Okay, so it takes me a while -- I barely had time to plan this vacation, so writing about it certainly wasn't going to happen lickety split, know what I mean? So, without further ado...
First we flew from here to Charlotte, and this is how Alex spent most of that flight:
We had about 3 hours to kill in Charlotte on the way over. Joe was already in Cambridge, having given his talk there the day Alex and I left for England. We spent some time hanging out in the US Air club (if you have access to a club during a long layover, it's great -- many sell day passes for those without memberships), which has a wonderful view of takeoffs and landings, then we wandered down to our gate, which also had good views of big planes (767s, A330s, 747s). Then it was finally time to board for our flight. Let me just say that international first class rocks. Alex loved stretching out in the roomy, reclining seats. He also liked playing "tent" under his blanket. (He picked that blanket out himself at the luggage store before our trip.)
Now for the part where I sound like the Ingrate of the Year. Yes, first class was nice. Super nice. And yes the seats were roomy and comfortable. But they weren't beds, and comfort is relative. More comfortable than coach? Hells yes. As comfortable as a bed. No way. So I got a little sleep, but not much. Alex slept about 4 hours. And despite the roominess of the seats and his relative smallness as a person, the seats did have a hard time containing the child sprawl:
I should add that about 2 weeks before the trip, I had a temporary crown put on. My worst fear was that it would come off while on vacation. As we were landing, I was eating a Nutri-Grain bar and the thing didn't pop off -- it broke into pieces. Great.
Joe returned his rental car and met us in baggage claim at Gatwick and from there we took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station and then cabbed over to The Dorchester. What a sumptuous hotel. A clerk checked us in, escorted us to our room, showed us how everything worked, and offered to have the valet come and unpack our luggage. Riiiiight. I'm a bit OCD about the way I pack and unpack. The idea of having someone else unpack for me is twitchworthy. Our room was big, with two large closets, a very comfy king bed with Irish linen sheets, down-filled chair and chaise lounge, and a nice desk with built-in UK and US outlets (no converter or adapter necessary). The bathroom was incredible -- all marble, glass shower, very deep tub (they claim the deepest among London hotel tubs), amazingly big, plush towels.
We were all tired, but wanted to try to stay awake until a decent bedtime, so we walked across Park Lane to Speaker's Corner (the hotel across from Hyde Park) where we boarded a double-decker bus tour. It turned out to be a pretty decent way to see some sights and get our bearings. We had planned to hop off at some of the stops, but our energy level for hopping was pretty low. Later we went to Whistlestop for provisions (bread, milk, fruit, snacks) and ate at must have been the noisest, smokiest, full-of-young-professionals-on-the-make restaurant (yes, I just said "on the make"). At least it was reasonably priced. Or was it?
Our day trip to Paris was the next day and I was so paranoid go ing to sleep, afraid that none of our various alarms would wake us in time to be at the station by 5:45am. At about 3:30, I gave up and got up for the day. I didn't feel so hot, but I chalked it up to the early hour, schedule disruption, and being anxious about getting to the train station. I sipped a little bit of Coke and ate a couple of crackers while I got us all ready.
Well. We got to Waterloo Station and while waiting in line for our documents, my body informed me that it was NOT anxiety or lack of sleep, and I began rushing around trying to find a bathroom. I failed miserably, ending up pathetically surrendering the contents of my stomach on the floor in a corner. I decided to cheer myself up with the idea that I'd gotten that out of my system and so I was done. I was about to go to Paris and a little puke wasn't going to spoil my day. Or so I thought. We boarded the train at about 6:15am. We had first class seats -- a Club table for the 3 of us. Alex loved that he had motorcycle playing room. I loved that I could lie down across the seats.
Turns out that, while I didn't exactly love it, I was appreciative of the fact that we weren't far from the restroom at the back of the car. Nothing like sleeping and puking one's way to Paris at 180 mph.
We arrived at Gare du Nord and met our "guide" -- the person responsible for getting us to the hop-on-and-off bus tour stop. (Similar to what we'd done the day before in London.) We took a bus to the first stop and I hopped off and made use of a trash can on the street. Alex kept rubbing my arm and saying he was going to make me feel better. Very sweet, except for the fact that he would follow this up with faux retching sounds. He wasn't mocking me, but the effect was the same. When a single Tic-Tac made me throw up, I decided nothing else was going in the rest of the day. I might be queasy, I might be weak, but I was stronger than whatever it was screwing up my stomach.
