|6/17/01 Sun - London||6/24/01 Sun - London/Israel||6/28/01 Thurs - Israel/London||7/02/01 Mon - London/Paris|
|6/18/01 Mon - London||6/25/01 Mon - Israel||6/29/01 Fri - London||7/03/01 Tues - Paris|
|6/19/01 Tues - London||6/26/01 Tues - Israel||6/30/01 Sat - London||7/04/01 Wed - Paris/London|
|6/20/01 Wed - London||6/27/01 Wed - Israel||7/01/01 Sun - London||7/05/01 Thurs - London/Boston|
|6/21/01 Thurs - London|
|6/22/01 Fri - London|
|6/23/01 Sat - London|
I had originally arranged for a 5:50 am pick-up for my 8:30 flight, but started getting paranoid that they might be late, so I changed it to 5:10. After running out for film and toothpaste after shabbos ended, and finishing up my packing and washing dirty dishes, I went to bed around 12:30 am. I set two alarms and actually managed to have my eyes open and be out of bed by 4:30. My shuttle showed up at a few minutes after 5, and I was on my way. Did you know that it takes 13 minutes to get to the airport at 5 am? Me neither. Apparently the British Airways counter opens at 5:45. It took about ten minutes to get checked in and to my gate, another 5 to get some coffee, and then I had two and a half hours to wait for my flight. I found a rocking chair in one of the lounges and settled in with my book.
The flight was pretty uneventful. I got my kosher meals: a chicken breast in sherry sauce for breakfast around 9:30, and a bagel and danish for lunch at 2. My theory is that they were trying to mess up my body's clock so badly that it would be grateful to accept any new routine once we hit ground. There were the requisite squalling infants, but luckily not directly behind me so I mostly managed to ignore them, and got a fair bit of sleep.
Upon arrival at Heathrow I followed the crowd through customs and to my luggage, then wandered out into arrivals to find Barbara (right near the Starbucks that I was horrified to see has invaded Britain.) She whisked me off to her MG, Betsy. She was only slightly amused that I made for the driver's side of the car when we got there. I've got to say, it was very weird for me to be sitting in the front left seat of a car, considering how rarely I've done that in my life! We took the top down and turned up the music and had a lovely ride through the city to Elizabeth's. I was immoderately entertained by little things like the bobbies' hats and the Tardis-like phone booths.
We finally made it back to Elizabeth's where she, Jason, Leah, and Rachel were awaiting us. We had a great time catching up and eating take-away Chinese. I was surprised by some of he differences in London flats; apparently they all have tiny refrigerators, and carpeted bathrooms are common. Rachel and I stayed up talking until 4:30 am when we finally managed to fall asleep, after optimistically setting an alarm for 8:30 to give us time to do things in the morning.
I don't know if the alarm would have worked, but luckily Elizabeth knocked us up (no, really, they say that here!). We had a breakfast of yogurt & granola and then Rachel and I headed out; Elizabeth hasn't been feeling well, so she stayed home to try to rest. We took the tube to the Victoria & Albert Museum. We had intended to pick a few areas we really wanted to see in the short amount of time we had, but mostly we ended up wandering. They were just setting up an exhibit by Chihuly, a glass blower with whom Rachel was familiar; she really liked that, and I was impressed, although most of his larger pieces looked like balloon animals gone wild to me. The Greek statuary was lovely, and so were a number of the silver pieces on exhibit. We saw some of Beatrix Potter's sketches, too. They have Shephard's Pooh illustrations there, but after much hunting I found out that they're in the print room, which is closed Mondays. Phooey. I did manage to find the Leighton frescoes after Rachel left, which were amazing. They had two huge gorgeous frescoes, and also his full-size cartoons and smaller color studies for them, so I got to see various phases of how he had worked on them. There was also a costume exhibit that I really found interesting; it was neat seeing forms of dress that fit into so many of the books I read, and realizing that this is where people really wore them.
I was pretty hungry by 2pm, so I wandered outside until I found a Boots -- something like CVS in the States, but they also had a bunch of good cheap sandwiches. Naturally I had to look for all the Gillette products to see how they're displayed and packaged differently there!
I had asked Elizabeth about Harrods the night before, and she described it as an upscale Neiman-Marcus, which sounded mostly scary to me. I found myself standing outside it, and nearly decided not to go in, but the outside of the building was so impressive that I figured I might as well take a peek. The first room I found myself in was pretty much as Elizabeth has described; great architecture and decor, stuff no one could possibly need (or afford!), and I was a little afraid to breathe for fear of breaking or contaminating something. I saw a sign for an Egyptian Room, and wandered in there to find another immense showroom of god-knows-what, this time in a room with Egyptian decor and detailing. And through there -- oh, through there -- the king of all food courts. The Louvre of mall food. Rooms upon vast rooms of different foods -- pastries, meats, cheeses, fish, teas -- each item a gem, each case sparkling and tempting. The people behind the counters were nattily dressed in striped waistcoats and straw boaters. There was a counter for people taking tea, and a full sushi bar served by women in kimono. Much more my style than the scarves and jewels in the front room!
I managed to navigate the tube by myself back to Elizabeth's house and found my way home with no trouble. Elizabeth was home, and we had a lovely long chat, after which I gave up the fight and took a brief nap. For dinner Elizabeth made a delicious salmon in butter and wine sauce with sugar snap peas, after which Jason and I went to Sainsbury's, the local supermarket. It's amazing the things that are different. They sell tomato sauce in boxes, and their lasagna noodles are much shorter, but I love the flavors their yogurt comes in -- toffee, mmm. We watched an episode of Buffy through the miracle of the Internet and a computer, and now I'm for bed.
After waking a little later than I had intended and gulping down some yogurt, I ran off to catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I was briefly concerned when I got out of the tube at Victoria -- I had sort of figured that I'd be able to spot the palace easily, without realizing that every third building in London is old and grand and could easily pass for a palace. But luckily there are plenty of signs for tourists, so I successfully followed those until I found the throng of tourists surrounding the gates. I managed to wriggle in close enough to see a patch of scarlet uniform of a guard on duty, and that was about it for a while.
After ten minutes or so, we started to hear drums and martial music approaching, and over the heads of the crowd I saw some tall black furry hats being ruffled by the breeze. The ceremony goes on for quite some time, so after a while some people left and I managed to get close enough to a gate to see inside the palace grounds. I was by a side gate, and one small detachment marched in and out right past us, which was exciting. I was trying to identify the music that was being played, wondering how old it was and if it was traditional, when suddenly I found myself humming "There's No Business Like Show Business" along with the band. One of the pigeons flying by the proceedings apparently didn't like this and expressed its opinion on my head; I'm told that's good luck, but the only luck that I noticed was the fact that I had tissues in my pocket.
After the guards had trooped off into the distance, I made off for the Tower of London. Elizabeth had warned me to get my ticket at the tube stop, so I managed to avoid the line at the gate. The first thing I noticed is that the Tower of London is not, as I had supposed, one large circular building; instead it's a collection of various towers and walls and gates, much larger than I had supposed. I joined a talk by one of the Yeomen of the Guard, also known as a Beefeater. He told us the histories of the various towers, who had been imprisoned in which and who had been beheaded where, and pointed out the famous ravens of the tower. It was amazing to realize that I was seeing the very gate by which young princess Elizabeth had entered the Tower. I walked through the White Tower, which is the main building and has been restored and contains an armory exhibit. Seeing a figure of a suit of armor on an armored horse really brought home how immense they were. And King Henry VIII's armor was something to see; the huge belly was surpassed only by the immense codpiece below it.
