikey gate that blocks entrance) in England. They are confident in the date of this one because its construction is such that it could not have been retrofitted. It had to have been built in at the same time as the castle wall around it. The map had useful information about each room, and this was often supplemented by signboards telling additional information (like one particularly interesting one about the horrible job of cleaning the toilet chutes…which usually went to children because they could more easily fit in the tight spaces!).

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The portcullis at Bodiam Castle is the oldest in England…they know the date because there is no possible way it could have been retrofitted once the walls were in place.

 

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The inner courtyard of Bodiam Castle as seen from atop a corner tower.

We also saw a small insignia attached to the walls in various places throughout, though it blended in well and took some effort to spot. We were confused by this at first until we came to the conclusion that it was an activity to keep kids engaged while they looked around.

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One of the hidden insignia in Bodiam Castle…it took some effort to spot them all and is a great idea for keeping kids engaged.

We exited back across the moat and returned down the hill towards the car. We decided to hold off on dinner until later and continued west on our journey. It took several hours to get to New Forest, due to the distance and several congested areas with very slow traffic. Perhaps we would have been better following Samantha’s recommendation, though that would have taken us all the way to the outskirts of London and we feared bad traffic around the city. Instead, we stayed further south along the coast, though with the high hedges and trees along the road, the water was only visible for a few minutes during the entire trip. As the evening was approaching quickly, we had to pass on our last planned stop in Brighton to see the royal Brighton Pavilion (next time, I guess).

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Our path strolling around and through Bodiam Castle.

We stopped just short of our final destination for some kebabs, which we took to a nearby park to eat. For 10 pounds or so, we were given an insane amount of food to consume and we did our absolute best but still came up short. While we ate, we saw some of the New Forest horses across a field, roaming around free. New Forest is known for its cows, horses, and ponies, all of which live a truly “free range” life and are not fenced in. As such, drivers must always be careful of any of these animals on the roadway. As a sign on the back of a bus we saw later reminded us, “ponies don’t dent, they die”.

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The view as we sat in a park eating our dinner of kebabs. New Forest has horses and ponies roaming everywhere!

We found our hotel easily and, after fitting the car into a rather tight space, we checked into the nicest hotel of our trip (by far). Thus far, we have focused on finding relatively inexpensive lodgings, which means we have stayed in hostels and one or maybe two star hotels. Our hotel in Brockenhurst (Balmer Lawn) is a four star establishment and is a very nice change for us.

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Wow, what a difference a 4-star hotel is compared to our normal range of hostel to 2-star.

When we walked into our room, we were blown away by its size. You could fit two and a half of our last room in this one. We even have a fireplace with a mantle! It’s amazing to have space to sleep, walk, sit, and store bags…all at the same time. After unpacking, Rose spent some time practicing her presentation for the Timber Conference (the actual reason we came to England in the first place and the reason for the nice hotel). Tomorrow begins our three day stay here in the New Forest for Rose’s conference before we finish out the last few days and head for home.

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Here we are back in England again.

Summary

  • Riding the Channel Tunnel…boring in practice but awesome when you think about the logistics
  • Walking along the White Cliffs of Dover
  • Amusing poetry inside the Dover WWII tunnels
  • The fairytale-like Bodiam Castle
  • A long drive across southern England
  • Kebabs and horses
  • A truly luxurious hotel experience

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 7.54 miles | 16,080 steps
  • Distance in Car on Train: 31.4 miles
  • Distance in Car (not on train): 282.8 miles
Day10_Full

Our path for the day. A->B: Drive to Calais. B->C: Ride the Channel Tunnel to Folkestone, England. C->D: Drive to White Cliffs of Dover park. D: Explore White Cliffs. D->E: Drive to Bodiam. E: Explore Bodiam Castle. E->F: Drive to New Forest. F: Stop for quick dinner of kebabs in Lyndhurst. F->G: Drive to hotel in Brockenhurst.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

As planned, we were thankfully able to sleep in some and recover from our late night. We had to be out of the flat by 11am but that left us a bit of time to go back to our favorite pastry shop once more as well as stop by the grocery store to pick up some snacks. After a very slow process of extracting our car from its berth in the underground parking garage, we deposited our key in the dropbox and set off north out of town for the hour journey to Beauvais.

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Driving from Paris to Beauvais.

We chose to stop in Beauvais because its cathedral contains a one-of-a-kind astronomical clock built in the 1860s. We did not anticipate the cathedral itself being so interesting, and were pleasantly surprised when we pulled up and saw this massive, if not oddly misshapen building in front of us. The cathedral at Beauvais is incredibly tall, a feature which is exaggerated even more because the nave was never constructed. As such, the building does not have the long horizontal span that normally balances out the visual impact of the height.

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The unfinished Beauvais Cathedral. The plans for adding a long nave to the building never came to fruition.

The highlight inside the museum was of course the clock. We bought tickets from the lady inside and she informed us that the clock presentation would start on the half hour and that are audio guides would automatically play. We sat down in some wooden chairs in front of the clock and waited, along with one other couple (not too crowded on a Sunday afternoon).

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The transept and apse of Beauvais Cathedral.

After much anticipation, the presentation began with a video playing on some TV screen and spotlights accenting different parts of the clock as the audio guide explained what we were seeing. The audio was ridonculously cheesy and was staged as a mock conversation between the clock builder and an inquisitive female who was also already inexplicably knowledgeable about the clock. As such, most of her questions were incredibly leading where she essentially told the clock maker how the clock worked and he got to say simply, “Exactly correct!” and other such phrases.

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The vaulted ceiling of the Beauvais Cathedral feels astonishingly high from the inside. It may be the tallest in the world at 48 meters high and the visual effect is magnified more by the lack of a nave to give length to balance out the height.

Looking past the cheesiness, the audio guide did give a lot of interesting information about the design of the clock and the motivation behind its construction. During the 30 minute presentation, we got to see the clock first chime at the three quarter hour and then also on the hour. Animated figures move around, fire appears and disappears, angels blow trumpets, and myriad other actions occur. All of this happens completely mechanically based on an insanely complex system of gears. 50 or so dials report all manner of temporal information from local time in various major cities to the lunar cycle to the tides to solar eclipses. Again, all of these calculations are implemented strictly through the use of gears! It is even capable of correctly managing leap years, including not assigning a leap year when the year ends in 00 but is not multiple of four (e.g., 1900 is not but 2000 is). This means there is a gear involved in this clock that only revolves fully once every 400 years and which has only revolved about halfway around since the clock was built!

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The incredible clock in the Beauvais Cathedral. It is made of 90,000 individual pieces and uses an entirely mechanical system to control more than 50 dials as well as numerous moving figurines.

Unfortunately, there is no access to the back of the clock so we could not see firsthand very much of the complex innards, but even just walking around the outside was really cool. It was definitely worth the stop to see this thing and we highly recommend it for anyone who is fascinated by ancient technological marvels. This is quite possibly the most complex mechanical machine every constructed and it consists of approximately 90,000 individual pieces.

Still amazed, we eventually left the cathedral and sought out a restroom before leaving town. Next to the cathedral, we saw a free museum which had toilette signs visible from the main entrance. So, we sauntered in hoping to just use the restroom and quickly leave. Before we could do that, though, we were greeted and handed a brochure in English explaining the exhibits.

Not wanting to seem rude, we did a quick lap around the lower floor of the museum, which contained numerous paintings from Italian painters. After finally reaching the restroom, we then checked out the upper floor where we found some modern art displays that were well beyond our ability to comprehend. After what we hoped was an appropriate amount of time in the museum, we exited past the group of four or so workers and back to our car.

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The view as we drove north from Beauvais to Amiens.

