Sunday, June 26, 2011

Babymoon in Europe Part Deux

After an awesome five days in London we headed to the train station to take the chunnel to Paris. The chunnel is a little creepy because it literally goes under the English Channel. I am not sure how they built it or how it's possible but we made it alive! :) It's not like you can tell when you are under water. The only thing that might have given it away was the ear popping.

 At the train station with the Olympic Rings behind me since London will host the Summer 2012 games.

Our first night in Paris was pretty uneventful. We checked into the hotel, Concorde Opera (which was pretty awesome). We stayed there a couple of nights and then got an apartment...more on that later. After we checked in we found a restaurant that was still open, ate pretty quickly and went back to the hotel to rest up for the next few busy days. It's crazy how early stores and restaurants close in Europe. Americans could learn a thing or two from them...leave work and go home to your families and friends. Live life, don't work your life away!

Day 2

Our good friends gave us an awesome book called 24 Great Walks in Paris. This was our guide while we were there and I recommend it to anyone! The first walk we did was Montmartre, but not before I got my pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant). My goal was to eat one every day and I am proud to say I reached my goal. :) Baby S is a fan. Anyway, we started the walk by walking from our hotel to the beginning of the official walk. Our first stop was Sacre Coeur, the most beautiful church that sits on top of the hill. The inside was just as beautiful and overwhelming to think about the people in history who have worshipped there. After that we headed over to Place du Tertre where artists set up their art to sell. We didn't buy anything but they can get pretty aggressive, and it was funny to see the caricatures of ridiculous Americans like Justin Bieber and Miley Cirus. Next on our walk were some little known places in Paris like a little vineyard, an apartment where Van Gogh lived with his brother, another small church, Moulin Rouge and a romantic little garden. There was a wall in the garden that had "I Love You" written in 250 languages, so of course Jeremy and I shared a kiss in front of it. After finishing our walk (it was about 1.5 miles total) we had a great lunch at Café des Deux Moulins where the movie Amelie was filmed. We had no idea that's where we were going to eat until we walked in and saw the film's paraphernalia everywhere. What a fun surprise because we LOVE that movie!

Sacre Coeur behind us on top of Montmartre.

Place du Tertre

Standing by the vineyard reading our walk book to find our next stop.

I Love You wall.

Café des Deux Moulins

For some reason we decided after our walk that it would be a good idea to walk some more. I forget I am pregnant sometimes and I can't do things like I used to. We walked A LOT! We went back to our hotel, freshened up a bit and then headed out to walk to Place de la Concorde and then on to Musee d'Orsay. This is one of my favorite museums in Europe. It has incredible art from Monet, Renoir, Degas, van Gogh, etc. We obviously couldn't take pictures of the art, but Jeremy did steal a picture of the building itself inside. It's built in an old train station so the architecture is really cool. There is still an old beautiful clock in one end of the building. Touring d'Orsay was really the only time I hit a wall on our trip. I literally wanted to curl up in a corner and take a nap. My tummy hurt and I could have gone right to sleep. I think we underestimated the amount of walking we had done. I got over my hump eventually and we headed back to our hotel stopping at the famous Laduree for some French macarons. good!! 

 Musee d'Orsay

 Yes, I ate all four of them.

Dinner that night was at an awesome little Italian restaurant close to the Arc de Triomphe. Since I still didn't have a normal appetite (thanks pregnancy nausea) I just had some spaghetti. But, I will tell you it was some of the best spaghetti I have ever had, and Jeremy was even a little jealous of my meal. 

This is the part of the story where we went to the Arc de Triomphe and I almost died. Ok that's a little dramatic, but I didn't realize how freakin' high that thing is. Jeremy didn't either when he was like "come on, let's climb the stairs." We got about halfway up that tiny, spiral staircase and Baby S and I were huffing and puffing (don't forget about all the walking we had done earlier). We made it to the top and thank the Lord there was a bench for me to sit on. I died laughing because there was a sculpture at the top of a dude's face and I imagine that's exactly what his face looked like when he got to the top of the stairs. His face said "are you kidding me with those stairs!?" (see below) I looked it up later and found it is 284 steps to the top. But, the view from the top was totally worth it and this was Jeremy's favorite spot in Paris. We ended up walking back down but it wasn't as bad. I guess I can say I got some exercise that day!

In front of the Arc de Triomphe

When I almost died. :)

The sculpture that was thinking the same thing I was about those stairs!

View from the top.