I also walked through the Bloody Tower, where supposedly the two young princes were murdered by Richard III, but there wasn't much to see there. The Medieval Palace was more interesting; they had left most of it unreconstructed, simply pointing out architectural features that were clues to the uses of rooms. I got to see a medieval garderobe; not as bad as some of the privies we used to see out camping! And there's a sufficiently high drop from the hole that I bet they didn't smell too badly, either (at least on the inside). In one room were a costumed scribe and money-counter, and I got into an interesting conversation with the scribe about styles of writing.
The Tower Bridge is only a short walk from the Tower itself, so I crossed the Thames on it, enjoying the view of London. The bridge itself is beautiful; it looks like there are blue and white ribbons draped festively between lovely ancient towers set along the length.
On the other side of the bridge was a large green field where people were enjoying the unusually warm and sunny weather. I stretched out on the grass with a book for a while to rest my feet. It was somehow surreal to be stretched out on a patch of grass looking up at the Tower Bridge -- not what I usually see back in Boston!
After my feet were feeling a bit less like bloody stumps, I went to go back across the bridge and was distracted by a sign for a Design Museum. I decided to check it out, but was badly disappointed. One whole floor was a special exhibit on an architect whose work I didn't find particularly interesting. The other floor had an interesting display of chairs that you could sit in, some papers set behind glass on a table so high that you had to stand on stools to see in, and a display on graphic design that I found frustrating. The content was fascinating -- they had a bunch of different companies present a design project, the challenge, and their solution -- but the finished pieces were in boxes below eye level with small holes cut out to let you see them. A very limited view, at best. A few of them had books next to the display with pieces of the process, and I enjoyed flipping through those, but the rest were too frustrating to try to see.
Somehow between the time I had left the Tower Hill tube stop and when I went to go back to it, it managed to hide itself, so I walked around in circles a few times until it finally gave in and I managed to find the signs pointing the way. The train, when it eventually came, was so crowded that I couldn't fit in the first few doors I tried, but I finally managed to squeeze in the last door of the train just before it took off. Now Elizabeth has some lasagna in the oven teasing my nose, and I just hope I manage to stay awake long enough to keep from going face first into it.
|Changing of the Guard|
|Tower of London|
|Tower Bridge||Tower of London|
One of the odd little differences about London -- there are Cadbury chocolate machines in all the tube stops (most of them touting a product called Whispabite), but no drink machines. I finally asked Elizabeth, and cleared up two mysteries at once. There are no drink machines because the tube authority is willing to clean up chocolate bar wrappers but not drink bottles, and the reason they have to clean them up is because there are very few trash cans around. I had been wondering about that as well, guessing that Brits are just cleaner and more responsible about packing out their litter with them, but no, apparently it's because when there were trash cans all too often people (read: IRA) were putting bombs in them.
I went back to Tower Hill in the morning for a London Walks tour of Jewish London. We walked all through the East End with our slightly manic guide, Steve, who showed us the Bevis Marks Synagogue, the Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor, the old Jewish areas, where the Rothschilds lived, and more. Bevis-Marks was the high point for me. It's a Sephardic shul; I hadn't realized that most of the Jewish population of London came over from Amsterdam, which is Sephardic. They have 7 huge candelabras with real candles there; not chandeliers, still, I bet Mom would have liked it. After our lecture in there about the history and famous members including Sir Moses Montefiore (whose chair still sits empty except for on special occasions when Prince Phillip or the occasional Jewish Lord Mayor of London may fill it) and Benjamin Disraeli, we had a few minutes to explore for ourselves, so I went upstairs into the gallery to check out the women's section. Not a bad view at all; it goes around the shul on three sides, and I bet you can see and hear fairly well from it.
After the tour was over I met up with Elizabeth at the Tate Britain. The building itself is huge, although somewhat well hidden -- it's a good few blocks from the tube station, and around some corners with verrrry small signs pointing the way -- but it houses a disappointingly small collection, way too many of which were by Turner and Constable. Still, we managed to find Proserpine, my all-time favorite painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and I got to see it in person. It's a little larger than I had imagined, and very beautiful. And since the museum was free, it was more than worth the price of admission!
We went home after the museum and changed for dinner and the show; I was glad I had brought along a skirt that doesn't seem to wrinkle that I could pull on with a tank top, as Elizabeth warned me that theaters there are often not air conditioned. We had sushi for dinner -- not quite as good as Boston, but still always a treat. Oddly enough, they just don't seem to have hamachi; it's on the menu, at £6 a pair, but apparently they never have it. But they did have an appetizer of salmon skin in a ponzu sauce that was really really yummy.
After dinner we walked to the theater to see the MouseTrap. We had great seats in the third row. The show was very entertaining, and amazingly enough I had managed to completely forget whodunnit since our high school production. As actors came on stage I did start remembering who had played them in our production, but that was all I remembered. The theater itself was very pretty and much smaller, particularly having fewer rows of seats, than American theaters. I had a nice conversation with a Canadian woman sitting next to me.
We walked back to the tube by way of Leicester Square, Charing Cross Road, Chinatown, and Piccadilly Circus, so I got a brief view of those areas. Leicester bloody Square, as Spike calls it, was very big and crowded and full of lights, even at 10pm. It was a good thing the bookstores in Charing Cross Road were closed, or I would never have made it home. Chinatown is basically two blocks of Chinese restaurants; I'm told there's a persistent theory that there's one large kitchen that runs underneath all of them, and the food is all the same.
|Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor|
|Durian fruit||The MouseTrap|
We planned to go on one of London Walks' Explorer Days to the Cotswolds and Oxford today. We went to Paddington station to meet the group, and I was pleased to see a sign for the left luggage area where Paddington Bear was found. There were a bunch of stalls selling things, including one dedicated to Paddington Bear products, so I bought a toy for Miriam. Hopefully at some point she'll be old enough to appreciate that her Paddington came from Paddington Station.
We were early for the group, and I was feeling a craving for an iced coffee, so I set about trying to find one. There were several coffee booths, but it seems the English haven't figured out iced coffee yet; I guess the weather is rarely hot enough for them to want it, although it's been warm and sunny all week. I finally spotted a women walking past with a cup that looked like it had iced coffee, so I chased her down and asked where she got it. I found the place she pointed out, and they had frozen coffee, and iced cappuccino, but no iced coffee on the menu. I asked for some anyway, and they basically made a shot of espresso and put it in a cup for of ice and milk for me. Not quite what I was looking for, but it was caffeine and cooler that room temperature, so it was ok by me.
By the time we had dealt with all this and visited the loo, the group had formed for the trip, and the guide said that there was no more room left on the bus for the Cotswolds. He was terribly apologetic about it, and arranged for us to take the train to Oxford with the rest of the group and be met by a guide that he would pay for himself, and we could take the train back to London when we felt like it. As it turns out, much as I would have liked to see the Cotswolds, I enjoyed Oxford so much that it was nice to have half the day to ourselves there to wander around. Our guide Sam pointed out many of the colleges, including Lord Peter's Balliol, which as it turns out is pronounces Bay'-lee-all. We saw the outside of the Bodleian library, which I've seen mentioned in so many books. It turns out the Bodleian is a copyright library, which means that it's entitled to a free copy of every book published in England. Ah, heaven! The collection has gotten so big that in the 30s they developed a system of underground vaults and tunnels to house many of the books, and librarians work down there like gnomes ready to find requested books and set them on a trolley to the surface.