Our journey took us next to Amiens (pronounced “ammm-e-yawn”), which is where we would stay for our final night in France. We found street parking right in front of our hotel, but then noticed a sign on the door saying it was closed for check-in until 5pm (despite our booking confirmation saying we could check in any time between noon and 8pm). The door opened when we pushed on it and we wandered inside but couldn’t find anyone to help us at the moment.

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The very Gothic facade of the Cathedral in Amiens…like almost every other large church in France, this one is named Notre Dame, which means “our Lady”.

 

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Like many Gothic cathedrals, Amiens features large quantities of intricate statues on its facade.

We returned to the car, grabbed our day pack, and set out on foot across Amiens figuring we would just check in later that night. After a few minutes of walking, we arrived at the town’s massive cathedral and stepped inside. We quickly realized that the towers could be climbed and, being us, we had no choice but to do so. The ticket office was outside and we purchased tickets for a tower tour beginning in just a few minutes.

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Our trip up the towers of Amiens Cathedral gave us an up close view of the beautiful rose window on its facade.

The “tour”, in this case, consisted of nothing more than a timed opening of the doorway to allows up the stairs. Other than that, we were able to explore the towers entirely on our own (well, along with the other 6 people who also climbed up there at the same time). As expected, we were met with lovely views over Amiens and we were astounded at the number of churches we could see in every direction.

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Looking back at the steep lead roofs and central spire from atop the bell towers at the cathedral in Amiens.

The inside of the cathedral was much like many of the other Gothic cathedrals we have visited. Like the cathedral in Chartres, this one also features a labyrinth on the floor of the nave as the final challenge for pilgrims before approaching the altar. One highlight of the cathedral for us was the large arches separating some of the chapels from the transept. Elsewhere, these same arches hold the stained glass windows that line the exterior. With no glass in these inside ones, we were able to see how relatively thin the stone is and it all seems very delicate. It’s hard to believe it is strong enough to last over time, but hasn’t had issues yet at least.

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The stone arches and circular window in the Amiens Cathedral seem so delicate when they don’t have a window pane set inside.

 

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Beautiful stained glass at the Amiens Cathedral.

We were unable to visit the treasury of the church since we arrived after the single Sunday tour. As such, we missed out on seeing the skull of John the Baptist, which is the cathedral’s most famous relic. We did see a reliquary box in the cathedral that contained the tiniest of fragments of bone, which supposedly came from the skull, but it would have been cool (and probably creepy) to see the whole thing.

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The quire and altar of the Amiens Cathedral

Once we had finished in the cathedral, we walked across the square to a tourist info office to use the restroom (yes, we are doing our best to stay better hydrated than we did in Paris) and to get a map of Amiens since we didn’t know where to go next. The clerk was very helpful and gave us some suggestions about where we could find food and what else might be worth doing for our evening in Amiens. We also learned that the cathedral would be lit up at night, like many others around France…but that it wouldn’t begin until Thursday and thus wouldn’t be an option for us.

We followed our map down the hill from the cathedral and into an area of former marshland that now serves as a very unique botanical garden. We had originally thought to just walk around, but we decided to check in on how much a boat tour would cost. It turns out a boat tour is actually very inexpensive in Amiens (6 euros each for a 45 minute trip) and we happily signed up to do it.

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Riding our small boat around the marshy canals and gardens of Amiens.

After a few minutes wait, we piled into the back bench of a 12-person punt boat (though also with electric motor) and set off around a beautiful network of canals with our guide narrating along the way. Our guide was awesome and was able to answer all of our questions in English and gave us the translated commentary as well. He was from Amiens but his heritage came from further north in France and we could definitely detect a thicker and different accent than we had heard to date.

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The gardens in Amiens are quite lovely and many are only accessible by boat.

The network of canals gives access to a large area of unique gardens. Individual owners maintain each plot, some growing vegetable gardens whilst others have beautiful flowers and whimsical garden art. We floated along in a peaceful bliss, especially thankful that the sun had ducked behind the clouds. Our guide explained that the network of canals goes on for miles and miles and are a mixture of both public and private waterways. Anyone can use the public ones, though the opportunities to get lost are quite numerous.

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One of the pieces of modern art we saw on our boat ride. These are temporary as part of a Modern Art Expo in town.

In a few spots, we saw large modern art structures, which the guide explained were part of an upcoming expo in town. At various points we also saw numerous dogs (including one riding in a boat), multiple types of ducks, and one very excited young kid (perhaps 8 years old) who ran to the edge of his garden to wave at us and then proceeded to do “the dab” about 10 times in a row with a huge smile on his face.

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Each garden was unique, though almost all of them featured colorful flowers.

After an amazing 45 minutes, we docked again and thanked our guide for a lovely time. We then walked around the oldest section of town, which is built around another set of canals and is quite quaint. Hunger was setting in, so we returned to a riverfront area we had seen earlier that had a bunch of restaurants. We walked up and down the row of restaurants, looking at each menu of the day and trying to decide what would be best for the night. At many of the restaurants, a good number of people were sitting out on the patios drinking cocktails in the early evening breeze.

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The quaint and quiet streets of historic Amiens.

Philip (because Rose had absconded decision authority on this one) finally decided on a restaurant and we inquired about a table. At this point we were informed by the British lady running the place that they did not open for food service until 7pm (still an hour away!). It was at this point that we realized the significance of the fact that nobody was actually eating food and instead only drinking.

Disheartened, we headed back to the hotel to check in with the intention of just grabbing something quick for dinner. We had hoped to have an early night since we had an early morning to come in order to catch our ride on the Channel Tunnel. When we returned to the hotel, we found it open and were able to check in for our stay. We also discovered that the hotel had no lift and our room was up two and a half flights of stairs. Through great strength and mental fortitude, Philip got the suitcases to the room and we settled in for a few minutes to relax.

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Our boat guide told us that this building was Europe’s first skyscraper. Some internet searching contradicts this slightly (a building in Antwerp, Belgium seems to hold the title of first “skyscraper”) but it is definitely regarded as one of Europe’s first “tall buildings”.

After some deliberation, we decided that we did desire one more sit down meal in France and so snacked a bit to tide us over. Just after 7pm, we went back down to the river front and back to our chosen restaurant. We took a table alongside the river and settled in for what was hopefully to be another amazing meal.

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The River Somme running through Amiens. We ate dinner at one of the restaurants along the river bank.

While we sat there, we became aware of numerous ducks on the river. We first saw a mommy and daddy duck with four ducklings of adolescent age. These were pretty cute, but had almost reached the point of self-sufficiency and thus had no issue venturing far from mom in search of food in the reeds. Soon after, however, we saw another duck family with four of the tiniest little fluff balls. Being so young, these ducklings were much less confident being away from mom and anytime they discovered they had ventured more than a few feet from her side, they would scurry back to mom as quickly as possible. They were so light that it looked like they ran across the surface of the water to get back to her and it was one of the most adorable things we’ve ever seen. We also had some nice memories of a dinner in Milano eight years ago when we had also sat by a river and watched the duckies.

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We spent a good portion of our dinner watching this adorable duck family swim up and down the river. In unrelated news, Rose had duck for dinner…

There was an Italian restaurant next door to ours and, at one point, an elderly lady wearing slippers appeared in the alleyway between the two buildings and just stood there watching things for a long while. We aren’t sure exactly who she was or why she had no real shoes on her feet, but we joked that perhaps she was owner of the Italian place and was lamenting the lack of patronage at her restaurant at the moment. We also joked that perhaps the reason the restaurant had low patronage was because of the odd lady in slippers staring from the alleyway.

