The Ownby’s took a work transfer to London for about a year in 2008. So, we went to visit them during Spring Break. These are Susan’s journal notes from the trip.
We left for the airport after school/work. Got to the Parking Spot and Susan was nauseous. On the bus on the way to the airport, a car stopped quickly in front of us and Susan ended up on the floor. We had trouble checking Trey in because the ticket was under “Trey” and his passport was under “Jimmy”. I used points for all of our flights, but paid for Trey’s.
We slept pretty well on the plan. We had a row of 5 seats between the 4 of us so the kids got to lay down to sleep. The plane had movies at each seat. We arrived at Gatwick and had to wait in a long line at immigration. We got a rental car, yes, we were crazy. Jim drove a small Audi on the wrong side of the road. Even though we knew about the driver side being reversed, Jim still went to the wrong side to get in the driver seat. The talking GPS saved us! We stopped off at a service area and had KFC and Burger King for lunch. Then, we drove to Stonehenge. It was in the middle of nowhere and right off the road. We just took pictures from outside because it was raining and it cost $40. After that, we drove to Bath. We did Park and Ride, so we parked our car and rode a double decker bus into town. We walked through the cute town to the Gothic cathedral, looked a lot like Notre Dame. It had the “ladders to heaven” on each side of the door. It was interesting that some of the angles were climbing down. Then, we went into the old Roman Bath House. Natalie and Trey loved it! We saw the steaming spring water where the Romans would bathe.’
Jim did great driving. I was a nervous wreck. He tended to hug the left side of the road, which made me feel like I was going to hit everything we passed. We drove from Bath to London. It took twice as long as we thought because of traffic and the rain. We finally made it to Stephs house and the kids were so excited. Their house was so cute, it was tall and skinny. The girls slept on an air mattress in the den, while Jim and I slept in Trinity’s bed and Trey slept on the floor.
We woke up Friday and walked Trinity to Heathfield school. All of the English girls thought Natalie was interesting. They gathered around her and asked if she knew Donald Trump and Hannah Montana Natalie liked the attention. We, then, rode the tube to Trafalgar square to meet up with a walking tour to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The kids were great because we did lots of walking. We had lunch at McDonalds. Steph and Trenton went home and we rode on the double decker bus tour. The weather was great! We got off at St. Paul’s cathedral and the Tower of London where we took the Beefeater tour and saw the crown jewels, the ravens and the tower. Back on the bus to Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben. We ate dinner at Shakespeare’s Pub and had pasta and fish n chips. We were exhausted. Natalie and Jim fell asleep on the tube ride home.
Saturday, we got up early, again. Mark was off work, so all 8 of us went to ride the London Eye. It was a great ride that took about 30 minutes. The kids enjoyed the street performers that looked like statues and moved when you gave them money. Next, we rode the tube to Harrod’s. I love Harrod’s! Is is so fancy and has so much stuff. We ate at the Planet Harrod’s. It was great for kids, they watched Happy Feet, while we ate. It was very expensive, though. We got a burger, chicken sandwich, and a kids meal and it was $74. After that we took the kids to look at toys. I got the girls scrapbooks and Jim got Trey Power Ranger thumb fighters. On the food floor of Harrod’s we got gelato. We then left Harrods and went to the Museum of Natural History. We love the dinosaur exhibit and the mammals with the giant whale. We weren’t there long and then rode the tube to Kensington Gardens. The boys played at the Princess Diana Memorial playground (Jim walked to get a Cadbury Egg McFlurry) and the girls all went for afternoon tea at the Orangery. They had a children’s tea on the menu. They had juice, cucumber sandwiches and a small cake. The girls were not thrilled with their food. The both complained, so, sweet Stephanie offered to get Trinity a piece of Belgian Chocolate cake, which cost $9. After one bite, Trinity said, “It’s too strong” and the greatest moment of the day was Steph saying, “You’ll eat that cake or I’ll shove it down your throat!” I got a great laugh from that one! We loved our tea. Steph got chamomile and I got green tea. We also had cucumber sandwiches, a warm scone and orange cake. We were stuffed! The boys met us and we walked through Hyde Park as it started to rain. We rode the “long” tube ride home and when we got off, the whole Trujillo family was there to greet us.
On Sunday, we relaxed. Jim and Mark when to a Premier League Soccer match at Westcraven Cottage to see Fulham take on Everton. He enjoyed the game was excited because Fulham had lots of American’s on the team. The rest of us ordered pizza and played until dinner. Steph made reservations for Trinity and Natalie’s birthdays. We at at Bluebeckers and had cake and ice cream afterwards.
