Flew off to England in late June. Landed at Heathrow, picked up a rental car and headed off to Kent. First major item of interest was Canterbury Cathedral. Parked in a Park & Ride lot outside of town and took the bus into the city center. Arrived at Cathedral gate a little after 11, only to find out that it was closed until 1:00. So had a latté at the Starbucks right next door to the gate. Convenient, but just doesn't seem quite right to have a Starbucks there. But times change and the Cathedral has been hosting pilgrims for 1000 years now.
Wandered around the Catherdral area, had lunch, visited the local Roman Era Museum. In a bookstore window, saw a copy of John Kerry's campaign biography on sale for $8.00 along with a sign that said, "Buy it now - before you forget who he was."
Came back at 1 and went through the Cathedral. Really nice, really beautiful; easy to see why Christians walked hundreds of miles to pray here.
Over next couple of days, visited Hever Castle and Bodiam Castle. Dating back to the 13th century, Hever Castle was the home of Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII's wives. Beautiful castle, beautifully restored.
Bodiam is very different. It's a ruin, but a very interesting ruin. All the interior rooms are gone, only a few walls remain of the outer rooms. You can wander to your heart's content around the rooms, through low passage ways, climb narrow winding stairs. Quite interesting.
Then a long day of driving to reach the New Forest. This was probably the highlight of the trip for Erin. The New Forest is famous for it's ponies - hundreds, maybe thousands, of 'em roam freely around the forest. We saw a good many and Erin got to walk up close to some.
Also visited the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu and Buckler's Hard - which 200 years ago was one of Englands major ship building centers. The old buildings are still there, but the yards themselves are long gone.
Back to our hotel, The Mill at Gordleton, by 4:30 and rested for a while. Went down to the patio bar for ¾ of an hour. Fellow at the next table had a huge parrot, named Raffles. As soon as we sat down, it climbed down off the chair walked over and climbed up Erin's. Sat on Erin's chair for 15 minutes as Erin drew his picture. Had dinner at the inn - excellent meal and dessert - lemon posset - dynamite!
Then on to the Cotswolds for a couple of days, wandered around cute little villages. Had tea and scones in the afternoon - all very civilized and peaceful.
Left the Cotswolds for Warwick - not far, only took 30-40 minutes. I've wanted to see Warwick Castle for a number of years, missed it last time. It's a little different from the usual English castle, for good or ill, it's owned by the Madame Tussauds and well, it's a little commercial. There ware dozens of really stupid, tacky wax sculptures all over the place. On the other hand, it is very well maintained and there's lots of things to see.
First item is the trebuchet show - they 'fired' off the medieval catapult seige "gun" - really cool. While I've seen a trebuchet before (at Urquhart Castle), we got to see this actually work. It stands about 60 feet high and tossed a boulder way down a field.
Erin and I toured the dungeon, while the doorkeeper/guide said that most of the castle was paid for by ransoming off French aristocrats captured in various battles of the Hundred Years War and held in Warwick Castle. "This tower was paid by for by the French, this wing by the Spanish, . . . ."
Had a "Ploughman's Lunch" of bread and local Warwick truckle cheese. Then visited St. Mary's Church, just a few blocks from the castle. Got to see the burial crypt of Richard Beauchamp (1380-1439, he 'supervised' Jeanne d'Arc's witchcraft trial) - my 16th great, great grandfather. Also saw crypt of Fulke Grenville (given Warwick Castle in 1604 by James I, murdered in 1628), another distant cousin.
Left and drove to Stratford upon Avon. Wandered around town (very commercial, very touristy) for a while.
Went to see Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Shakespeare Company Theater. Wasn't sure if I'd like it. Years ago, I saw Julius Caesar and didn't much care for it and never really grasped what was going on when I tried to read the plays. And in fact, didn't understand half of what was said during Romeo and Juliet, nevertheless I did enjoy the play.
Into London! Drove south on the M40 (A40) straight into London. Easiest entry into London I've ever made. Two hours from Stratford to Hotel - the Sumner on Upper Berkeley Street near Marble Arch.
After lunch and check-in at hotel we were off. Took Underground to Tottenham Court Road to see the British Museum. It's Erin's #1 'must do' in London. She really wanted to see the Egyptology Collection. First item we see is the Rosetta Sone - the real one! Dark stone tablet with heiroglyphics, Latin and Greek. Really cool. Erin's very happy.