We had multiple waiters throughout the meal and they each worked with us in English as much as possible. Dinner was a slow affair and was definitely tasty, but also definitely not even close to what we had in Chartres. While all of the food was very good, it did not have near the complexity or mastery we had experienced before.

For the entrée (appetizer), Rose had a prosciutto and cheese platter, though we didn’t realize that is what it would be based on the description. Philip tried a local specialty, which turned out to be pastry dough with ham and cheese and then covered in 3 cows worth of heavy cream. For the main meal, Philip had salmon and Rose tried duck for the first time. And no, the irony was not lost on us that we had just been admiring cute ducklings swimming up and down the river next to our table. For dessert, Rose went with an apple tart a la mode and Philip had a very, very sweet chocolate mousse. Again, it was all very good, but just could not compare with dinner in Chartres (though it was a fair bit cheaper as well).

Throughout our meal, the wind picked up as the sun went down and it got downright chilly at our table by the water. Stubborn, we did our best to tough it out rather than giving up and asking to move to a table inside. A waiter even gave us the option directly at one point, but we declined for some unknown reason. After dessert, we stepped inside to pay the bill and asked the English lady to ring up our bill for 5 euros more than the cost to use as a tip. She seemed taken aback that we would leave a tip and the staff was very grateful at the gesture. Our guidebook indicated that a tip of 5-10% is not uncommon at nicer restaurants, but we seem to have surprised the staff both times we did this so perhaps it is less common than indicated.

We also spent a few minutes chatting with the lady and she was delighted to hear that we would next be heading to New Forest, England, which is the area of the country from which she came. We thanked her for a lovely meal and then headed out the door and back towards our hotel.

We took the slightly longer route than necessary in order to walk by the façade of the cathedral in the hopes that it might be lit up for testing. Indeed, a few guys were working on the projection booths when we passed, but the sky was still pretty light at 9pm and we couldn’t have really seen anything even if it had been projecting. Tomorrow, we say au revoir to France and cheerio again to England. We have an early crossing via the Channel Tunnel before we slowly make our way throughout the day to New Forest for Rose’s conference.

One final note: we aren’t sure where the stereotype of French people being rude came from, but we have not seen it in the slightest. Without exception, every encounter we had whether in French or in English was excellent and nobody seemed to take any offense when we couldn’t speak the language very well or when our pronunciation was admittedly awful. We had a lovely time in France and look forward to future visits to see more of this huge and seemingly amazing country!

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Our afternoon and evening in Amiens. A->B (green): walking to and exploring Amiens Cathedral. B->C (green) walking to the botanical gardens. C->C (red, clockwise): riding a boat around the canals and gardens. C->D->A (dark blue): exploring the town and scoping out dinner restaurants (notice the thick path around point D where we walked up and down restaurant row at least 5 times). A->D (light blue): going back out for dinner once restaurants opened at 7pm. D->B->E (light blue): back to the hotel via the Cathedral, just in case they were testing the light show and we could see pretty colors.

Summary

  • Farewell to Paris and our favorite pastry shop
  • Beauvais and the awesome astronomical clock
  • The Cathedral in Amiens
  • A lovely boat tour around the botanical gardens
  • A final French dinner

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 9.06 miles | 18,195 steps
  • Distance on Boat: 1.77 miles
  • Distance in Car: 91.9 miles
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Our path for Day 9 going from Paris to Amiens with a stop in Beauvais.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

Our second full day in Paris began earlier than intended because one of us forgot to turn off our phone alarm (pretty sure it was Philip but don’t remember at this point). We dressed and then set off to our favorite pastry shop for breakfast before hopping on the Metro.

The first destination of the day was a famous building (at least amongst architects and architectural engineers) called Le Centre Pompidou. This building serves as a flexible museum space, though we were not there to see the interior. What makes the building interesting to us is that almost all of the infrastructure of the building is routed along the exterior and is visible to the public.

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The “inside-out” Centre Pompidou is fascination to behold and beautiful in its own unique way.

Some might find it ugly, but to us it was a fascinating piece of art in its own right with tubes and pipes and air handling and structural elements all serving as the building’s façade. We walked around the back side where most of this was visible to the plaza out front. Here, a staircase climbs from left to right along the front of the building up the 4 or so stories. A crane system on a track is mounted to the staircase and can navigate the entire length of the stairs to provide maintenance access to different sections. All in all, it is very unique building and right up our alley.

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The front of the Centre Pompidou with its exterior staircase.

Rose stepped into one of the public restroom stalls out in front, which are apparently self-cleaning. A sign on the front of the stall explained that after each guest, the bathroom is washed, sanitized, and dried (all in less than a minute) before being available for the next guest. Well, 2 out of 3 usually isn’t too bad and they seem to have mastered the wash stage (pretty obvious) and the sanitize stage (assuming on this one). However, the drying stage leaves a lot to be desired and thus Rose was in for a very wet adventure.

While she experienced the restroom, Philip waited outside and shared a laugh with a French guy about the behavior of his tiny dog who could not seem to decide if Philp was a threat or not. He would alternate between lunging and barking at him and then a moment later acting completely disinterested. Then, it was as if he realized Philip hadn’t gone away yet and would repeat the cycle.

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I.M. Pei’s pyramid entrance to the Louvre. It’s definitely beautiful but seems out of place with the classical architecture of the rest of the building.

We then continued walking along to the Louvre Museum, which was intended to be our major attraction for the day. We entered from the north through the eastern courtyard and then stepped out into the much larger western courtyard where got our first view of I.M. Pei’s infamous glass pyramid entrance to the museum. This pyramid is one of the more controversial architectural works in recent history, not because it is not beautiful, but because its modern design is a stark contrast to the rest of the ancient building.

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The main atrium beneath the Louvre’s pyramid.

On the other side of the pyramid, we saw what appeared to be large crowds already assembled, but were relieved when got over there that it wasn’t as bad as we feared. Our Paris passes gave us priority access to the museum and we entered a very short queue to get through security and into the museum. With this usage, our passes were also more than paid for; highly recommend the Paris Museum Pass for anyone visiting Paris and intending to see a lot of the sights!

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Here she is, the Mona Lisa

 

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…and here are all of the people trying to get a look at her

We made a beeline for the section of the museum containing the Mona Lisa, hoping to see that famous work before the crowds got too large. We found her and spent a few moments admiring, though then moved out of the way to allow the other hundred people in the room to get a view too. She was actually bigger than we expected, which is different than most people’s reaction. We have heard so many times how unexpectedly small the canvas is that perhaps we overcompensated in our minds.

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Beautiful mosaic floors in the Louvre…inspiration for when we remodel our bathroom at home!

As we are not particularly interested in most art (we’re all about the buildings), we moved pretty quickly throughout the large museum, though this still took a few hours. By far, the Italian painters section of the museum was the most crowded, especially with tour groups. Once you get out of that area, the crowds dwindle quickly and there are some areas that are virtually uninhabited.

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The foundations of the original fortress within the Louvre…the building has grown a lot over the years.

One thing we hadn’t anticipated was just how much the building itself is a work of art in its own right. The building which contains the Louvre began as a fortress 1000 years ago (you can walk through a section showing the foundations of that portion of the building) and was expanded into a magnificent palace over the years. Every room has beautiful stone or wood floors and most have ceilings with vibrant murals that could easily serve as the focal point of most other places. This particular building just happens to also have world famous artwork also hanging on the walls!

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The sculptures were the highlight of the Louvre for us.

Other than the Italian painters, the other highlight of the Louvre’s collection is the extensive set of sculptures. Room after room contains beautiful stone (and some bronze) sculpture and these even spill out into several indoor courtyards as well forming lovely sculpture gardens. The most famous sculpture in the collection is the Venus de Milo, which is oddly popular (perhaps it’s her smile…kind of like the Mona Lisa) despite her missing appendages.