My favorite college was St Edmund Hall, aka St. Teddy's -- it has a gorgeous quad filled with flowers and roses climbing over the buildings. As unlike BU as anything I've ever seen. My favorite story about the colleges was about Brasenose College. Supposedly the college was named after a brass doorknocker in the shape of a nose. In the 1330s the knocker was stolen by some students. In 1890 a house with the fabled doorknocker was offered for sale, and Brasenose College bought the entire house just to get back its doorknocker! I also loved the Divinity School. The fan-vaulted ceiling is covered in decorations that, upon closer examination, turn out to be initials and coats of arms. The building of the hall in 1427 was financed by selling sponsorships to the people whose initials appear. Much more elegant than our product placements today!
After the tour we were both feeling a bit peckish, so we stopped into a cafe for lunch. I had the ploughman's lunch of a lovely crumbly bit of smoked cheddar, tomato chutney, and toasted baguette, while Elizabeth went for the roast beef sandwich. I had a glass of hard cider, too, which luckily didn't make me too wobbly for our next venture, which was to return to the tower of St Mary the Virgin that had been pointed out to us on the tour and climb to the balcony just above the clock for a view of Oxford. The stairs were a very narrow and very steep spiral, with ropes set into the walls for hand-holds. The angle of the stairs was such that you basically had to pull yourself up with the ropes. I wasn't as nervous as I had expected to be, possibly because the curve was so tight that you couldn't really see down. We made it to the top with a minimum of huffing and puffing, and were well rewarded with the view, both of Oxford spread out below us and of the architecture of the tower on which we stood. After we had made our way around the tower on the balcony, having to do some fancy maneuvering to pass the other viewers, we headed back down. Down is even trickier than up; gravity was being just a little bit too helpful, and the ropes were crucial.
On the way down we encountered two pensioners (Brit-speak for senior citizens) on their way up. Elizabeth had to step into a window cavity to let them pass her, and then I had to sort of let myself down on the rope, clinging to the inside of the curve, stepping past them. We assured them that they were almost there and that the view was indeed worth the climb.
After that we were ready for a bit of a rest, so we engaged in that timeless sport, punting on the Cherwell River. That is to say, we paid a young man to pole us as we settled in among the cushions with our sodas (you could choose either a free bottle of wine or soft drink; wine sounded so romantic, but I just don't like it.) and watched the scenery go by. The river was full of waterfowl -- now at last I know what I mean when I call someone an old coot! I could easily imagine myself in a white dress and straw hat; it was almost a shock to look down and see modern clothes.
After our refreshing punt we set off in search of the Ashmoleon Museum. We browsed the collection of antiquities for a while, admiring the Elizabethan trenchers and Viking axes, before we turned to the paintings. We quickly got art-burn, as Elizabeth calls it, and stopped looking at each piece, instead quickly browsing through rooms and waiting for something to catch our eyes. Just as I was timing out, Elizabeth spotted the sign for the Pre-Raphaelite gallery, so of course we had to take a look at that. I was glad we did; there was a fabulous armoire painted by Burne-Jones, and an Alma-Tadema piece I had never seen before. Sadly, I couldn't get a photo of it because of reflections on the glass (they seem to trust you to take pictures without flash in museums in Britain!) and they had no post card of it. We also saw a magnificent Roman table, inlaid with a peacock-like circular fan of precious and semiprecious stones.
One of my favorite sights in Oxford was the scholars in gowns rushing through the streets to their exams, or pedaling away frantically on their bicycles, gowns streaming behind them.
Some of the architecture in Oxford was really fantastic. Not just the buildings themselves, but the details, like the gargoyles and grotesques. It turns out the difference is that the gargoyles are the ones that are waterspouts, and the grotesques are merely decorative. The architect had free rein with these, and often made them caricatures of people they knew. We saw one grotesque that was blowing a bagpipe, and was much funnier than I can express. Hopefully the pictures will come out.
We took the train back to London, which took about an hour, and since we were early for dinner we decided to walk through Hampstead Heath to Golder's Green. It was a lovely walk, and we saw a nice little park, but by the time we got to the Golder's Green tube stop, we were Done. Unfortunately the restaurant was a good 10 minutes further on, but we made it. The restaurant was a kosher El Gaucho, part of a chain that sells Argentinean beef. I had chorizo as an appetizer -- I've always wondered what that's like. It turns out to be a delicious sausage, very flavorful but not spicy hot. It went well with the chimichuri sauce, which is a vinegar-based sauce with unidentifiable plant bits floating in it. And then, the steak. More steak than I could eat, tender and juicy and grilled perfectly. Heaven! None of us could finish our meat, and certainly no room for dessert, and we practically rolled home.
|Bridge of Sighs||St Teddy's|
|View from St Mary's|
Elizabeth and I met Leah in the morning at Charing Cross Road, where all good bibliophiles hope to go when they die. Bookstore after bookstore as far as the eye can see. We wandered into a few fiction stores, but apparently prices are a fair higher in the UK and I didn't see anything I couldn't find at home. Until I found the design store, that is. Elizabeth had gone off to use the toilets in Leicester Square, so poor Leah was dragged in my wake as I made a bee-line for the store, and was very patient as I looked through the books and found two that were neither too heavy nor too expensive to bring back.
We had lunch at a place called Browns with some very dramatic torches outside and lovely decor inside. I had the salmon cakes, and for pudding (aka dessert, to Americans) a toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and clotted cream. It was like warm gooey sweet gingerbread, and the clotted cream was somewhere between whipped cream and butter. My arteries are screaming, but OH was it good!
Leah left us to do some work, and Elizabeth and I went on to Covent Gardens Market. It reminds me somewhat of Faneuil Hall, with all the stalls and carts and stores, but with an ever wider variety of goods. The best store was Lush, where they make handmade bath products. I got a bath bomb with glitter and a bar of bubble bath and two little exfoliating soaps, all of which look and smell wonderful.
Claudia, one of the people I lived with in my summer in San Francisco six years ago, is living in London with her husband for the moment, and she and Elizabeth are friends, so we made plans to have tea together that afternoon. We met at the crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields, which has a lovely little cafe. You wouldn't normally think of having tea in a crypt, but it was cool and lovely. We had a nice time catching up and making general conversation.
After tea, Elizabeth headed home for a nap, and I wandered back to Covent Gardens for more shopping. Unfortunately the cheaper stalls closed just as I got there, but I enjoyed browsing around the other stores for a bit, and found a pair of cute little earrings to replace mine that had broken earlier.
There was a bodhran player in the tube station on the way back; I've heard them in Boston on occasion, but somehow the sound of the drum seems to resonate with ancient echoes in Britain, and I half expected to turn around and see a Celtic warrior behind me. (I suppose I could expect to see a Celtic in Boston, but it's not quite the same thing.)
|Venus on double-decker bus||E&J's house|
We all had a bit of a lie-in in the morning; I woke up around 11:30 and saw no other signs of life, so I went downstairs, fixed myself a bowl of yogurt and granola and had breakfast out on the balcony.
Elizabeth and Jason came down at some point and we hung out and talked while they had breakfast, and then I had a nice long bath using some of my goodies from Lush.