Mark and Trinity skipped work and school on Monday. We all took the tube to Hampton Court. The first thing we did was get lost in the maze. The kids loved it! We walked around the beautiful gardens. The even had real deer! Then we went in to see the palace, King Henry XIII’s apartments and the Tudor kitchens. We left and walked across the street for a long lunch at Pizza Express. It was almost time to catch our train. Jim, “Mr. Adventure”, had to see one last thing back at the palace. So, he ran back to see it while we boarded the train. I stood at the door nervously waiting for him. Then I realized that Jim always makes it. He always does some crazy thing that makes me nervous and he always seems to come out OK. I don’t know when I’ll stop getting stressed about it, though! We rode the train and tube to Leicester Square. It was busy, even on a Monday. We walked from there to Covent Garden. Trey and ?Trenton both fell asleep in their strollers. We left there to ride the tube to meet the Trujillo family for dinner at KFC, close to Steph and Marks flat. We stayed up late packing because we had an early morning tomorrow.
Tuesday, we woke up early. Our Eurostar train to Paris left London at 8:50. We left Steph’s house at 7. We had to walk ¾ to the Rayners Lane tube stop. I had a large suitcase and a stroller. Jim had a large suitcase, a small suitcase and a backpack. We got on the metro line and got off 3 stops later to change lines. It took us a while with all the bags to figure out which platform we needed to go to. It was crowded for rush hour too. We got on our tube and got off after 3 more stops at the train station. We were stressed because the tickets said to arrive 45 minutes early and we only had 20. We were starving, so Jim rushed to get us some breakfast. He got 2 crepes w/whipped crème and strawberries, a Belgium sweet waffle and croissants. Yum! We made it on the train. The Eurostar was so nice and very clean. I was so impressed with the service and it seemed that everyone on the train was going to Disneyland, like us. We got to Disney and rode a bus to our hotel, the Sequoia Lodge. It was like the Wilderness Lodge in Disneyworld, but not as big or nice. Our room was a long ways from the lobby. We dropped our bags and took a short walk to Downtown Disney. The park entrance was beautiful. You had to walk under the Disneyland hotel to get into the park. It was not very crowded, the longest wait was 35 minutes for Big Thunder Mountain. Trey was just tall enough that he could ride it. We got hot dogs at Casey’s Corner. Main Street looked exactly the same and the castle was Sleeping Beauty’s pink castle. Natalie and Trey had a ball. This day at Disney was the Losher’s last day at Disneyworld, so all day we talked about what time it was in Florida. We rode Buzz Lightyear, Haunted Mansion and a different thing is Paris was Alice in Wonderland’s Labyrinth, which was a maze leading to a castle. We stayed til the park closed and walked out as they were lighting the castle with 15 candles for the 15th birthday of the park. We stopped to eat at an American Diner in Downtown Disney called Annette’s. The wait was long. Jim and I got a cheeseburger and we all got ice cream for dessert. I got a little frustrated with our waiters English when ordering. Jim reminded me that his English is much better than my French. Oh yeah…I’m in France! On the way out of DTD, we bought some Disney pins and a Eiffel Tower statue with Mickey on it. We got back to the hotel and watched some French TV.