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The famous Venus de Milo statue, which is over 2000 years old.

After satiating our need for artwork, we left the Louvre via the underground exit, which passes through a shopping mall complex complete with Apple Store all beneath the surface. We went up the stairs and found ourselves at the west end of the west courtyard, directly adjacent to another large monumental arch called the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. On top of the arch are four large horses, replicas of those that live in Venice atop St. Mark’s Cathedral. Apparently, Napoleon had a fascination with those horses and he looted them from Venice and placed them here in Paris. When he was defeated, he was forced to give the horses back and thus replicas were placed here instead. As an aside, those horses have to be among the most often stolen large piece of art. There were originally looted from Constantinople and brought to Venice in 1204.

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The Arc de Triumphe du Carrousel. Napoleon stole the four horses from St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice but he had to give them back after losing at Waterloo.

Our path continued northwest out of the Louvre courtyard and through the adjacent gardens. We were stopped briefly by an English speaking lady doing research about Air B&B (the non-hotel hotel service). We answered her questions about why we have never tried Air B&B as we swatted away the insects buzzing near the large fountain where we had stopped. People were sunbathing in chairs around the fountain and hopefully having better luck with the bugs than were we.

We kept moving along and made a side jaunt out to one of the bridges over the river where people have attached locks as a symbol of their love. To our dismay as tourists, there really weren’t very many locks attached except for on one small panel of the railing. By all other rationales, however, the lack of locks is a good thing as this “tradition” (only began in 2008 so hard to call it a tradition) has been responsible for damaging several bridges over the Seine to varying degrees due to the incredible weight thousands of locks can add to the bridge structure.

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Locks on a bridge in Paris.

At the end of the gardens, we reached the roundabout at the other end of the Avenue de Champs-Elysees. While not quite as crazy as the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe, this is still a ridiculously crowded traffic quagmire and we are very grateful to not be driving anywhere near it. In the center of the roundabout is an obelisk; we had originally assumed Napoleon looted it from Egypt but later learned that it was actually a gift from Egypt to the nation of France.

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The massive obelisk at one end of the Champs-Elysees…to our surprise, Napoleon didn’t actually steal this and it was instead a gift from the Egyptians.

We walked towards the river and between the Grand Palais on our right and Petit Palais on our right (big and small palaces, respectively). We sat for a moment on the steps of the Petit Palais but were asked to move because we were unwittingly blocking the walkway. Hungry, we set off around the Grand Palais on a quest to find some food for lunch but had no success in this mission. So, we decided to make our next stop brief and then perhaps find food across the river.

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A beautiful view across the Seine River with Paris’s most famous landmark in the distance.

Our Paris passes got us into the Museum of Discovery, which ended up being a somewhat interesting science museum, though aimed more at children and with less English signage than we had hoped. We did a quick lap of the displays, pausing at a few. Philp was fascinated by one display that showed elliptical orbits, and used a very simple mechanical system for fixing the lengths of the major and minor axes to draw the ellipses.

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Phil was fascinated by this demonstration of elliptical orbits at the Discovery Museum.

Upon leaving the museum, we crossed the Seine and found a grocery store where we purchased prosciutto, a block of cheese, and a loaf of bread. We took our food to the edge of the Esplanade des Invalides and sat in the shade on a bench in the large park to enjoy our meal. It was quite lovely sitting in the shade and sharing a meal reminiscent of our time traveling Italy (all that was missing was the Leatherman for cutting the cheese).

Having eaten more bread and cheese in one sitting than should be allowed (yes, for a second time), we walked a bit further along to possibly the worst stop of our trip. Our Paris passes granted us free access to the Paris Sewer Museum, which for better or worse is actually located in a section of the Parisian sewer system. Paris sewers are a technical marvel and apparently were instrumental in making the city a viable place to live. There were information displays explaining much of this. Unfortunately, the smell was so unpleasant that we had no desire to stop and read any of that information.

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We just couldn’t stomach the intense smell of the Paris Sewer Museum.

We followed the prescribed path fairly quickly and then escaped back to the fresh air of the surface. Had we planned better, we would have instead gone to the Musee des Plans-Reliefs, which supposedly contains “a unique collection of models of French cities and their surrounding countryside commissioned by the state from Louis XIV to Napoléon III.” This sounds absolutely lovely and right in line with our love of architecture and Philip’s inexplicable love of dioramas and scale models…and also unlikely to smell like sewage. We have added this museum to our list to visit when we come back to Paris someday.

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Our massive tour boat for cruising on the Seine…and there were probably 10 equivalent boats like this on the same 3 mile stretch of river at the same time as us.

Our noses still reeling, we crossed the Seine and went down to the nearby boat docks to buy two tickets for a boat tour of the city. We had already seen most places on foot but thought it would be cool and relaxing to get the river view as well. Fortunately, a boat was scheduled to leave in just 10 minutes so we bought our tickets (and a couple bottles of water from the stand out front) and then boarded a ridiculously large river vessel (probably could hold 200 people). We took seats near the front left of the outdoor upper deck and immediately applied copious amounts of sunscreen.

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The backside of Notre Dame at the tip of the Ile de la Cite.

 

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The Conciergerie with its cool towers as seen from our river cruise.

As the boat sailed up the river towards Notre Dame, a recording described the sights on either side of the bank in about 8 different languages. We went around the tip of Ile Saint Louis and back down the river past the docks to the Eiffel Tower. Surprisingly, the boat stopped just a few hundred yards short of where we could see the Statue of Liberty and turned back to its dock. Near the end, we both got pretty sleepy and Philip may have drifted off briefly.

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Just one of the several hundred photos we took of the Eiffel Tower. This one is from the boat as we cruised by on the river.

 

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Baby Polar Bear at the conclusion of an awesome boat ride up and down the Seine River.

After disembarking from the boat, we hopped on the metro and took a multi-transfer ride to Montmarte (mountain of martyrs). We exited at the Angers station (that’s pronounced “awn-jay”, by the way) along with most other people on the train. At the top of the metro stairs, we spilled out into a crowded shopping area with lots of people and vendors. High above, we saw the majestic Basilique de Sacre Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart) rising tall, and set off towards it.

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La Basilique du Sacre Couer on top of Montmarte (the hill of martyrs).

We head heard of a funicular to climb the hill but, frankly, the climb didn’t appear to be all that long so we went on foot instead. We traded a 1 euro coin for a bottle of water from a vendor half way up the stairs and before long were standing at the top of the hill at the base of the church. There was a fairly long line to get in through the security check, but it only took about 10 minutes. While we waited, we took some pictures and listened to the various people around us. A British couple behind us in line was having a heck of a time deciding whether to buy some water from one of the guys walking around and selling them. When they finally decided they wanted water, they couldn’t actually get the attention of someone and it was fairly comical to observe.

We also saw a 3-car vehicular choo-choo train carrying people up the hill. Having not yet seen the funicular, we wondered if this was it and joked about the choice of name. It turns out there actually is a real funicular (inclined cable car) that goes up the left side of the hill, although it is of such a short distance that it hardly seems worth the construction cost.

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The little choo-choo train from the top of Sacre Couer. As we walked down the hill later, we confirmed that there was a real funicular there too.

As we neared the checkpoint, a lady appeared magically in line between us and the British couple. Apparently, waiting her turn like everyone else wasn’t in the plans. We gave her “the look” and shook our heads but didn’t say anything. Once through the bag check, we headed first around the side of the cathedral where we could get tickets to climb to the top (doesn’t matter how tired we are, we always want to go to the top of things).