Day 3

After a crazy first full day in Paris, we decided to sleep a little late and take it easy in the morning. Jeremy went across the street from our hotel to get some yummy pain au chocolat and fresh orange juice. I also drank a few cafe au laits (basically half coffee, half milk) while I was in Europe which was the first coffee I'd had since I got pregnant. We took our time getting dressed and eating breakfast and then we packed up to head out to the apartment we'd rented for the rest of the trip. We used for the apartment and it ended up being an awesome choice. It was pretty inexpensive (two bedrooms, bathroom, living and kitchen shared between two couples isn't bad) and it was so nice. It sat along a quiet street and it was nice and quiet at night so we could leave the window open. Check it out....

 Living and kitchen

Our bedroom

The bathroom

After checking into our apartment and grabbing a quick lunch we headed to the Louvre. Honestly, this is a museum you could spend an entire day exploring, but I had been there before and Jeremy wanted to just see the main attractions like the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Napoleon's Apartments, Wedding Feast at Cana and Winged Victory.

 Venus de Milo

In front of the Wedding Feast at Cana


After the Louvre we used our walk book to guide us to the Ile de la Cite, the island where Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and the Palais de Justice (justice of the state) are located. It was fun to cross the big beautiful bridge to get to the island. The bridges in Paris are pretty unique. On a side note, we kept seeing a bunch of padlocks hanging on the sides of bridges (see pic below). I finally had to look it up and apparently the tradition is called Love Padlocks. You are supposed to "lock it up and throw away the key" in honor of your love. 

Love Padlocks

Anyway, our first stop on the island was the Palais de Justice and Sainte Chapelle. Sadly, both were closed because of a strike. Not cool. Who knew a church could go on strike! I was so sad because Sainte Chapelle is one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. The stained glass windows are INCREDIBLE! Not to fret...we got to head back there with David and Sarah later so Jeremy got to see it (more on that later). Since we didn't get to go to Sainte Chapelle, we headed over to Notre Dame. Trying to describe the inside of the churches in Europe will not do them justice so I will just say it was gorgeous. Luckily, our hand-dandy walk book gave us some fun factoids about the church that we definitely would not have know otherwise. One of the interesting (and funny facts) was about the statues of the "kings" on the front of the church. When the church was built, they put statues of the Biblical kings of Judah on the front. During the French Revolution, the statues were beheaded because they were thought to be kings of France. Oops. Another cool thing about the church was the organ, any organists dream. It has 7,800 pipes!

My sad face in front of the strike sign.

Palais de Justice

A random (funny) sign we saw walking to Notre Dame. Jeremy decided it means "no skipping with children".

You will notice the kings going all the way across the top under the rose window.

Rose window from the inside.

After Notre Dame the walk book guided us to a really cool, little-known Holocaust memorial in honor of all the Parisians who were deported during that time. I never knew about all the horrible things that happened in Paris during the Holocaust until I read the book Sarah's Key (really awesome historical fiction). I was glad we got to see this memorial. It was underground and built to resemble what it would have been like for a Jew in a concentration camp. The walls were all cement, there was no daylight (they obviously had some artificial light) and really tight. I sort of walked in, looked around and walked out because it made me claustrophobic! I can't imagine what all those people went through!

The rest of our day was pretty relaxing. We headed back to the the apartment to freshen up and relax for a while and then headed out for dinner. Jeremy found an amazing restaurant (one of Paris' top 10 for the area) called Ratatouille. I had some amazing chicken kabobs and Jeremy had veal w/ a side of ratatouille (whoda thunk). :) David and Sarah got to Paris late that night, so we stayed up to wait for them and gave them the grand tour of the apartment before we all went to bed to rest up for two more days of fun in Paris.

Stay tuned for more on the excitement in Paris w/ David and Sarah...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Babymoon in Europe Part 1

Last September, Jeremy and I planned a trip to Europe knowing it would probably be the last time we took a BIG trip for a while. We knew we wanted to start trying for a baby at the beginning of the year and everything worked out perfectly because we left for Europe when the baby was about 15 weeks. Although I wasn't feeling completely cured of the nausea (yeah that whole second trimester = honeymoon of pregnancy thing is a lie), I was a trooper and Baby S did pretty well eating bread, croissants, crepes and macaroons for 10 days in London and Paris. I studied in London for a summer (Baylor in Great Britain) and I had been to Paris a couple of times before, so I was excited to share these places with Jeremy since he had never been. One day he will do the same w/ me in Italy!