After that strenuous activity, I went back to bed to read and nap. Some time later, Elizabeth knocked me up and invited me to join Jason and herself for a walk. I managed to rouse myself, pull on shoes, and go. They always walk one direction down their street, towards the tube station, so we decided it would be interesting to walk the other way and explore. There were a lot of Asian (which means Indian there) stores, some clothing stores, and other stores. We stopped into a Marks and Spencer for me to have the experience, and to get a drink. It being shabbos, they made me a gift of a very refreshing lime and grapefruit soda.
We came to a leather store, and I had to peek in, just to smell. I had been thinking about trying to find a light leather jacket, as I've wanted one for a long time now, and I stupidly didn't bring a jacket for England or Paris. They had one jacket there that was quite reasonably priced and fit me as though it were made for me (ok, a version of me with slightly longer arms.) It was love at first sight. Elizabeth very kindly saved me from being parted from my new love by putting it on her credit card -- I'll just have to feel moved to give her some cash as a gift later on.
A few blocks later we came to a movie theater, and there happened to be a showing of Shrek starting in a few minutes, so we went in. Elizabeth said there were usually ads before the movie, and I was all excited to see English ads, but unfortunately they started the feature without them. They did have one of those no-smoking no-talking ads starring an animated Lara Croft that was pretty entertaining.
The movie itself was a lot of fun; no one at home has wanted to see it with me, so I was glad to finally catch it.
After the movie, we walked back home, browsing down the other side of the street, to order pizza and watch an episode of Buffy on Jason's new computer. A very lazy day, and just what I needed.
I was up at 4 am (memo to self: stop booking morning flights!). I had arranged for a cab the night before, and it showed up in good time. London cabs really are fabulous. Very roomy, both horizontally and vertically I could practically get in standing up! Apparently there was a built-in DVD player in the cab, but it was broken. That's ok, I was enjoying my conversation with the driver too much to have watched a movie anyway. It turns out he was Jewish, so we talked about the London Jewish scene, and he wished my cousin a mazal tov. He offered to take me directly to the airport instead of to the Heathrow Express train for only slightly more than the train would have cost, and it seemed worth it for the conversation and the convenience.
The flight to Israel was very nice. The plane had little video screens in the back of the seats. In addition to a variety of movies to choose from, you could see the plane's altitude, temperature, speed, and watch a map of our current location and flight plan. I started to watch the movie Chocolat but kept switching back to the info channel to see what the land under me was, and finally gave up on the movie in favor of watching the scenery. I was surprised by the Alps. I had always imagined them to be a single line of mountains; instead, they could be a whole country to themselves. It was just Alps as far as the eye could see. More Alps than you can shake a stick at. I was excited to be passing over Hungary, since that's where my maternal grandparents are from, but we were too far from Budapest to see anything there. The only feature I could pick out in Hungary was Lake Balaton, which didn't really mean anything to me. The map on the plane didn't give country names, only city names. Most countries I recognized the names of major cities, but I spent a long time trying to remember what country Ankara was in. (It turns out to be Turkey, in case anyone cares.)
I expected to be met at the airport by the family friends I would be staying with, but to my surprise my cousin Etan was there instead. I hope that if I get married some day I have time to hang out three days before my wedding! He kidnapped me and drove us to Tel Aviv for dinner. Along the way I was excited to see signs in Hebrew for the Gillette Venus razor. It's fun to see products I worked on around the world, and see how they do the campaigns differently. (Our was much better, needless to say.)
Etan suggested steak for dinner, which is always good with me. We met up with his friend Johnson who was in for the wedding and found the restaurant. I took a look at the menu and said "El Gaucho? Hey, I was just in one of these in London!" It was fun to be more familiar with the menu options, and to try something different. We had a mixed platter appetizer that had chorizo and beef and mushroom empanadas, and I got the milk-fed veal ribs, which were finger-licking good. Literally.
After dinner Etan called and got directions to the Nudelman's house, and with his unerring sense of direction managed to find the street that was new since the map was printed and deliver safely. I haven't seen Noam Nudelman in years, and it was great to meet his wife, Ayelet, and two children, Ohad and Elad. Ohad is painfully shy and wouldn't speak around me, so I covered my ears so he could whisper to his grandmother around me, which seemed to make him feel better.
|Venus in Israel|
Chana Nudelman took my parents and myself to the Weizmann Institute, where she works. She arranged for a private VIP tour for us, including a multimedia presentation that was an overview of the Institute and a walk through some of the buildings. I found it interesting to learn that the Weizmann Institute is working on the Human Genome Project, specifically on the sense of smell; that seems poetically suited to me, since Israel has so many vivid and varied smells. The solar field was interesting, even though most of the reflectors were off; the immense burn mark on the side of the collecting building where they missed at aiming the beams back into the building was pretty scary. My favorite part, thought, was the Garden of Science, an interactive outdoor Science Museum. I got to play on some of the exhibits, including one where they hoist you up by a harness so that you can rappel against a huge wooden cone, and they have you try to push off and turn around while in space. I managed to do it on my first try, then slammed my back full-force into the wood on successive tried. Luckily it seemed to be a pretty soft wood. Chana had a 3D photography exhibit up in the Garden of Science that was really impressive; she had made small models based on famous paintings and photographed them.
We had lunch in the Weizmann cafeteria. It was exciting to be able to point randomly at foods without knowing what they were, but knowing they were kosher. I ended up with some sort of cauliflower quiche that was quite good. When we had finished most of our food, we got the phone call that Tammy et al had landed, and Chana dropped us all at Noam's house and raced off to pick them up. It was wonderful to see them all, but mostly we were all fighting for the chance to hold Miriam. She's grown so much since I saw her last! I gave her the Paddington pull-toy that I had bought in Paddington Station, and she really seemed to like it. After we can all caught up a little bit, we decided a nap before the Henna was in order, and crashed.
The Henna was called for 8pm. We arrived a little early, just to be safe. Other people started arriving some time around 9 apparently Jewish time is exponential in Israel, and everything always starts late. We had plenty of time to admire the area, with its oriental rugs covering the ground and the kaleidoscope of cloth hanging forming a backdrop, and the dozens of long tables laid out around the perimeter. We were greeted in a friendly fashion, but few of the people there seemed to speak much English. Eventually people started arriving and we claimed a space at a table in time to be served fresh bread, baked by all the women of the village, along with crushed tomatoes, charif, and salt for dipping. Charif is hot -- I bravely tried a few meager grains and nearly scalded my tongue. Dad liked it, though.
Eventually we started noticing people moving to the entrance, and the women started making that "lululululu" sound, and Rifka & Etan appeared, dressed in cloth of gold. She was wearing a tall elaborate headpiece, and he had a smaller hat with fake peyyot attached.
There was a lot of dancing mostly circle dances, similar enough to Israeli dances that I've done that I could pick up the steps by finding someone to follow. I found one woman who seemed happy enough to make sure I could see what her feet were doing, and that helped. There was also one little old nut-brown woman who was among the first on the dance floor and didn't seem to leave all evening. I ended up dancing with her a few times, both in the circle dances and in the more modern free-form dancing. We had fun following each other's moves without having to try to communicate in words. Toward the end of the evening, after Tammy & Bryan and Miriam had left, the mothers of the bride and groom were called up to mix up a humongous bowl of henna, which was split off into cups and pressed into the palms of everyone there. We decided we could leave after that, since enough people had left for us to be able to retrieve the car. On the way out Dad was offered a puff on one of the narghiles that had been set out earlier in the evening I asked what it was packed with, and he says it was tobacco. Thats what I figured, but you never know I got home and found some plastic wrap in the kitchen to wrap around my hands so that I could let the henna stay on without staining the sheets, and went to bed.