We slept great at our Disney hotel. It was really nice and equivalent to a moderate resort at Disneyworld. We kept noticing things that you wouldn’t see at Disneyworld, like chipped paint or loose railings, but all in all, it was nice. We wore swimsuits under out clothes and went to breakfast, which was included in our package. It was random deli meat, yogurt, cheeses and lots of breads and yummy French pastries. We went to the indoor pool. It was nice with locker rooms, a heated pool, hot tub and water slide. Natalie loved the slide and before we left, Trey went down 3 times in our laps, what a great laugh. We froze walking back to our room, got dressed and checked out of our hotel and went to Disney Studios. It was packed! We rode the Cars spinning ride and really wanted to ride Crushes Coaster, but it was an hour wait. So, we went to see a Mickey and Donald show called “Animagique”. It was in French with some English. We were really impressed with the Disney employees because they repeated all directions in French, English and Spanish. The Studios park was really small, so, we left after only 3 rides and went back to Disneyland for the rest of the day. We rode Snow White and Autopia, which were to crowded the first day, and rode our favorites again. We ate lunch on Main Street and waited to get a table because it was freezing outside. I got my first croque monsieur (hot ham and cheese) and the kids got Mickey shaped pizzas and hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream. We left the part around 4pm, got our bags, and started our journey into Paris. We started on a double decker train with Trey already asleep in the stroller, Natalie walking and us dragging 3 bags and the stroller. The train ride into Paris was about 35 minutes. Natalie fell asleep. We had to wake her up to get off the train so she started crying. Then, we had to figure out, in French, which Metro line to take. We dragged our bags up and down the stairs until we found the right platform, then we got on the Metro and rode to our hotels Metro stop. It really makes you realize the importance of not overpacking. Luckily, we could see out hotel, just one block down from the stop, but, Trey was still crashed in the stroller, Natalie was still crying and Jim now had all 3 suitcases AND it started raining. What fun! Nice people helped me carry Trey down 2 flights of stairs in the stroller.. Merci! Jim checked us into our hotel by himself while we all stood under an outside awning with all the young Parisians taking their smoke break. We didn’t want us all to go in because we weren’t sure how strict they were on the double occupancy rule. Jim booked this hotel on Priceline for $89/night. Priceline only guarantees rooms for 2 people and Europe generally limits it to 3 people per room. We were cramming 4 people in our room. The hotel, the Marriot Rive Gauche (left bank in Latin Quarter) was really nice. We had a pretty big room by European standards. It had one King bed. The best part was the view from our 16th floor window. We could see Sacre Cour, Les Invalides, Muse Chuny and the Pantheon. It was gorgeous! We all walked around looking for food. It was hard to find a place and we were intimidated because of the language barrier. We got up the nerve to try our limited French in a Patisserie. Luckily the lady was very nice. We got 2 baguettes and a chocolate macaroon. Then we went to a grocery store and stocked up on diet cokes, juice boxes, swiss cheese and sliced chicken. To figure out what kind of meat we were eating we showed the package to a lady, looked questioningly and said “bok bok”? She nodded so we knew that “poule” was probably chicken. We also got the BEST cookies called “Bonne Mamon Tarlets”. We ate the whole box. We laid down a towel and had a carpet picnic with all our yummies. Then we watched Ratatouille on pay per view and all fell asleep in the one bed.
We slept in on Thursday. Jim went out to get breakfast. He came back with lots of pastries. Yum! Then, we took our time getting ready and headed out to see Paris. We rode to the Louvre on the Metro. Right when you get out of the tunnels, you turn to see the Louvre. It is huge and beautiful. We walked to the center to go in, The line was so long. For some reason, a guard told us to come on in, so, we didn’t go through the security line. As you go in the glass pyramids, you go down the escalator and can see the lines to buy tickets. Jim stood in line while we got mags. Once inside we mapped out our course to see the main site so we didn’t bore the kids to death. They were awesome! They stayed right with us and didn’t complain. We focused on Venus de Milo, Winged Victory and of course Mona Lisa. We were only in the Louvre about ½ hours. Then, we walked to the Seine, found a café and ate. I had my second Croque Monseiur, the kids had hot dogs and Jim had a club sandwich. After lunch and finding an ATM, we went to explore “the islands”, Ile de la Cite and Ile St. Louis. They are in the middle of the Seine. We tried to see St. Chapelle, but it was closed. We toured Notre Dame and played on a small playgroud behind it, then over to St. Louis. We found Berthillion, the ice cream shop. We each got a double scoop on a funny double cone. The white chocolate was my favorite. Then, we wanted to walk through the Latin Quarter. We started off of the Seine and were planning on going by the Pantheon and the Sorbonne. We got a little lost, but luckily found a creperie on the walk, banana and Nutella, YUM!!!! A nice French man saw us with our map and stopped to help. He was so helpful and walked with us for several blocks. His English was great and he told us he learned it by listening to Elvis records. His deam is to visit Memphis and Nashville. We walked by St. Severin and St. Julien, then by the Sorbonne and the Pantheon. We got the kids dinner at McDonnalds. Jim and I waited and had another “carpet picnic” at the hotel. Mark and Steph and the kids arrived in Paris tonight. We were going to see them the next morning.
Friday morning, we got ready and went by Metro to meet the Ownby’s at their hotel. It was easy to get to the stop, but hard to know where to walk after that. We found it and were 40 minutes late. So, we all walked to find the L’Open Tour bus. On the way, we got breakfast at a patisserie. It was hard to find the bus, but once we got on, we rode to the first stop, Les Invalides, to switch lines. While we were waiting, it started sleeting very hard for several minutes. We all stood in a huddle under 2 umbrellas. Steph and I were a the back so the back of our legs got wet. What a way to start out the day. We got on the next bus and braved the upper deck. We got off at Champs Elysses, of course we stopped to eat, then walked to the Arc de Triomphe. We them walked back up the Champs to get on the bus. We rode to the Madeline stop and found a place for dinner. It was freezing outside and we had to sit on a patio, luckily we were by a heater. Then we rode the Metro back to our hotel. We went to the second level of the Eiffel Tower today! We got pictures on Treys Power Ranger on the tower. Jim accidentally dropped his glove from the top.
