I was confident I had prepared properly for the trip to London, but I'm beginning to think there is no such thing with me... We had scheduled our wake-up call for 5:00 am; the Eurostar (train) departed from Gare du Nord at 6:22. Kristen had showered the night before, so I let her sleep in while I showered and dried my hair. We left the hotel around 5:25 - just at an hour to arrive at Gare du Nord. Things were feeling positive.
We took the Metro from Edgar Quinnet to Gare Montparnasse, where we need to change to the #4 metro to get to Gare du Nord. The walk inside Gare Montparnasse was incredibly long - I would venture to guess we could easily have walked to Gare Montparnasse from the hotel and made better time. We finally arrived at the appropriate platform for Gare du Nord, and found there was an 8 minute wait (it initially was a 7 minute wait, but it gained a minute somewhere along the way). When we finally boarded, it was 6:00 am. I wasn't feeling so confident now, and neither was Kristen.
There were some 18 stops in between, and we arrived at Gare du Nord at 6:20. Two minutes. OK, I thought - it is "possible"... We hurried up to the second floor, tried to locate the train on the departure boards, and tried to ask directions. All to no avail. When finally we got to the information desk, it was 6:23 and we were pointed upstairs. Ahhh... No one suggested a third level.
The rail tickets clearly stated to arrive 30 minutes prior to departure to check in. It never occurred to me that since this was "international travel," we would need to go through the screening process, complete the paperwork, and go through the passport officials. We were very fortunate that the ticket attendant provided us replacement tickets, as our tickets clearly state "non-refundable and non-exchangeable". We ended up on the 7:37 train to London, and slept most of the way (I was wishing the airline seats were as comfortable).
I got terribly confused when we did not arrive at 9:10 - here was my second failure in preparation. I was certain I had checked to see if there was a time change, but apparently I failed to remember or notice there was. So, rather than a 2 hour 11 minute ride, it was a 3 hour 11 minute ride. Fine. Kristen never knew the difference, sleeping happily in the seat beside me.
We arrived in the Waterloo Station and headed outward, with no clue in which direction to go. The large ferris wheel seemed the logical choice (this was the London Eye I had read about on Fodor's) - so we headed in that direction. Sadly, it was not in operation on the day we were there; the security guard told us "Monday." Kristen had apparently seen signs indicating an aquarium, so she asked him for directions, and we headed that direction.
There we were, walking beside the County Hall and the River Thames toward Westminster Bridge. What fortune that the door we departed at the rail station faced this direction! It was 9:30 - and the aquarium did not open until 10:00 - so we continued along the walk. Kristen was hungry, I could use a coffee, and we spotted a McDonald's. Uh-oh. Third failure in preparation. England is not on the Euro system, and we had no pounds. Now I know why there were such long lines at the exchange counters inside Waterloo Station. I told Kristen there was nothing we could do - we continued on our walk to Westminster Bridge, and crossed it, stopping several times so I could photograph Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, churches, parks, and the Thames.
Westminster Abbey had an entry fee (I believe it was 10 pounds), so that was out of the question. We did, however, go inside St. Margaret's Church at Westminster Abbey - no photography allowed. It was beautiful, large - but quaint in comparison to the Notre-Dame at Chartres. When we left there, we asked the attendants at the main church where a bank was - I figured out finally that I had to change currency. The bank had a sign up inside, apologizing for being unable to make currency exchanges that day. Kristen, with her "never say never" attitude, went back inside and asked where we could find a bank that *did* make currency exchanges - fortunately, it was just around the corner.
I thought Paris was expensive until we made our exchange. 50 Euros and US$30 were exchanged for just under 40 pounds. We headed back to the London Aquarium, which cost nearly half our money. Kristen thought the aquarium was cool - almost exactly like the Chattanooga Aquarium, except there were cool eels here that we didn't see in Chattanooga. I was a bit underwhelmed.
After the aquarium, we went back to the McDonald's to eat (yes, the McDonald's). Two Big Mac meals - mine with coffee - and then outside we went with Kristen's remaining fries so she could feed the pigeons, sparrows and sea gulls. The birds were overwhelming - I tried to get her to keep the birds on HER side of the bench. It was nice though - sitting on a park bench facing the River Thames and Westminster.
Our next stop was again inside the County Hall, but this time at a museum featuring the works of Dali. Fortunately, it was less expensive than the aquarium - we still had some change left. The exhibit featured over 500 works, the melting clocks were my favorites. I explained to Kristen that Dali was a bit eccentric - she found him to be oversexed. Perhaps it was in the section we were in; I didn't care for his more erotic art either.
It was just after 2:00 pm when we finished the Dali exhibits, and we headed back to Waterloo Station in hopes of changing to an earlier train (our train was scheduled for 5:16). No such luck. The attendant told us strictly "no exchanges, no refunds," and we were "stuck". We had stopped at a little store in the station for a drink (Kristen had a Gatorade type thing and I opted for water), and tried to figure out how to pass the time. Then we located a small walk-up cafe with little tables around it on the station floor (these looked VERY inviting), but the sign said only patrons could sit. Kristen had a honeybun, which used the rest of our money (except for the wee bit of change I saved for Stephen's collection).
I have not yet mentioned the fact that on this day, my heels and ankles did *whatever they do* to make it incredibly difficult to walk. Actually, the pain is constant - it's incredibly difficult just to exist. But when it starts, walking more only makes it worse, so heading back out into town would not have been a good idea. We located a bookstore within the station that accepted VISA, and we each bought 2 books. We passed the next 5+ hours reading (both in the station and then on the train), and finally arrived back in Paris.
We headed for Inno, but found it closed. We hadn't eaten all day with the exception of the McDonald's meal. Thankfully, one of the restaurants on the corner was still serving food (we were the last customers of the day); Kristen had tomato soup, bread, and a chocolate mousse - I had a steak and fries. We made it back to the hotel very late; I took 2 Aleve and put 4 patches on my feet for the pain, and we went to bed.
Now, it is mid-day on day 11. I don't want to overdo it on the feet today, but we'll do *something*. Hopefully, I can find a way to post the blog; if not - it will have to wait for our return. under that close call)
PS at 6:00pm on day 11: We got the internet card and were able to post the day 10 blog (duh, as you can see). For tomorrow,
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-)