We climbed up exactly 293 steps to get to the top of the dome. The signage had said 300 steps but Philip’s count came up a few short of that. Yet again, we enjoyed magnificent views over the city and from a different perspective much further north than any of the previous. The Dome of Sacre Coeur is the second highest point in the city due to the height of the building and its location on top of a hill. Only the summit of the Eiffel Tower is higher.

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One of the spires of Sacre Couer with a modern skyscraper and the Eiffel Tower in the background. Where we are standing is the second highest point in Paris!

Upon descent back to the ground, we went inside the cathedral. Sacre Coeur was built “recently” from 1875 to 1919 at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian war. After seeing so many Gothic cathedrals in recent days, it was refreshing to enter into a building of a very different Byzantine style. Like some of the churches we saw in Venice, this style forgoes the long nave in favor of a more symmetrical layout with four equally sized arms radiating from the central altar.

The stone work in Sacre Coeur is magnificent with an abundance of mosaics (something that is also lacking in all of the Gothic cathedrals we’ve visited). We walked around the interior, rolling our eyes occasionally at the tourists taking photos despite the signs clearly stating not to. We then exited the church and back to the plaza in front.

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Street vendors like these are everywhere in Paris. It is quite impressive how fast they can pack up and move when a cop walks by.

As we came into the plaza, we saw two water vendors at a sprint come sliding into the prime location right in front of the security bag check. We assume that the police had come through a few minutes earlier, causing the vendors to scatter, and they were each competing to get the best spots now that the police had moved along. We laughed along with them as we walked past and headed down the right side of the hill back towards the bottom. Along the way, we finally saw the funicular for the first time, validating for us that the choo choo train was indeed something different. We also watched a father and adolescent boy “shoe surfing” down the hill next to the steps while mom became increasingly more frantic in her pleas for them to stop being idiots (they survived without injury, though dad almost lost it and face-planted near the end).

Absolutely exhausted at this point, we hopped back on the metro and returned to our hotel. Rose laid down for a nap to try and prepare for going back out into town one more time later in the evening.

At 9:30pm, we headed back to the metro so we could go see Paris lit up at night. In a moment of brilliance (though we didn’t yet realize it), Rose suggested that we buy our return tickets as well since we knew we would have to come back home at some point. We then rode the train back to Trocadero Square, which is the location of the wonderful overlook of the Eiffel Tower that we discovered yesterday. Along the way, we passed a stop named “Franklin Roosevelt”, which is pronounced very differently in French than what we are used to in America.

Upon exiting the metro, we quickly learned that we were not the only people in Paris who thought this would be a nice place from which to view the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. It was packed with people and street vendors, this time selling LED light up Eiffel Tower statues and other flashing trinkets. We looked up and saw Rose’s tower in all its glory, bathed in warm yellow light with spotlights rotating horizontally at the top.

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The Eiffel Tower at dusk as seen from the top of Trocadero Plaza.

Barricades had been set up to keep people a few feet back from the railing at the edge of the plaza, though these were mostly disregarded. Multiple people were either sitting or posing for photos on top of the wide banister (a few feet). Realistically, nobody was going to fall, though if they had, it would have been a 30+ foot fall to hard pavement below.

We walked down the stairs on the left and spotted a crepe stand set back along the edge. We stopped and ordered a crepe with sugar and lemon juice, which turned out to be a fun experience. The guy started making our crepe, which took a lot longer than expected. At some point, he trashed his attempt and waited for the girl (seemed like she had more experience) to show him how to make our crepe properly. I know it was just a few minutes of watching people go about their lives at their job, but there was something inexplicably satisfying about observing their interaction.

On a related note, we have now had two crepes in France and we would describe both as “just ok”. They seem to use more batter than necessary and thus they have a slightly spongy texture to them. For the record, Phil’s mom makes a much better crepe.

We found a spot on the grass and sat down to eat our crepe and just watch the tower. We had planned on perhaps hopping over to the Arc de Triumphe and/or the pyramid at the Louvre to see those lit up as well, but quickly decided that nothing would compare with the spot in which we were currently sitting.

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A magical ending to our time in Paris!

As we sat there, we were asked by no fewer than 3 vendors if we wanted a bottle of champagne or beer. Somehow, this feels more illegal than the guys selling trinkets… We also saw at least two people playing with super bright green laser pointers and aiming them at the tower for brief moments at a time. Despite the “coolness factor”, this is actually a really dangerous game because it can do serious damage to someone’s eyes if it catches them right and there were a lot of people up on the tower.

We were just entertaining the idea of heading home for the night when the tower started to sparkle as if hundreds of flashbulbs were firing (this was unexpected to us). Rose glanced at her watch and we saw that it was 11pm on the dot, which is apparently the time when the sparkle show begins. For the next 5 minutes, the tower continued to sparkle at increasing speed, which was beautiful to behold (if not also slightly overwhelming to the senses). When it concluded, the tower remained lit as before with the warm yellow light, but it was clear that the show was over. The mass exodus of people from the park began and we soon joined the crowds heading back up to the square.

Rose’s earlier brilliance was revealed to us when we saw the long line to buy metro tickets. We just smiled as we walked right past it and used our pre-purchased ticket to enter through the barriers and down to the train platform. The platform was packed with people, though they were mostly congregated near the entrance and we found space down at the other end. We were able to get seats in our relatively empty car, but we are certain the cars at the other end of the train were comically stuffed with people like clowns in a car.

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Day 8 and still having a blast! If it weren’t for puppies at home and the need to earn some form of income, we could travel like this all the time.

Tomorrow is Sunday and we plan on sleeping in for the first time in a long time before heading out of Paris. We have also reached the half way point of our travels, though with Rose’s 3-day engineering conference approaching quickly, it feels like we are a lot further along. Paris has been fantastic and we fully expect to come back here someday.

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Our full path for Day 8 in Paris. A->B: Metro to Centre Pompidou. B->C: Walking around Paris and visiting several sites (see zoomed in version for details). C->C (red): Seine River Cruise. C->D: Walk then Metro to Montmarte. D->D: Visit Basilique du Sacre Couer. D->A: Metro back to hotel (this train was above ground for a bit and we actually got GPS tracking). A->E->A: Evening trip out via Metro to Trocadero Plaza to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night.

Summary

  • Musee Pompidou…the inside out building
  • Visiting the Louvre Museum
  • A brief visit to the Museum of Discovery
  • An Italian lunch in the park
  • We should have known the Sewer Museum would stink
  • A lovely boat ride on the Seine
  • Montmarte and Sacre Coeur
  • The Eiffel Tower at night

Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 17.13 miles | 35,386 steps
  • Distance on Boat: 8.31 miles
Day8_City

A: Centre Pompidou. B: Musee Louvre. C: Discovery Museum (after a lot of walking and search for food). D: A bench in the park where we finally ate our lunch. E: The Paris Sewer Museum. F (red): Dock for our Seine River Cruise. G: Metro stop. H->J: Evening visit to the Eiffel Tower.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

Our first full day in Paris began early at 7am with the intent that we could get to the Cathedral of Notre Dame before the crowds. On the way to the Metro stop, we ventured into the pastry shop that we found the night before and ordered our pastries entirely in French! We then went down to the Metro (much more confident now after the challenges of last night) and hopped on the train towards the end of its line at Chatelet. We ate two different variations of sugary bread and chocolate as we rode and before too long were walking out of the Metro stop and towards the Ile de la Cite.

The Ile de la Cite is the oldest section of Paris and consists of a relatively small island in the middle of the Seine River. As an island, it was more easily defensible and has been inhabited back through at least Roman times. We walked quickly over towards Notre Dame and were pleased to find no line for the security checkpoint that would allow us to enter the Cathedral.