Our destination for the day was Caesarea. We all got up, showered, and had breakfast, but by the time Mom and Dad got the van and came to pick us up, we were getting hungry again, so we voted for lunch first thing upon arrival. There were a few restaurants there, but only one of them turned out to be kosher. The menu looked pretty dubious -- it only had about 4 selections -- but the food was surprisingly good. I had a steak that was as big as my plate, but much tastier.
After lunch we went out to walk among the ruins. Caesarea is an old Roman port city. Like many forts and cities in Israel, it has been run and overrun by all sorts of people over the ages, from Romans to Arabs to Crusaders, each adding their own mark to the place. Unfortunately, very little was marked, and what few signs there were were in Hebrew. But it was interesting being allowed to walk through the ruins, on the mosaics and among the pillars, without glass and ropes holding us back. Bryan and Dad found some odd steps cut into one hillside, and decided they looked like more like seating for spectators; we later found out that there had been a hippodrome there, and they were exactly right.
After we had had enough, we headed for the exit and the souvenir shop and glass factory. Dad got a Border Patrol hat as a souvenir, Bryan an exotic kippa, and Mom and I bought some painted glasses in the glass factory.
We all went back to Noam's house for pizza for dinner, which was very good -- I especially liked the one with green olives. There was ice cream for dessert. I chose the one that looked like caramel, and we were trying to figure out what the flavor actually was. The Nudelmans knew what it was called in Hebrew, but couldn't think of the English, until I guessed "dulce de leche". No wonder they couldn't think of the English!
Chasya gave us directions to a site, but refused to tell us what it was, only saying that she was sure we'd find it interesting. It turned out to be Machon Ayalon, a kibbutz that was really a cover tor an underground bullet factory during Israel's War for Independence. I didn't expect to find it nearly as interesting as it was. They took us first to the laundry room, which they had used both as a cover for any noise from the factory below as well as as camouflage for air pipes and a ladder hidden behind a washing machine. There was another entrance hidden in the bakery behind the oven; we used that entrance to descend a steep spiral staircase and see the underground factory itself. We were amazed to learn that the entire factory had been excavated and built in only 21 days! They really thought of everything to keep their secret. Workers had to spend a certain amount of time under a quartz sun-lamp to get a tan, so that they could claim they had been working in the fields, since not everyone on the premises was privy to the secret. Those who were not in the know were called "giraffes", since they could see everything except what was happening right under them. Our guide told us that the bullets were smuggled out in secret cavities in milk trucks. She said they called these trucks "midgets", since they did their work secretly at night. I mentioned to her discreetly afterwards that I suspect the word she wants is "elves", since midgets are just short people. She was very glad that there had been no little people in our group! They had life-size cut-out figures of the actual workers scattered around, and we wondered how there were surviving photos of this secret operation. It turns out that after the war was won, on the last day before they dismantled the factory someone took posed photos. It made a difference, knowing that we were seeing the real people who had risked their lives for their new country, seeing how young they were.
After that intense experience, we were ready for something a little lighter, so we went to the mall. I bought a new watchband to replace the one that broke in London, a lovely lapis bracelet and earring set, a toe-ring, and a pair of pants and a shirt. I don't think anyone else actually bought anything. I impressed myself by conducting a fair bit of these transactions in Hebrew, including asking about the VAT refund form.
For lunch we had the novelty of a food court we could actually eat in. I chose the Burger Ranch, which was surprisingly good. Everyone else but Dad chose other fleishig food such as shwarma; Dad went for pizza at Sbarros so he could have ice cream for dessert.
After the mall, we went back to our respective sleeping places to take a nap before the wedding. We managed to get some sleep before the parade of showers and getting dressed, and made it to the wedding early, of course. The wedding was held at a beautiful place called Givat Erusim (Hill of Irises). I think it might also be a pun, since the Erusim is part of the wedding service. The buffet opened shortly after we arrived, and it was both extensive and delicious. Johnson showed up with some pictures he had taken at the Henna already developed, and became an instant celebrity as word spread. It probably helped that he was the only tall bleached-blond guy there -- he was hard to miss!
The chuppa was set up on a hill in front of a waterfall set about with candles, with a large screen to the side. The videographer projected the proceedings on the screen as he taped, so all 550 people there could actually see what was going on -- very clever. The ceremony was short and all in Hebrew, so mostly incomprehensible, but the smile and Rifka and Etan's faces said all we needed to know. The image of pale blonde Aunt Binny standing next to Rifka's dark mother was really striking; how beautiful to see two such different families blending so harmoniously.
After the ceremony we all found tables, and the dinner and dancing commenced. I didn't much care for the chicken liver appetizer, but it was worth trying, but the roast beef main course was great. It took long enough to serve everyone that I had plenty of time to dance between courses and still eat, which is usually a problem for me at weddings. I got the dance that Etan had promised me in the form of one of the traditional Temani (Yemenite) dances, and Tammy and I also got a dance in with Leah. And of course I got to dance with my little old lady friend from the Henna. I even got her getting a good hip wiggle going on at one point!
|Lunch at Machon Ayalon||Wedding|
We spent the morning at the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. Most of the tour was about basic Judaism, which was a little slow for us, but others in the tour group seemed to appreciate it. There were some wonderful models of synagogues around the world that I found interesting, and a replica of the gorgeous Hodorov synagogue ceiling that I've always loved. After the official tour we elected to skip the film, since Miriam was a bit restive (as were we all). I went off to the Jewish music center to try to find out about the history of the tunes for the Birkat Hamazon. The woman behind the counter didn't seem to know much about them, but there was another patron there who told me some of the difference between tunes and niggunim, and the history of some other common tunes. Dad had tried to get into the geneology center to check the history of our name, but it was unstaffed until suddenly a tour group appeared and got in front of him.
We met up with our driver and went off in search of food. The easiest option ended up being the mall, which was still enough of a novelty to be exciting to us. I chose a Mexican restaurant. After trying to puzzle out the Hebrew on the specials menu I finally deciphered the "aruchat kombo meeks", mixed combo meal, which came with a fajita, a taco, and a chimichanga, all of which looked very odd spelled out in Hebrew. I think everyone else went for Chinese food, which also looked good.
After lunch it was time to drop me off at the airport. I was a little confused at first, trying to figure out the signs and where I needed to go, but after following someone else's lead for the past five days, it felt good to be independent again. I eventually made it through all the various levels of security and passport control and onto my plane. Unfortunately, the seat-back entertainment was broken, as was the reclining function of my seat, so it wasn't the best flight I've ever had. But to make up for it there was a gorgeous sky, with shafts of light streaming down. I could almost feel the plane wanting to dive through them -- I've never felt the appeal of moving in three dimensions so strongly. No wonder people love to fly.
It was a long tube ride back to the flat, but at least it was all on one line, and it felt good to get back. In addition to Elizabeth and Jason, Barbara Ex was there along with her friend Stephan. I was just in time for dessert, which was summer fruits with honey cinnamon whipped cream.
|Miriam's escape||Diaspora Museum|
I'd been putting off making my reservations for a kosher French dinner in Paris, I think because I was nervous about trying to deal in French over the phone. But since Paris was only days away, I finally decided to bite the bullet. Elizabeth helped me to make sense of the phone codes, and I called the restaurant I had found online. My French turned out to be adequate for the conversation, but unfortunately the restaurant turned out to be closed the days I was coming. So I went back online, found another restaurant even closer to where I was staying, made a second call, and successfully made my reservations. Thanks, Dr. Newkumet -- all that high school French seems to have stuck!
