Wednesday, November 23, 2011

big ben

On our first full day of sight seeing, we began by taking the tube to Waterloo Station.  If you've watched the Bourne trilogy, then you know this is a surveillance nightmare.  It's basically the busiest station in Britain.  As soon as you walk out of the station, you're in the heart of London where you can see the London Eye!  It's the tallest ferris wheel in Europe - giving you great views.  Sorry, we don't have any pics because we didn't go up! 

 Waterloo Station.

Right next to the eye is the River Thames and Parliament.  It's absolutely breathtaking.  The Houses of Parliament are also called the "Palace of Westminster".

Big Ben is Parliament's clock tower which was built in 1858.  It's the largest four faced chiming clock in the world.  It's also one of the most prominent symbols of London and England.

 Left side of the bridge.
 Right side of the bridge.

 Walkway along the river.
 Westminster Abbey! 

This was the location of this year's royal wedding ceremony for Prince William and Catherine Middleton - plus mannny other weddings in the past.  Construction of the present church was started in 1245 by Henry III.  It was Remembrance Day when we visited and the church bells rang all day long.  It was beautiful!

 Memorials for soldiers.

 Barclays bikes!

You can rent a bike here for a good price and ride anywhere on it.  There are "docks" all over the city where you can return them when you're done.  Great idea!  We didn't have time for a bike ride in the park, but next time - I'm definitely doing that.

 Of course, a red telephone booth.
Piccadilly Circus.

This isn't even the end of our first day, but I have to stop here (I'm so behind with my blogging).  It was so much fun just strolling though the city.  After walking for a while we stopped for lunch at an organic cafe and continued to a museum.  You'll have to wait for the next post to see which one!


After Paris, we traveled to our final destination in Europe: the United Kingdom!  After months of foreign places, London was the next best thing to home.  The sound of people speaking English was music to my ears.  It's so comforting to know that if you get lost or need to order food --- you can communicate with others easily.  Besides all that, it's London!  Woo hoo!

We decided to give Couch Surfers a try since we'd heard great things about it.  Couch Surfers is a website promoting hospitality exchange between travelers.  It encourages cultural exchange as well.  The idea is that you don't need a lot of money or a fancy hotel to travel the world.  Through the website's network, you can find people living in the city you want to visit who are willing to let you crash on whatever is available in their house (couch, pull out bed, spare bedroom...etc) for free.  You're not allowed to charge a dime.

This idea doesn't work if everyone takes but no one gives.  When you join this website, you're expected to host - not just surf.  You have a choice as to who you host and when you host.  It's all in your control.  There's also a verification process and your profile shows references from people who have hosted you explaining whether or not you were a nice guest, respectful, and safe.  I think the process is very trustworthy.

We didn't know anyone in London before, but we have a wonderful friend there now - his name is Jade and he allowed us to stay in his spare bedroom for five days.  He was so nice... meeting us at the subway station, taking us to his house, and he had a freshly cooked meal waiting for us when we walked in the door.  It was such a treat to stay with him!  We felt so comfortable and welcome the entire time.  Plus, whenever Jade wasn't working (he's a doctor), we hung out and had a great time getting to know each other.  I'm so glad we stayed with him.  He's one of the most genuinely kind and giving people I've ever met.

Traditional English breakfast we woke up to - compliments of Jade!
 It's a lot like Harry Potter with the matching homes ;-)

 Downtown Espom.

 Getting coffee at the subway platform.
My water was "boring" because it wasn't sparkling lol.

Jade's home is located in Surrey in a town called Epsom.  It's the place to live if you're going to be in the suburbs.  It's a very traditional English town, with easy subway access to London, and it's also one of the safest places to live.  We loved it there!  Everything is within walking distance from Jade's cozy little townhouse.  Most people don't ever drive.  You can walk or take the subway pretty much anywhere.

Jade took us to a pub one night - the "cultural center" as he called it.  According to him, everything in life revolves around the pub there.  We ordered drinks and Indian food (they had a special that night called Curry Club).  It was fun to get the pub experience.

Me with Jade.

This is just the start of posts on London... but I really would urge anyone wanting to travel and meet nice people to consider Couch Surfing.  We had a wonderful experience with it and have made a great friend in the process.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the louvre

Our last day in Paris was spent in the Louvre - which is one of the largest museums in the world and the most visited art museum with over 8 million visitors a year.  It was established in 1793 and contains thousands of works of art displayed across the 652,300  square feet building.  You could probably spend weeks in there just to really see everything.

We only visited one or two sections of the museum and were exhausted from walking after a while.  We started in the morning with some coffee and lunch in the lower level of the museum.  It's full of places to shop and eat.  It was also the first place I saw that was decorated for the holidays so it put me in a festive mood.

One of the famous pyramids... many French people believe they are a "sore" on the face of France.  The Louvre is very old and beautiful.  Some people think the pyramids are too modern and ugly.

 They had a Starbucks!  I'm really not a frequent Starbucks customer in the U.S., but it was comfort food for me while we were there.  Plus, it's a lot colder over there and it warmed me right up.

 Brunch! (Michael is always hungry.)
 The bigger pyramid.
Our map... it's actually easy to get lost and disoriented.

This is the section with the pride of the Louvre, the Mona Lisa... as well as a ton of Renaissance pieces.

 The Nike of Samothrace - or "The Winged Victory".

It was made in 2nd century B.C. and is a marble sculpture of the Greek goddess named Nike which translates to "victory".  I think that could be the origin of my name because Nicole means "victory of the people".  The sculpture has been displayed in the Louvre since 1884 and is one of the most celebrated sculptures in the world.

 The Mona Lisa... surrounded by tourists.

There are some HUGE paintings in the Louvre, but the Mona Lisa is quite small.  Leonardo da Vinci painted this in the 1500's.  It's on permanent display in the Louvre and is one of its most prized works of art - because it's the most famous painting in the world.  In 1911, the painting was stolen from the Louvre and thought to be lost forever until they discovered two years later that an employee had snuck it out.  There have been several attempts to vandalize the painting in the past.  It's now protected with bullet proof glass inside a climate controlled case.

 One of the many paintings...

 I think this is Jacob stealing Esau's birthright.
 View out of the window.

This painting was Michael's favorite.  It tells the story of the crucifixion.

 I was excited to see these because they've been shown to me in art class!

 This is the Egyptian section.

 A sphinx.

 Getting a little goofy... losing our attention spans.
 I know... very mature.