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The tip of the Ile de la Cite. This island in the middle of the Seine River is the oldest section of Paris.

Entrance is free and we spent a while exploring the beautiful interior of Notre Dame. Unlike many of the other Gothic cathedrals we have visited, Notre Dame is much more dimly lit and thus has a more mysterious aura than the others. Chapels with beautiful stone work line all of the exterior walls, though there are only a handful of tombs in the church (very different than Westminster Abbey in that respect). One of the highlights of the cathedral is the large rose windows in the transepts and the largest and most famous rose window at the back of the nave.

After completing our touring inside the church, we went outside to walk around the exterior. To be honest, the main façade of Notre Dame is relatively uninteresting. It does not contain much decoration and even the towers are relatively featureless. The sides and back of the cathedral, however, are much more beautiful. Here you can see the flying buttresses so typical of Gothic architecture and so interesting to two engineers like us.

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The south transept of the Cathedral of Notre Dame

While we circumnavigated the church, we were accosted by two people attempting to get signatures for a petition related to deaf people. We aren’t entirely sure what is the whole story behind this (to be fair, we didn’t take time to try and find out), but we politely said no and kept moving. It’s hard to believe that a petition signed by a tourist that doesn’t reside in the country would accomplish anything and we certainly were not going to sign something we didn’t understand.

When we got back around to the front of the church, we attempted to find the marker signifying “Point Zero” though were unsuccessful. Supposedly, this is the exact spot from which all distances to/from Paris are measured, but the marker is relatively small and can be hard to spot, particularly since the square was gaining more people every minute.

Our other goal for arriving so early was that we wanted to be among the first in line for the tours of the towers of Notre Dame, which opened at 10am. We got in line at about 9:30 and there were already several dozen people ahead of us. Last night, we investigated the “Paris Museum Pass” online and determined it would be worth our while to buy two of these since they would ultimately save us some money and, in theory, get us priority access. We believed that we could buy them at the tower tour, but thought there may be a better way. Also, since we had been having credit card issues, we wanted a chance to troubleshoot those in a less hectic atmosphere than this.

So, with Rose holding our spot in line, Philip set off at a jog to the Conciergerie, a different building on the Ile de la Cite that opened at 9:30 and which also sold the pass. He entered without incident and found a very helpful clerk at the otherwise empty ticket counter. As was feared, none of our credit cards (or even a debit card) worked for the transaction so Philip instead ran off to a nearby ATM to replenish our cash supply of euros. With time dwindling before 10am, he ran back to the cathedral at a quick pace.

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The imposing yet beautiful exterior of the Conciergerie

As he arrived at the edge of the square, he came pretty close to a group of four armed military guards patrolling the plaza. Just two days ago, a man had jumped out at a guard (or police officer…not sure) in this same square brandishing a hammer. He had apparently knocked the guard down and was going in for a second blow when he was shot by the other guards. The attacked guard suffered only very minor injuries and the attacker is recovering in the hospital from the gunshot wound. All of that to say, Philip threw on the brakes very quickly rather than be mistakenly perceived to be rushing the armed guards.

By the time he got back to Rose in line, it was 9:55 and the crowds in the square had multiplied greatly. The line to get into the cathedral now snaked around a portion of the square and we were very glad our plan had worked out for getting up early.

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Up in the bell towers of Notre Dame…some of the stone work seems so delicate and yet this building has stood for many centuries.

As 10am approached, two tower tour personnel started counting off people in line and placed a stanchion directly in front of us, signifying we had missed the first group but were first in line for the second group. This only added a few extra minutes and before long, we were climbing up the stairs of one of the towers to the ticket office located high above. This is the only tower ticket office we’ve seen that is actually high up in a tower; typically, they are on the ground. We speculated what would happen if someone came into the tower but then could not pay the ticket price (yes, a Quasimodo joke was made).

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Bridges over the Seine River as seen from the top of the towers of Notre Dame.

We purchased our Paris passes and put them to immediate use to gain access for the tower tour. Then, we climbed the rest of the way up to the walkway between the two towers and went out to enjoy the views over Paris. It was pretty crowded up on top and it was with some difficulty that we were able to move along the walkway. For safety reasons, the entire walkway was caged in with a coarse wire mesh that would prevent people from jumping. Additionally, any place where something could be accidentally dropped or purposefully thrown onto the plaza filled with people below had an additional tighter mesh so that hands could not reach through. While effective, this mechanism definitely hampered our ability to take good pictures and also caused some traffic jams as people lingered at the few rips and tears in the fine mesh to use as camera portals.

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Here we are under one of the massive bells of Notre Dame.

It was also really cool to see the famed gargoyles up close and personal as we walked along. When we reached the opposite tower, we climbed up a bit higher and were able to see the massive bells that hung there. The tour then continued even higher up that tower to a small vantage point near the top and we were able to walk the entire way around the narrow balcony. After that, it was a long descent all the way down the tower to the ground and back out into the now extremely crowded square.

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An interesting gargoyle high atop of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

We made our way to the far end of the square and down into the Archeological Crypt, which was also included in our Paris Pass. This is not a crypt in the traditional sense that it holds a bunch of tombs, but is rather an archeological excavation site beneath the main square. Here we were able to see the remains of a Roman city that stood on this spot. Other than a tour group of young French students, we mostly had the place to ourselves.

In general, the ruins consist mostly of foundations and low walls that have survived the last 2000 years. One of the more interesting items, which we discovered thanks to a helpful signboard, is a long low wall that has been identified as the former bank of the river Seine. That spot is now approximately 50 meters inland from the current bank, showing how much the island has been expanded since Roman times whether through natural silt buildup or through intentional human effort.

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The archaeological crypt containing Roman ruins beneath the plaza in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

After exiting the crypt, we sat for a moment in the square to eat a granola bar and then headed back towards the Conciergerie and the church of Saint Chapelle. We used our Paris passes yet again to gain entry and then navigated our way through some internal courtyards to the church. The signage was not stellar directing the way and we noticed another couple nearby looking equally confused as they also attempted to find it.

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The church of Saint Chapelle…the real beauty lies on the inside.

Saint Chapelle is separated into lower and upper cathedrals. The lower space was used by the servants and common folk. It is beautifully adorned, though relatively dim due to the lack of many windows. The upper space is considered one of the most beautiful in the world and was used by the king and those close to him. Tall windows line the sanctuary letting in copious amounts of light through the beautiful stained glass. Chandeliers add more light to the mix and the effect is dazzling. The stained glass windows tell the story of the Bible starting with Genesis in one corner and wrapping all the way around to the Apocalypse described in Revelation.

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The lower chapel at Saint Chapelle.

We didn’t spend too much time looking in detail at the windows, primarily because the upper room was extremely crowded. Before leaving the church, we saw a signboard explaining that it was originally built to hold two important relics: Jesus’s crown of thorns and a piece of Jesus’s cross. Both of these items are now contained within the treasury at Notre Dame, though we didn’t get a chance to see them during our early morning visit. It’s hard to know the authenticity of relics like these but perhaps we will check them out when we come back to Paris in the future.

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The magnificent upper chapel with its stained glass at Saint Chapelle.

Our path took us next to the Conciergerie, which we were able to enter quickly thanks to our Paris passes. This building served many roles throughout time, but the most infamous role was as the prison for Marie Antoinette. We walked around the rooms of the structure enjoying the cool air. Of most interest to us were the first two rooms: a large room with columns where the guards hung out and the adjacent kitchen where we could see massive ovens built into each corner of the room. Our guidebook had indicated that an 11th century torture chamber was also part of the Conciergerie, but we saw no indication of it on our building map and never saw it (we question if it actually exists).