Elizabeth and I decided to check out the London Walks Legal and Illegal London walk. The walk went through the four Inns of Court, which are something like law schools. Our guide was very entertaining, offering lots of little anecdotes and quotes. She mentioned that the word gala came from a hanging at which all eight gallows were used at once; family entertainment at it's best. We didn't actually see any barristers wandering around in their gowns and wigs, but we did pass a shop that sold such legal accoutrements. Apparently the wigs are made of South American horsehair. Sounds itchy to me, but the guide assured me they're smooth enough inside.
After the walk we had the option of going into the Courts of Justice to see the legal system in action, but passed in favor of lunch. We ate at the Bank of England (once a bank, now a very nicely-appointed pub) right next to the courts. We split an order of fish and chips -- one more London experience to check off my list, although I'm not sure it counted since we didn't have malt vinegar. I did have a pint of hard cider, which was tasty but left me a little light-headed.
At Gay Pride in Boston I had heard about another Gay Pride event in London called Mardi Gras, but since it was on a Saturday and I assumed it would be far from where I was staying, I didn't think much about it. But it turned out that the event was in Finsbury Park, directly across the street from Elizabeth and Jason's house! So after lunch we walked on down the Strand, through Trafalgar Square and on to Picadilly Circus and the Virgin Megastore for me to buy a ticket at for the Mardi Gras festival. Elizabeth pointed out Somerset House, which I'm sure I would have heard of if I had read more Jane Austen, and Trafalgar Square, where I had her take my picture with Nelson's Column. We went into the National Gallery to use the loo and admire the stairway. We ended up on New Row, where I had some dessert in a sidewalk cafe. I noticed that we were near Covent Garden and suggested a run to Lush for Volcano foot masks, after which we were no longer early for dinner and had to run to meet Jason at Bella Pasta. Having spoiled my appetite with the earlier apple pie I had trouble making much of a dent in my pasta, but it was good.
|Inns of Court Walk|
|Twinings Tea||Trafalgar Square||My favorite ad|
Elizabeth made us a breakfast treat of poached eggs on cheese toast (with bacon for herself and Jason). After breakfast we all went out onto the balcony to volcano mask our feet. We coated our feet in the clay-like mess, wrapped them securely in cling film, and waited. Elizabeth and I also indulged in a cucumber face mask. After 15 minutes or so we all raced gingerly back inside to the tub, where we rinsed off our now soft and sweet-smelling feet.
I got dressed in and set off to find the entrance to Finsbury Park for the Mardi Gras event. The park turned out to be much larger than I had realized, as was the event. There was a mini-amusement park with rides and a bungi jump crane, several music stages scattered around, an El Paso food tent playing salsa music that had hammocks hanging outside for the true siesta experience, and lots and lots of food and merchandise stalls. There were also some people walking around with small square kegs strapped to their backs handing out free samples of Strongbow cider and iced tea, which I enjoyed several times. It was a warm day, so after wandering around a bit I parked myself on the grass in front of one of the stages and listened to some music. My favorite was a funky little group from Israel called, if I remember correctly, Solution. There was a sign language interpreter for all of the groups who was very good. We could see him on the screens by the stage dancing along and singing the music with his hands and body.
I also watched a line dance group for a while. The best bit was watching the group of burly men in cowboy boots and hats (except for the guy in the kilt) dancing to a Shania Twain song, and belting out the chorus "Man! I feel like a woman".
When I had seen and heard enough, I went back to the flat to take a shabbos nap. I got up in time to join Jason and Elizabeth for pizza and another episode of Angel, then went to bed.
Elizabeth and I went off to have the BBC Experience in the morning. They don't let people tour the real BBC studios, so they set up this interactive little museum. First there was a multimedia presentation on the history of radio and TV in England and the BBC in particular. Apparently the war made TV catch on much later in England than America, which I found interesting. After the overview, they took us into a large radio studio, where half the group got to sit at desks and push sound effect buttons in time with a script, while the other half of the group went into a sound booth next door to record the voices. One of the guides was doing foley* in the recording room, and I was sorry not to get to see that closer or have time to ask questions; I always enjoy seeing how they manage to recreate sounds for foley work. That was it for the official guided tour; we were let out into an area with televisions showing clips from different time periods. I thought I might have to forcibly drag Elizabeth away from the big shiny boxes -- they haven't had decent reception since moving to London, and she was captivated by the TVs.
*Foley is the sound effects that are done live, as opposed to pre-recorded sounds, such as footsteps and slamming doors.
The next area turned out to be the most interesting. It had all sorts of interactive displays, where you could do things like watch an episode of the East Enders and choose which camera shot to use (harder than it sounds!), work puppets on camera, and mix music. I particularly enjoyed being a weathergirl. I don't know UK geography or weather symbols at all, so I mostly babbled cheerfully in a British accent while pointing at thin air. We also enjoyed listening to the BBC bloopers on headphones; my reel was about two seconds ahead of Elizabeth, so she looked mildly surprised when I started really howling uncontrollably with laughter, until she heard about the "lesbian troops" attacking Israel for herself.
I enjoyed the experience enough to want to buy a souvenir in the gift shop, but since the videos and DVDs wouldn't work back home, I had to settle for an odd little post-it container that opens itself in a most friendly and appealing manner when you press a button.
We had lunch at a place called Yo! Sushi. I've seen places with a sushi conveyor belt before, but never a little robot that circles the bar automatically, carrying drinks and talking to patrons. The sushi was quite nice; I really liked the asparagus & tamago roll.
After lunch, Elizabeth went home for a rest and I went off to try to see Westminster Abbey. I started off in the wrong direction when I got out of the tube, but that's ok because I got to see Big Ben. I hadn't planned to go out of my way to see it, but I was really glad to have stumbled across it; the clock itself is really beautiful, and the Houses of Parliament are some lovely architecture as well. It was nearly 4pm when I got there, so I loitered long enough to hear the clock strike the hour.
I did find Westminster Abbey, but it hadn't occurred to me that they might be using it for services on Sundays. I couldn't go in, but I did enjoy seeing the outside, and bought an ice cream from the cart right outside. I wandered around for a while after that, and popped into the National Portrait Gallery just long enough to see the Tudor gallery. There was a painting of a very young Queen Elizabeth I that really caught my eye, since I've mostly seen pictures of her so much older. It made it easy to picture the young Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower of London I had just seen.
I met up with Elizabeth and Jason at the Globe Theatre for the production of Cymbelline. Luckily, they were experienced and had brought cushions. The benches at the Globe have no backs and very hard seats, which meant the production had to be that much better to hold my interest. Luckily, it lived up to the challenge. There were only six people in the cast, all wearing white costumes and playing multiple roles (side note: Elizabeth told me that the word "role" for a part comes from the fact that each actor used to get a script with only his lines on it in a parchment roll.) I expected to have trouble keeping track of the parts, but they did a great job of distinguishing between the parts. My favorite bit was when the announcer rang a gong and proclaimed "Rome," and all the actors immediately dropped into lounging positions on the floor, very evocative of Roman life.