We took an overnight flight to London which was great because it made the time go by faster. I was actually able to sleep for about three or four hours straight so the nine hour flight went by pretty fast. I also watched one of the dumbest movies ever (How Do You Know), but hey, it was free and I was stuck on a plane. Jeremy slept for most of the flight since he can fall asleep in 2.4 seconds no matter where we are. The only bad part of the flight was how HUGE my ankles and feet were when we got off! I hope that wasn't a vision of month nine of the pregnancy because I was sure someone took my feet and traded them with an unfortunate, overweight woman with cankles.

Our good friends from Texas moved to London about a year ago. David and Sarah are some of our best friends from church and David and I work together at Volusion. David actually went to London to open the UK office for Volusion and he is basically the head honcho over there. We were so excited to see them and stay with them for a few days. We got to their cute little house just after lunchtime on Saturday. We were so tired and stinky! Their other friends from Texas were there visiting which overlapped with our first weekend there so we had fun with the whole crew. They all left for sightseeing while Jeremy and I napped, showered and prayed over my fat ankles.

 David and Sarah's cute little house!

Ella's boyfriend, Kirby, next to David's garden (he developed a British green thumb). Don't worry, Ella and Kirby keep up on Facebook and Ella hasn't met any other dogs to take his place.

We met up with them later at a pub next to the Globe Theater for our first English meal of fish and chips and mushy peas. I warned Jeremy about the mushy peas (mushy vegetables, his worst nightmare), but he ate a few and loved the rest of the fried meal.We did a little more sightseeing by the Thames walking by London Bridge and seeing St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower Bridge. After a long walk we all went back to David and Sarah's for a relaxing evening of Apples to Apples, bread, cheese, olives and wine.

Fish and chips and mushy peas.

In front of St. Pauls Cathedral

The famous Globe Theater.
Day 2 in London

Our first full day in London was a FULL day! Our first stop was breakfast at a great restaurant called Tom's Kitchen which was in the old Somerset House. It's a beautiful old house (palace really) that has fountains in the middle that become a skating rink in the winter. There is a scene in Love Actually at the skating rink! Anyway, I had an awesome eggs benedict with eggs so fresh the yolks were orange, and Jeremy had some awesome waffles that I may or may not have eaten a lot of. He and the guys also had the most expensive breakfast drinks ever for £9.50 each. Hey, we were on vacation.

 The Somerset House fountains/ice skating rink w/ David and Sarah.

After breakfast and taking a quick look at the fountains of Somerset, we headed to the London Dungeon. Sarah basically had to drag me into this place because I hate stuff like this. It's basically a haunted house but the stories you hear inside are true stories like Jack the Ripper, Bloody Mary and Sweeny Todd. It was interesting but I HATE being scared and I was attached to Jeremy's arm the entire time. Fun history, not-so-fun being scared.

After the Dungeon, we headed to Trafalger square for some photo opps and then Harrods for some snacks, a new designer handbag and scarves. Okay, we just bought a cupcake and a cookie, but hey we can dream. My favorite part of Harrods, that I hadn't visited when I lived in London, was the pet section. Wow, let's talk about over-the-top. I did find a great new couch for Ella though!

Sarah had to head out of town for work that night so we headed back to the their neighborhood so she could get home. The rest of us walked to a local pub and restaurant called Charlotte's Place. The food was great and Jeremy got all artsy with the camera so here are a few shots. I had my first traditional English Sunday roast!

A traditional English Sunday Roast. The thing on top is Yorkshire Pudding, which is basically fried bread.

 Pork tenderloin

No European meal is complete without wine or beer!

Day 3 in London

I knew I had to go see the Volusion UK office while I was in London. I had to see where David was making all the magic happen, and also meet some of the guys I have talked with over IM but never met in person. The office was in a great location and had an awesome view! We had to take a photo for the Volusion culture board so here you go HR...

We had a nice lunch with David at one of his favorite local pubs where Jeremy got to try another local beer. I think that was his favorite part of London. After that, Jeremy and I headed to the Tower of London to see the famous Crown Jewels and all the other historical treasures inside. The armory building was pretty cool! It had really old knight's armor, weapons and even gifts that had been given by other countries. There was an Indian headdress given by a tribe in North America...that was pretty cool! The tiny little kid armor was kind of funny...I wonder if it was just a formality or if they had to wear it. I imagine it's pretty heavy!