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The garden inside the Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette spent some time while awaiting execution.

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The main hall in the Conciergerie. The columns and ribbed ceiling give the room a really cool feel.

We then set off across Pont Neuf (New Bridge…ironically, the oldest bridge in the city) and walked along the south bank on a quest for some lunch. Across the river, we saw the enormous building that is the Louvre Museum, which we intend on visiting tomorrow. We also passed multiple street vendors selling paperback books. This is not something we have seen in any other city before and we aren’t entirely sure who is actually buying them, especially because they didn’t seem any cheaper than what you would find in an actual book store.

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We saw several of these pop up book stores while walking around Paris…we have not seen this in any other city around the world.

After a bit of searching, we finally found a sandwich shop near the Musee d’Orsay (a museum occupying a former railway station). With sandwiches in hand, we returned to the steps outside the museum to eat our lunch. Rose had a relatively simple sandwich with meat, cheese, and veggies. Philip went for the “3 Fromage”, which consisted of enormous chunks of three different cheeses crammed onto a moderate sized loaf of bread. We sat and ate and watched the people around us going about their days. An inquisitive and brave pigeon kept eyeing us, though never came close enough to snatch up the small piece of cheese that had fallen from Philip’s sandwich.

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Philip’s amazing lunch: a Trois Fromage (three cheese) sandwich .

Having eaten more bread and cheese in one sitting than should be allowed, we continued along the river and then turned left towards the Esplanade des Invalides, a large park in front of a massive hospital that was constructed to serve wounded military. On that note, France seems to have a very strong passion for serving their wounded war veterans. On the metro trains, the signage for the easily accessible seating lists in priority order who should get access to those seats. At the top are wounded war veterans, followed by others with disabilities, then those that are pregnant, then those with small children.

Our real target was located around the backside of the massive complex (longer walk than at least Philp had expected) and is known simply as Dome Church. This name is applicable because the predominant external feature of the building is a massive and beautifully gilded dome that can be seen from all around Paris. We went through the security checkpoint at the edge of the grounds, where the young military guards seemed to be actually enjoying their jobs. One of them kept talking to us in a mixture of French and English, to which his compatriot would laugh and then help the guy get the right English words for what he was trying to say.

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The gilded dome of Dome Church.

The Paris passes got us free entry through the ticket office at the side of the church and we quickly returned to the front and up the steps to enter the building. Dome Church was built in the late 1600s in the Baroque style (hence the massive dome), but its interior underwent major renovations in the mid-1800s when it was chosen for a special honor. Dome Church was to be the final resting place for the body of Napoleon Bonaparte, whose remains were recovered from the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic 20 years after his death there in exile.

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The tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte inside of Dome Church.

As might be expected, the interior decorations of the church are spectacular with amazing inlaid stone work on floors and walls throughout. Being only 250 years old, the interior is in magnificent condition. At the center of the domed space sits the large tomb of Napoleon. Other smaller (but still very large) tombs occupy the corners of the upper floor gallery, though we personally don’t know whose bodies lay there.

After leaving Dome Church, we exited the complex and set off for possibly the most anticipated destination for our entire trip, the Eiffel Tower. As we approached the large park that sprawls out from it and away from the river, the first thing we noticed was a large wooden structure at the edge of the park that was the receiving end of a zip line. We speculated as we walked about how cool it would be to zip line off the Eiffel tower, but how we were certain that wasn’t really a thing and this was probably just a zip line in the park itself. How wrong we were! As we rounded the corner, we got our first grand view of the entire tower and saw that the zip line actually was attached to the second floor of the tower (pretty freaking high). As we walked along the park towards the tower, we saw a few people come riding down the zip line at high speed, often times screaming at the top of their lungs.

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We just happened to be in town for the one week that people could zip line off of the Eiffel Tower…this looks like quite a ride!

But enough about zip lines (for now). The Eiffel Tower is a magnificent structure, particularly to two engineers who love architecture and buildings. Factor in that one of us has a Master’s degree with an emphasis in structural engineering and we were pretty much in heaven. Unlike many buildings (particularly cathedrals), you really need to see the Eiffel Tower in its entirety to appreciate the structure. We had been getting glimpses of the top of it throughout the day, and frankly, the top of the tower just isn’t that impressive on its own. It’s only when seeing it from the ground up that you can truly appreciate the height of it as well as the wonderfully pleasing curve of the structure as it rises from the four feet to the summit.

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Someone getting ready for their trip down the zip line.

The walk along the park took a while, primarily because we stopped every 3 feet to take another picture of it from a slightly different angle. When we finally reached the base, we went through security (uneventful except for the rather rude latter half of an Indian tour group pushing their way to the front of the line rather than waiting their turn) and were pleased to see that the lines did not appear too long to get in. Access to the first and second floors only is offered at two prices: a more expensive option for those that want to ride the elevator and a cheaper option for those willing to take the stairs. However, for those wishing to go all the way to the top, elevator is the only choice.

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We just kept taking pictures every few steps as we walked closer to the Eiffel Tower…this was our favorite landmark of the trip!

We waited in line for about 10 minutes to buy tickets and had a brief conversation with the two guys in front of us. One was from California and the other from Arkansas, and they were just embarking on a trip around France, Belgium, and Germany on a self-guided war history tour. After purchasing our tickets, we were funneled along to the base of one of the feet and we soon packed tightly into a double decker elevator for the angled ride up.

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The Eiffel Tower is fascinating to behold whether far away or up close.

We alit from the lift at the second floor (it never stopped at the first floor for some reason) and we quickly got in the long line for the second elevator to the top. With the cool breeze and the views, we really didn’t mind standing in line at all. While maneuvering through the stanchions, we came pretty close to the zip line launch point where a very terrified girl was all strapped in and ready to go…and questioning rather seriously her recent decisions in life. It took her several minutes but she finally jumped (perhaps was encouraged along a bit by a push from the worker) and the crowd in line gave her a cheer.

From the moment we saw the zip line, we had an ongoing debate how much such an experience would cost and what price point would be required for us to be willing to do it. We love zip lines but are also frugal. It took several days but finally we looked it up online and learned that this zip line is not a normal attraction. It was a one week special event set up during the French Open by Perrier (the water company). One could not pay to do this zip line because the participants had already been chosen via online submission the prior week. Our trip just happened to coincide.

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Looking up towards the top of the Eiffel Tower from the second floor.

The ride up the second elevator only takes about a minute, though that gave plenty of time for the couple next to us to freak out and also question their recent decisions in life (apparently neither of them cared for heights but were attempting to conquer their fears). We exited out at the top of the tower and were greeted with stunning 360 degree views all over Paris. We spent the next 30+ minutes at the top of the tower, walking around it several times and looking out across the city.

Gustave Eiffel’s office is located at the top of the tower, though you have to look through fairly reflective glass to see inside of it. In the inner room of the top floor, they have marked the directions to many major cities including all (or almost all) of the world capitals. They also included the silhouettes of the largest building in those cities for comparison against the silhouette of the Eiffel tower and it was interesting to walk around seeing the comparisons.

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The large park stretching out from the base of the Eiffel Tower…if you look close along the right side of the grass strip, you can see the zip line running to a platform at the far end of the park.

Eventually (and with some reluctance from Philip), we left our perch at the top of the city and went back down the elevator to the second floor. The signage for the two elevator lines was not very well balanced and we were able to get into the much shorter line and waited only a few minutes for our descent. We explored the second floor, which contains a gift shop and some restaurants (including a famous 5 star restaurant. We elected to take the stairs to get down to the first floor, which we then explored briefly though it did not contain much of particular interest to us. We did, though, buy a bottle of water to quench our thirst after so much time in the sun. Finally, we took the stairs again down to the ground.