After the production we had diner at a place called "Fish!" The exclamation point is part of their name and identity, so all of their signs are punctuated with exclamation points and look very excited. It's a little intimidating. I had a very yummy smoked haddock Welsh rarebit to start, and grilled tuna with salsa for a main.
|Queen Boudicca||Big Ben||Westminster Abbey|
I got up early and made my way to Waterloo Station to catch the Eurostar to Paris. I followed the arrows through the tube station back into a HUGE whole other station just for the Eurostar. Luckily, there was a coffee shop, so I could get my brain jumpstarted. I found the proper line for my train and the sub-line for the escalator that corresponded with my car on the train (I did say huge!) just as we were starting to board. I made it past the Dixieland band shilling for Eurodisney and up to the platform and found my car and seat.
The ride to Paris was not all that exciting. The high-speed portion of the journey, through the Channel Tunnel, is 20 minutes of riding through a dark tunnel. Woohoo. It was interesting seeing the French countryside as we re-emerged from the tunnel. Mostly there were a lot of black and white cows.
Gare du Nord was something of a madhouse. It took me a while to follow the signs to the Metro, where I had to stand in a long line for a 3-day Metro pass. Luckily they took credit cards, since I had been unable to find an ATM. Once I got my pass it wasn't too hard to find the right line and find my way to the Voltaire stop, where Marc Prud'hommeux, my friend Eric's brother and my host for the next three days, lives, along with his girlfriend.
We had lunch at a little cafe down the street from their place; I had grilled tuna, which was done a little more than I like it, but still tasty. Apparently they assume that Americans want their food well done.
After lunch Marc loaded me up with maps and guidebooks and pointed out some routes of interest and set me loose on the city. I walked down to the Bastille, which is now just a monument, and hopped on the metro to the Louvre. I found the Louvre without any difficulty. I entered through the Cour Carrée, a large courtyard with a fountain in the center, surrounded by the palace and its statues of famous Frenchmen standing silent sentry atop the walls. That was overwhelming enough, but when I walked through and emerged in another even larger area still surrounded by the Louvre, this time centering on I M Pei's glass pyramid and fountain, I decided that the outside was enough for one day and that I'd save the inside for another day.
I kept walking and found myself in Les Tuileries, a garden and amusement park in front of the Louvre. I took a ride on a ferris wheel to try to orient myself; one of the operators hopped in the car ahead of mine and we held a shouted French conversation, with him pointing out landmarks at the top of our arc. I was a little nervous -- I'd been warned about the aggressive flirting of French men -- but he was perfectly nice and let me leave with no trouble after my ride. I spent a little time enjoying the park, watching children race rented miniature sailboats across a fountain, but I find French parks a little weird; the paths are all dust and gravel, and you're not permitted to walk on the lush grass between the paths.
After a bit I wandered along, and found myself by Sainte Chapelle. That's a church that was on my list to see, because of its incredible stained glass, but by the time I got there it was closed for the evening. I strolled along the Seine, and found the lovely little Musée de Moyen Age (also closed, but with a medieval garden that was open) and a French comic book store where I purchased a French Buffy fan magazine as well as an English one. I was looking for Notre Dame and having no luck finding it by either map or the occasional arrows on street corners. I finally gave up and headed home along the Seine. I stopped at the Pont de lArchevêché and glanced across the river, and saw the most magnificent building soaring high above the water. I figured if that weren't Notre Dame I couldn't possibly imagine what the real thing was like! It was Notre Dame, of course, and while the building was closed I walked around the outside admiring the architecture.
I got lost a number of times on my way back, passed the same landmarks three or four times, and finally found a metro station and made it back to Place Léon Blum at 9:30. Marc and another friend of his named Mark were there and willing to join me for dinner, so I called Au Gourmet, the kosher restaurant where I had a reservation, and made sure they could accommodate the three of us.
We walked over and were seated immediately. The restaurant was more modest-looking than I had expected -- very small, and without much in the way of decor or ambience other than some very pretty chairs. We ordered aperitifs (I had a Kir, white wine with currant liqueur) and then settled in to the serious matter of choosing a meal. There were three different appetizers with foie gras, which was an experience I decided I needed to have, so I asked the waited to choose one for me. For my main there was no question -- it had to be the duck with figs. The foie gras, when it came, looked much like a slice of meatloaf, but the taste was rich and savory and delicious. I ate every morsel. The duck was everything I had hoped for and more. Slices of tender roast duck, pieces of fresh fig, and a sauce that tempted me to lick my plate. We had a bottle of wine with dinner; I have no idea what it was, but it wasn't half bad. I drank most of a glassful, which for me is quite a lot. For dessert I chose the crème brûlée, curious how they could possibly make it without dairy. The answer, sadly, was not very well, but the rest of the meal more than made up for it. The entire meal, including drinks, came to under $45 a person, much less than I had anticipated and very well worth it.
|Eurostar TGV||Louvre||Les Tuileries|
I slept on a futon in the living room. I awoke at dawn to see a gentle pink glow over the rooftops of Paris. Sadly, I was barely awake enough to put on my glasses for a peek, and not nearly awake enough to get my camera. I didn't stay awake long, either.
When I awoke for the second time I showered and dressed and went out to a small café that Emily recommended. I sat outside and had a tartine (fresh bread and butter) and chocolat (hot chocolate). It was the best hot chocolate I've ever had; smooth and rich and deep, and you sweeten it to your own taste. Yum! The woman at the table next to me had an adorable little dog; dogs are very common in Paris, even in restaurants, but also very well behaved.
I went off to Sainte Chapelle first thing, to catch it while the light was good. Sainte Chapelle is a church built by Louis IX in the 1240's. It has two floors; a small dark lower floor, with beautiful painted detailing, and then a much larger upper floor that is mostly glass. The walls are about 90% stained glass, with just enough stone to hold it up. It was really gorgeous, but a little overwhelming.
Sticking to a theme, from there I went to Notre Dame. The inside was impressive, but I was bothered by how noisy the tourists were in an active place of worship. I was surprised to see that some of the stained glass windows had small panes that were hinged open; I'd always wondered how one dealt with ventilation and stained glass. Unfortunately the towers were closed, so I couldn't get a good view of the gargoyles up close.
I walked along the Seine and crossed Pont Neuf. I found a crêpe stand and bought a cheese crêpe for lunch, and ate it sitting in the Jardin des Halles. When I was done, I found my way to La Samaritaine department store. I spent a pleasant hour or two browsing around and buying gifts, then went up to their rooftop café. It was a very warm day, so I had a soft ice cream and a cold coke and sat writing postcards and enjoying the view. In addition to the café, there's a small circular observation deck up another floor. The deck is surrounded by a wide railing with a map of the view before you painted on it, with all the major landmarks labeled. I had my binoculars with me, which made the view even more impressive.
La Samaritaine is only a block behind the Louvre, so I walked back that was to soak my hot and tired feet in the fountain. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, so it wasn't too crowded, and I had a nice conversation with a Parisian gentleman who was enjoying his lunch outside. When I was feeling sufficiently refreshed I went back to Les Tuileries for a ride on the carousel that I had passed by the day before. After some consideration, I chose a horse named Gigi -- she seemed the most appropriate choice for France. You can see her picture below. The carousel was not in great shape, and didn't even have music playing, but it was still fun.
Next I set off for the Eiffel Tower. The metro stop turns out to be a fair walk from the tower itself, but for once it was easy to spot what I was looking for and just keep heading in the right direction. Like the Louvre, everyone had told me how large the Eiffel Tower was, but I was still unprepared for the impact it makes in person. There were lines in each corner to buy tickets to go up, but the line moves slowly, and it was probably half and hour before I got to the window. Luckily, I had my copy of Le Petit Prince with me to read. Unluckily, there was a truly obnoxious and unrestrained child right in front of me. Once I got to the window, I had the option of buying tickets for the first floor, the second floor, or the very tippy top. There was a sign saying that there would be a wait of approximately half an hour at the second floor to get to the top, so I decided that the second floor was plenty high for me.