The Tower took the better part of the day, but I knew I wanted to try to fit one more thing in. Baby S wasn't slowing me down. That's a lie. I got really hungry at one point (hangry as I like to say...hungry and angry). We headed over to the Embankment area to go to the London Eye. I was so excited to see a crepe stand outside the tube (subway) stop and I couldn't wait to inhale a crepe with Nutella and banana. Or not. We didn't have any cash and of course they didn't take cards. BOOOO! Neither did any other place we tried to go to. I was so hangry by that point that I gave in and just went to the stupid McDonald's to get a milkshake. I am embarrassed to say I had McDonald's while I was in Europe but it's the baby's fault. :) 

My hangry face

The London Eye is a huge sort of ferris wheel contraption but instead of seats, you get into these pods with several other families. It's awesome because you can see all of London from the top but the wheel goes REALLY slowly so after a while it's sort of boring. But, it's a must-do when you are in London so we hopped on for the 30ish minute ride and some photo opps. 

Big Ben and Parliament behind me.

In our pod.

We headed back to David and Sarah's apartment after that and were SO happy to find out David got burgers to grill. Yes, they grill burgers in the UK...or at least Americans working in the UK do. It was so nice just to chill out at a house that night and relax after a really long day. We watched some weird British TV and went to bed early.

Day 4 in London

This is one of my favorite days in London! I got to show Jeremy my old stompin' grounds in South Kensington. We headed over to that area and made a stop at Wafflemeister to have breakfast (dessert really). This place wasn't there when I lived in London which is probably a good thing...I would have gotten so fat.

Jeremy's "breakfast" waffle w/ strawberries, dark chocolate and whipped cream.

When I studied in London with Baylor in Great Britain, we lived at Imperial College. It's in a great location just a block away from Hyde Park and the Royal Albert Hall. Walking around there brought back so many awesome memories. Every student should have the chance to study abroad to expand their worldview and learn more about themselves. I am so glad I got to share this with Jeremy since it was such an important part of my college life. I met some of my best friends on that trip, and I learned so much about how to be independent and adventurous. But I digress...

Royal Albert Hall

Our plan after that was to head to Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, but apparently President Obama had the same idea and he had not invited us. We got to the Abbey and they had the place shut down. They were clearing people out of the area because the President was about to come lay a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier. This was kind of cool since it was a historic event. It was only the second official state visit a US president had ever made to the UK (the first being George W.) We were tempted to hang out across the street and wait for the presidential motorcade, but the rumor was that he would be another two hours so we decided to continue our sightseeing. 

Since the day before had been so long we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day. We headed to Picadilly Circus (sort of the Times Square of London) so Jeremy could say he had been there and then we went to Notting Hill. I love the Notting Hill area with its colorful quaint little houses and the Portobello Market. The only thing we got were some Cuban cigars for David and Jeremy to smoke that night, but we had fun strolling and browsing all the fun little stands. Unfortunately, we didn't run into Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts. Of course, we had to stop at a pub for another pint and then I had to get my ice cream (gelato in this case) fix. Funny story at the pub: Jeremy walked in and asked what a good local was. He wanted to try a local beer. The bar tender looked so confused. He then proceeded to tell Jeremy that a pub is actually called a "local." So, Jeremy had gone into a "local" asking what a good "local" was. It was funny! 

Notting Hill

Jeremy with his local beer from the "local."

We had a great time that night with David. He took us to a mall called Westfield that is similar to the Domain in Austin. It wasn't there when I lived in London and it was really nice! The restaurant options were great and we ended up at a pizza place that had pizzas from around the world called Fire and was yummy! David and Jeremy made fun of me because I ordered the "Trinidad and Tobago" and basically scraped everything off to make it a cheese pizza. Hey...I do what the baby says!

Day 5 in London

Our last day in London was great! We went back to Westminster and it was honestly one of our favorite parts of the London trip (other than seeing our friends). There is so much history in that one place! When I had gone before w/ my Baylor group, they basically opened it up to us in the evening so we could have it to ourselves, but we didn't really have a tour. This time, we got the free audio tour (after we paid to get in) and it was fascinating! A few of my favorite things were: Handel's grave, Poet's Corner where a lot of famous poets and playwrights are buried (Chaucer, Dickens and Tennyson for example) and the choir loft where the choir boys sit. Oh, and we got a chance to snap some photos in front of Big Ben, the famous clock tower.

Westminster Abbey

My British-themed preggo belly picture at 16 weeks. :)

London was awesome! We were sad to go because it felt like a whirlwind, but we had exciting things waiting for us in Paris! To be continued...