Something about being on a bus for the next hour was distinctly unappealling, so we walked a couple of blocks to the Metro, bought a carnet of 10 tickets, and figured out what we needed to do to get to what might now be my favorite museum in the world, the Musee d'Orsay. The crowds there were thick thanks to the rainy weather and a well-received Cezanne and Pissarro exhibition. Thankfully I'd bought museum day passes for us, so we only had to wait in one long line. We chatted up a family from Georgia (the US state) in line behind us and I admired one of the most exquisitely cut coats I've ever seen, worn by a woman who might as well have been on the cover of our guidebook given how quintessentially Parisian she looked. I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of her, though. So you'll have to look at me instead.
Some great art in that place. Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Manet. Luncheon on the Grass. Moulin de la Galette. Rouen Cathedral. It was overwhelming. Some sacraments come in the form of wine and wafers. Mine comes in oil on canvas.
Alex declared "when I'm an artist, I'm going to paint poplars, too." He was so excited about seeing the haystacks and water lilies (Monet paintings), so the love of the poplars was surprising, but not at the same time.
After Orsay, we took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower. Wow. I said not too long ago that so many things look smaller in real life than they do on TV (baseball fields being the one that always comes to mind), but that the Capitol Building in Washington, DC always looks bigger to me.
Add the Eiffel Tower to the list. Wow. It was incredibly windy and raining lightly, and the uppermost observation deck was closed. The view was subpar given the weather -- it was more thrilling to be on the ground looking up at it, to be honest. But Alex had a good time, and we were THERE. Did I mention it was windy?
So now we had to really hustle. I planned the day knowing that we could do justice to the Musee d'Orsay in a few hours, but not the Louvre, so I decided I'd be happy if I could just see the Mona Lisa. Nevermind how small it is. Nevermind that it's behind thick glass. It's the Mona Lisa. La Gioconda. So we hot-footed it to a cab. Our cab driver spoke very little English (and we speak very little French), but upon ascertaining that we were Americans, he pointed out some sights he thought we might enjoy: Place du Concorde, the underpass where Diana met her death, and a Chevrolet dealership. "Corvette!" he said excitedly.
We got to the Louvre about 40 minutes prior to closing and by this time, Alex was asleep (thank dog for the stroller). We hurried through the Denon Wing, hauled the Maclaren up a gajillion stairs, stopped briefly to admire Winged Victory of Samothrace, then stowed the cameras and headed for Salle des Etats. And there she was. It was late in the day on a rainy Thursday -- there was no crowd. A few visitors and two museum guards. I guess I'll never understand why people say seeing her is disappointing. She's not the most beautiful painting in the world, though she is magnificient. She's not the grandest. But thanks to her maker's wit and unmatched skill, she has attained a stature that no other painting (or perhaps work of art) ever has, at least in terms of Western art. I could have looked at her for hours. Think of all that has happened to her -- the theories about how she was painted, why, what Da Vinci really was up to (he was wily, make no mistake); the theft, the acid. I could have contemplated the frame alone for some time. Framing of artwork has always intrigued me because there must be such careful attention to detail and balance. Imagine the task of framing an icon. How does one do that with restraint?
Like I said, Alex was asleep. I wondered -- should we wake him up to see the most famous painting in the world? Convention says "no." But convention doesn't love art like I do. So we woke him up. Of course, "woke him up" was more like "scooped him out of the stroller, roused him enough that he opened his eyes and looked around, then let him go right back to sleep."
From there we slowly made our way out and noticed the guards from that part of Denon sweeping out -- clearing out visitors from each gallery room and joining the guards in the next room closer to the entrance until they formed line walking down the steps in front of Winged Victory. Pretty cool. Not much time left before closing, and I had to pick one other thing to see. Since I was sure of where it was located, I chose Gericault's Raft of the Medusa. Such an imposing painting -- Joe didn't know the story behind it, so I told him. I really don't think we visited the Louvre. We visited a painting or two. I can't wait to go back. It pains me to think about what I missed...particularly the David works there. Oath of the Horatii. Madame Recamier. And the Ingres exhibition. *sigh*
By now I was pretty tired. My queasiness seemed to have passed, but I could feel the effects of going nonstop with no food. I'd bought a bottle of water at the Eiffel Tower and managed a few sips of it, then managed to drink a little more on the Metro to Gare du Nord. By the time we boarded the Eurostar and dinner was served, I was actually hungry. The food was unusual, but very good.
Upon arriving at the Dorchester, we collapsed into our spectacularly comfortable bed and fell asleep immediately, unencumbered by any set alarms or arranged wake-up calls. I suppose we needed the sleep -- we didn't wake up until noon the next day! (gotta love good hotel blackout curtains)