Saturday, we met the Ownby’s at the same McDonalds from the previous day. We grabbed a bite and then walked around Luxemburg Gardens, in a light rain. Then, over to St. Sulpise. It was the church in the Davinci Code. We joined up with L’Open Tour and rode through Montmarte. We saw the Moulin Rouge and the seedy area, then took the stop at Sacre Cour. We picked up lunch and rode the funicular to to top of the hill. We ate lunch on the steps of Sacre Cour, overlooking Paris. It was amazing! Then down the hill and did a little shopping for souvenirs. Once back on the bus, we had to ride for an hour before we could switch lines. Once we changed buses, we rode to Notre Dame. Again, it started sleeting and we were riding on the top of the bus. Mark and Steph wanted to try Berthillion, so we went back. We watched a street performer ride on a tiny bicycle on the way. We walked to the end of Ile de la Cite to the Seine. Then, we rode a Bateaux Mouche boat down the Seine. It started raining so we stayed inside. The people that went outside to take pictures got soaked when the boat hit a wave. After that, we got on the Metro which we had done very successfully so far, but we got on the wrong train, so, we got off at the next stop, gave our goodbye hugs to the Ownby’s and then got of different trains to head to our hotels.
We got up early on Sunday to leave Paris. We rode the Metro to the train station, Gare de Nord. It was empty since it was Sunday. Natalie and Trey have gotten so good at keeping up with us and they are great getting on and off moving sidewalks, escalators and subway trains. We got on the train and had a a little cabin with a table. The other side of the cabin had four adults, so the kids had to be quiet. They had a tough time because the ride was four hours. We arrived in Amsterdam and the Central Station. It was scary and smelled like pot smoke. I went to look for a tram. They are above ground here because Amsterdam is four feet under sea level. While I was looking, a homeless man came up to the Natalie and said, “Hi, little boy”. We got on the tram. Luckily the 1st stop was our hotel, the Movenpick City Central. The hotel was very nice and modern. We loved the heated bathroom floor. It was Easter, so we got the kids some Easter baskets and some goodies and gave them to the kids at the hotel. We went out into the city then hopped on a canal cruise to see the city. It started snowing every time we went outside. Several people told us how odd it was to snow this time of year. The canal cruise was neat. We saw Anne Franks house. The tall skinny houses were neat. They call Amsterdam the “Venice of the North” because of all the canals. We got out in the snow and walked through town trying to get to Dam Square. We got a little lost, which stressed me out. A coffeehouse is not for coffee, it is where you can by marijuana and it is legal and everywhere. They also have the Red Light District which is not confined just to that district, it is everywhere. I had to keep distracting the kids as we passed those windows. It was really shocking and I didn’t like smelling pot around every corner. It was the seediest place I’ve ever seen. I’m glad we went, but I really have no interest in going back. We made it to Dam Square, then went back to the hotel. Jim went to walk around the Red Light District, but wasn’t gone long. He said there were lots of tour groups walking around.
Monday we slept in. We were going to eat at McDonald’s, but in Holland, they don’t serve pancakes. So, we ate at a French bakery, but Trey was craving McDonald’s so we got him an Egg McMuffin which is his new favorite. Next we tried to book a tour to Keukenhof gardens, but it didn’t leave for 2 hours, so, why not eat again? We ate at the Pancake Bakery. YUM! The pancakes were thin and huge. The kids got toys with their pancakes. The thick syrup was in a big pot with a wooden spoon. It was really snowing now. We walked to the bus and rode an hour to Keukenhof. On the way out, we saw the bulb fields. Keukenhof was gorgeous, but we were there about 2 weeks too early. Lot’s of the bulbs had not bloomed. There were a lot of activities for the kids to do. We got back, ate and the fancy hotel restaurant that was not that great and took way too long. We went to bed, sad that it was our last day of vacation.
On Tuesday, we woke up at 6am and got a taxi to the airport. It was snowing pretty hard. Our flight was delayed an hour. We flew to London Gatwick on British Airways. We looked around in the airport because they had a Boot’s and a Harrod’s. We went to the gate and boarded our 8 hour flight. Natalie watched Enchanted twice. We had a stopover in Raleigh-Durham before flying back to Dallas.