The lacy structure of the tower is impressive, but what impressed me even more was the engineering of the elevators. They have immense yellow counterweights, and the elevators have to move at a different angle between the ground and first floor and first and second. I have no clue how they do it, but it works. The elevators have glass walls, which makes for a great view as you go up.
The second floor turned out to be plenty high indeed -- I wasn't comfortable without holding onto the railing, and the top floor is *much* higher than the second. The view was impressive, and having seen the map at La Samaritaine helped me to have a clue as to what I was seeing.
I took the elevator back down to the first floor, where I found the post office and mailed my postcards, then walked down the spiral staircase to the ground. The staircase was a little steeper and more open than I find comfortable, but as long as I used the railings I was fine.
I walked through a garden (where people were actually on the grass!) to Les Invalides, the tried to find a metro to get to the Folies Bergeres. I know there's a metro stop around there somewhere, but even with asking people, it took me *forever* to find it. I did eventually get to the right area, and found the Folies Bergeres, only to discover that it was closed for the summer. Not that their web page had said anything about that.
Luckily, I stumbled across a kosher restaurant right nearby. The proprietor said that he was expecting a group that had booked the whole restaurant in less than an hour, but if I would eat quickly, we would feed me. Sadly, because of the time constraints my menu options were limited and I couldn't have the lamb that I had been eyeing, but he made me a delicious and very plentiful spaghetti bolognese very cheaply. We talked in a mixture of Hebrew and French, often switching randomly in the middle of a sentence. I found that by my second day in Paris my French was coming back to me, and I could understand a lot of what was being said without having to first translate it into English in my head. I was also getting used to the metro, and the way you open the doors manually, usually without waiting for the train to come to a complete stop first.
When I got back to Marc's place, they had left me a note that they were at a cafe down the street called Zinc with a group of friends. I wandered over and had a glass of cider, which was even better than the English cider. I was pretty tired and the smoke started getting to me, so I left before the others and went back to have a shower and fall into bed.
|Marc's house||Le Metro||Ste Chapelle|
|View from La Samaritaine|
My last day in Paris. I woke up at dawn again, and this time I was smart enough to have left the camera by my bed. The picture doesn't do it justice, but I tried.
My first stop of the morning was at a wine shop called Nicolas, where a woman was kind enough to help me choose a bottle of wine as a gift for Elizabeth and Jason. I know nothing about wine, but the label was kind of pretty. That done, I found a café and sat outside with my croissant and hot chocolate. (Side note: prices for food in cafés vary according to where you sit. Most expensive is outside, moderate is inside at a table, cheapest is standing at the bar.) The croissant was fresh and flaky and buttery and wonderful. The chocolate was perfection, again. I made it last as long as I could, but eventually I had to get on with my day. A chocolate and tea shop caught my eye as I was walking to the metro -- it reminded me of the shop in the movie Chocolat. I went in and bought a box of chocolates that I'm saving for a rainy day. My last shopping stop was at FNAC music -- I decided that I wanted some French music as a souvenir. They had listening stations, so I walked along, listening to a track from each CD, until I found one that I liked by someone named Bernard Lavilliers.
Having done my bit to promote capitalism, I went on to the Louvre to provide some balance. Having ordered my tickets online before I left the States, I was able to thumb my nose at the long line and enter by the Passage Richelieu. I took advantage of their coat room to leave my heavy backpack, which made life a lot easier. By this time, I was getting kind of tired of doing the tourist thing, and had a wicked case of "art burn", to use Elizabeth's term. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I did the Stupid American Tourist(tm) thing and followed the signs to the Mona Lisa. Along the way I did take notice of some of the paintings filling the walls, including Arcimboldo's The Seasons, which I've seen in books. They're four portraits of people made up of fruits and vegetables and flowers appropriate to each season. I could tell I was getting closer to the Mona Lisa by the way the crowds were thickening. By the time I got into the room that held the painting I could barely walk. I squeezed my way in close for a look, and found that it's not much more exciting in person than in all the prints. The phenomenon of the people drawn there like lemmings was much more interesting. I wonder if anyone knows why they want to see it?
Venus de Milo was much more interesting. The crowds by her were much smaller, and seeing her full size in three dimensions is very different than seeing prints. I was pleased to learn that she has a lovely butt.
I felt as though I should see more of the museum, but by then I was tired and hungry, and decided food had to take precedence over art. I found a sushi restaurant on the Rue de Rivoli, near the Louvre, and had a decent tekka donburi (bowl of raw tuna over rice) for lunch. After lunch I walked through the gardens of Les Tuileries and found a bench to sit on and read for a while. I had some time before my train, but the thought of doing one more tourist attraction or getting lost one more time was just too much. But it was a lovely day and I enjoyed the rest. Eventually I went back to the Louvre and retrieved my bag (ok, and hit the shops one last time for a Petit Prince t-shirt) and headed to Gare du Nord. The arrows in Paris are much less clear than the ones in London, but between the signs and a fe helpful strangers I finally managed to find the right place. There was passport control on this end, unlike London. They gave the person in front of me a very hard time -- I gather he was from some African country. They took one look at my US passport and waved me through. Nice to be an American, sometimes. The train ride was uneventful, and I managed to nap a little.
Arriving in London felt like coming home. Everything was much easier to understand and much more convenient. I called Elizabeth from Waterloo to let her know I was back in the country, and so that she could time dinner well. I arrived just as she finished the fettucini with smoked salmon (yum!). We listened to my French CD during dinner, which was pleasant, and then watched another episode of Angel.
|Dawn over Paris||Breakfast|
|Mona Lisa||Venus de Milo|
There were so many things I hadn't seen or done in London. I thought about trying Westminster Abbey again, or seeing Kew Gardens, but by this point I was just Done. I just couldn't bring myself to do one more touristy thing. So after my final breakfast of Devon toffee yogurt and granola, Elizabeth and I went out to see a movie. We saw Get Over It, a very light and entertaining teen flick loosely based around A Midsummer Night's Dream. On the bus back I saw the sign below that reminded me of my friends Margaret (who goes by Mags) and some other friends I won't name here :)
I made it to the airport without any trouble. I still had some money, so I spent a while wandering around shops trying to find something to spend it on. I bought some candy to bring back, but nothing else seemed worthwhile. I thought about getting a "Mind the Gap" shirt (there's a very distinctive automated voice on the tube that warns you about the space between the car and platform) but didn't see one I liked.
The plane ride home was pretty boring. I couldn't really see the movie from where I was sitting, so I read and slept most of the way. There was a breathtaking sunset just before we got in to Boston, with fiery reds and oranges. I tried to take some pictures, but as you can tell they didn't really capture it.
Rachel had promised to meet me at the airport, and said that she'd make sure that I wouldn't have any trouble finding her. Well, after my suitcase eventually made its appearance and I got through customs (where they didn't even glance at the form I had worried over; trying to figure out how much you've spent in US currency when you've been paying in pounds, shekels, and francs is quite a trick!) I went out to arrivals and immediately saw two people in Hawaiians shirts and leis strumming a ukulele. Easy to spot, indeed! They gave me flowers and a glow-stick necklace and dragged me out for sushi and generally made me feel very welcome. Dorothy had it right -- there's no place like home.
|Sunset on the plane|