We continued west along the south bank of the river, and stopped along the way for a chocolate sauce crepe . After a brief detour due to train tracks, we crossed a bridge and onto a very thin little island in the middle of the river, which is the home of France’s Statue of Liberty. This is a much smaller version of the one sitting in New York Harbor and is aimed to look directly at its larger sibling.

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France’s small copy of Lady Liberty at the tip of her narrow island in the Seine.

We descended from the bridge down to the island and passed through a cool outdoor gym beneath the bridge. Reminiscent of some of the outdoor workout areas Philip saw in Tel Aviv, this one contained various types of mechanical exercise equipment as well as several small bouldering rock walls and was currently being used by perhaps 10 people. A few yards further brought us to the base of Lady Liberty…and to a fashion photo shoot with two male models wearing casual wear and one of them standing awkwardly in a shopping cart.

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The little sister to the one sitting in New York Harbor.

Not wanting to disrupt their shoot, we took a few photos and then quickly moved out of the way. This served as our western most point of exploration and we then began to walk back east along the narrow island. At the east end of the island, we had more nice views of the Eiffel Tower (different angle so lots more pictures!) and then exited to the north bank of the river.

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The Eiffel Tower across the Seine.

From the top of the Eiffel Tower, we had seen another large park complex across the river and that is where we headed now. The Trocadero Gardens climb the hill up to the Trocadero Plaza and offer even more wondrous views of Rose’s favorite Parisian structure (and yes, different angle so lots more pictures). This is obviously a favorite place for people to see the tower because the plaza was quite crowded with both tourists and shady looking guys selling various trinkets (tower statues, selfie sticks, and fidget spinners seemed most common) from blankets. Unlike in London, but very much like we had seen in Rome, this type of activity is not considered legal by police and these vendors are very adept at packing up and dispersing in less than 5 seconds time whenever police are nearby.

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Trocadero plaza and gardens as seen from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

We exited out the plaza and noticed one of the vendors in a conversation with police. Surprisingly, other vendors just 15 or so feet away (but out of sight of the police) were already trying to sell more stuff to tourists. Our next destination was the Arc de Triomphe, the large monumental arch that marks one end of the famed Avenue de Champs-Elysees. Along the way, we stopped at a grocery store for a much needed bottle of water and also picked up a large bottle of tropical juice.

The walk was further than expected (for Rose, at least) but we finally made it to the Arc and the ridiculously crazy roundabout that circumnavigates it. Certainly the most famous rotary in France, if not the entire world, 12 different roads come together at this roundabout leading to a traffic nightmare that is not for the faint of heart. Two underground tunnels grant access to the Arc in the center, though we did not realize this at the time and unwittingly chose the farther of the two to utilize due to the mass of tour buses along the edge of the circle in that area.

When we emerged at the base of the Arc, we saw a ceremony taking place there. A few minutes later at the ticket office, we learned this was the daily lighting of the eternal flame ceremony, where a flame that burns beneath the arch is ignited for the night.

Our Paris passes got us in free yet again and we started the climb up to the inner room at the top of the arch. Having walked almost 30,000 steps by this point in the day, we were not our usual chipper selves bounding up the staircase. The room at the top was larger than we expected and from there we accessed a shorter staircase to reach the viewing platform on top of the arch. Yet again, we were met with beautiful views over the city and we spent some time walking slowly around and taking pictures from every angle (with the cell phone this time because the camera battery gave out on us…perhaps too many Eiffel Tower pictures…if there can be such a thing!).

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Looking back at the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Arc de Triumphe.

Unlike London, which seems to have seamless blended the old and new parts of the city, Paris feels much more separated. There is a distinct modern skyline that is away from the old city. The most interesting part of that skyline, by far, is a gigantic hollow cube tunnel shaped building. We didn’t realize it until later when we looked it up in the guidebook, but the center void in the cube is supposedly large enough to contain the entire Cathedral of Notre Dame! Next time we visit Paris, we will have to check it out.

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The modern skyline as seen from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Apparently, the hollow cube building is large enough to contain Notre Dame inside

Rose stopped to use the restroom when we returned back to the inner room, and walked out of it soon after with a disgusted look on her face. With the nominal entry charge to the Arc being 12 euros, one would expect that a restroom would be cleaned and stocked with a few key items such as hand soap, toilet paper, and a toilet seat. Apparently, all three of these are not seen as required at this particular bathroom facility.

We came down to the bottom of the Arc and out the other underground tunnel to get some better pictures with the sun at our back. Our original plan was to then walk the length of the Avenue de Champs-Elysees but we were exhausted and decided to head back towards home instead.

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Baby Polar Bear enjoying a visit to the Arc de Triumphe

We bought our Metro tickets and, after a brief assessment, decided to take the A line train to where we could transfer to the Metro line that would take us home. Along the way, Rose realized that we had misread the map and our planned transfer station was not actually served by this train. Fortunately, we could get off a station earlier and do the transfer there and so no harm was done. While we sat there, we enjoyed some people watching and listening thanks to the large Spanish family nearby and their talkative 8ish year old daughter.

Our transfer station involved an 8 minute walk (all underground) but was an otherwise straight forward process. As we rode our final train to home, a man got on at one stop with a sound system and a karaoke mike and proceeded to sing an interesting rendition of John Lennon’s, “Imagine”. He then went seat by seat along the car attempting to get donations. To be honest, he really wasn’t very good, but we did appreciate his more industrious methodology to earning some money when compared to most beggars. It wasn’t clear if anyone gave him any coins but he certainly didn’t make a killing on his song.

It was also on this train that we saw our first actually rude French person, though she wasn’t rude to us. She sat across the aisle from us, and had a somewhat large shopping bag next to her in the aisle. Rather than hold the bag on her lap or put it on the empty seat in front of her, she left the bag blocking ¾ of the narrow aisle and forced no less than 5 people to step awkwardly over it. She was clearly not oblivious that she was causing problems for everyone else; she just didn’t seem to care.

When we got back to our neighborhood, we stopped at the supermarket to grab a few of the cheese cracker snack things we have come to love and then walked into another one of the kebab shops than we had visited last night. We ordered food and ate there in the restaurant two of the most delicious kebabs we have ever had (Doner for Rose, adana for Philip). Admittedly, we were tired and hungry by this time, but even still this was top notch street food!

Finally, we made it back to our flat and got ready for the night. Philip went down to use the telephone in the lobby to call the credit card company and get our “card declined” issues worked out. It took three different people and about 25 minutes, but he was successful and assured that the cards should work for the rest of our trip. By the time he got back to the room, Rose was barely keeping her eyes open and sleep soon followed.

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One week into our trip and still going strong!

Summary

  • Notre Dame and the Ile de la Cite
  • More credit card woes
  • A beautiful church and a prison
  • So much bread and cheese for lunch!
  • Dome Church and the tomb of Napoleon
  • Rose’s Tower…some know it as the Eiffel Tower
  • The street vendors vs. the police
  • Arc de Triomphe and the worst restroom yet
  • The perfect kebab dinner

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 18.3 miles | 38,804 steps
Day7_Walking

Our walking path for the day. A: Get off the Metro. A->B->C->D->E: Walking to Cathedral of Notre Dame, Archaeological Crypt, Saint Chapelle, and Conciergerie, respectively. E->F: Walking to get lunch. F->G: Walking to Dome Church. G->H: Walking to Eiffel Tower. H->J: Walking to Lady Liberty. J->K: Walking to Trocadero Plaza. K->L: Walking to Arc de Triumphe and back on Metro.