Over next couple of days, we visited Westminister Cathedral, Parliament, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Shopped at Harrods, the antique shops in Portabello Road and yes, bookstores (Foyles, Waterstones, and Hatchards)
Next to last day in London we checked the weather reports for the continent - it's gonna' be hot. Except for the past couple of days in London, it's really hot in England. So hot and humid that it's really cut down on the number of things we did. Now we find out that it's going to be in the mid to high 90s (with high humidity, too) in France for the next 10 days. So, we checked to see about returning home, but discovered it would cost $10,000 to return home early; so we're stuck.
Flew into the new airport near Basel, Switzerland. It's literally right on the border with France.
Drove down the mountain to Colmar, wandered around for several hours and had lunch. Old town - city center is quite nice.
Left and drove north to Riveauville, a beautiful old town on the Alsace Wine Road. And got to see storks nesting atop roof in the middle of town.
Alsace is now French, but in times past, it has been German, so many of the towns have German names as do many of the people (last names anyway). Many of the building look German. But everyone is French.
Drove to Strasbourg. Short drive, less than two hours. Couldn't find our hotel, the Hotel Cardinal Rohan. Audi's navigation system is total useless inside cities and only seems to work on major roads. So parked near the big church and walked. Found it, right near town square and big church.
Wandered around town a bit. Very pretty, old city, but it's still incredibly hot. There's pretty building and canals flowing through part of the old town. Boat tours are available and probably quite interesting; but there's no way I'm sitting on uncovered boat in this heat for a couple hours.
Another short drive - to Freiburg, Germany. Once again, can't find our hotel, the Hotel Oberkirche, so parked near the church and walked. Found it, right where we left it, nine years ago in the square right next to the church.
And today is market day, the church square is packed with vendors selling everything from spices to toys. Had lunch from vendor selling sausages. Diane found the little brush maker from whom she'd bought brushes back in 1998 and bought more.
The vendors pack up by late afternoon and in the evening we were entertained by an amateur song and dance group who put on a free show on an outdoor stage in the square. Dozen or so teens did some simple circus acts, comedy routines. Good fun.
Next day, returned to Basel for the night and next morning took a flight into Paris. Visited the Louvre and wandered around it for 3 hours or so. Saw the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and a bunch of Egyptian exhibits. Erin was far more interested than I thought she'd be and really loved the Egyptian artifacts.
Left the Louvre and tried to go to Notre Dame, but just too hot. So went back to the hotel. After dinner walked to the Champs Élysées and along it for a mile or so to the Arc de Triomphe past all the fancy shops and restaurants. Really enjoy walking along the Champs Élysées and it's quite pretty right now. The sun is setting to the west and the rays shoot down the street and illuminate the Arc de Triomphe. As dusk fell, stood and watched moron pedestrians made kamikazi runs across the Etoile while crazy drivers tried to navigate around the traffic circle. Lots of fun. Very pretty.
Next day, went to the antique/flea market Marche des Puces at Clingnancourt. Really very interesting - hundreds of little stalls in a rabbit warren of narrow little alleys. Absolutely fascinating; one could spend all day here. Diane bought an old (circa 1838), pretty, blue ceramic French pump ink well. Really neat, neither of us had ever seen anything like it. Unlike all the other ink wells we've seen where you dip the pen into a "pot", this one stores the ink in a small covered tank. When you want ink, you pump the handle and a little ink is dispensed into a little cup, into which you dip your pen.
The heat drove us out of the market and back to the hotel about 2:30. Headed back out much later for a late dinner. Took taxi to the Place du Trocodero; ate at one of the brasseries there - out on the sidewalk with a great view of the Eiffel Tower. After dinner, walked across the bridge to the Eiffel Tower.
Our plan was to go up and see Paris by night. This seemed like a really good idea, since because of the Bastille Day weekend, Paris was well, not quite dead, but definitely a lot less busy than usual. But even at 9:45 the lines were still horrendous (probably because 2 of the 4 elevators were closed) and decided to wait until tomorrow. Did, however, get to see the flashing lights that came on at 10:00.
Our last day - Up a little after 7:00, ate breakfast and got to the Eiffel Tower by 9:05. In the ticket line for 35 mintues. Not bad. Went up to the top; nice view as always. And less hazy than usual - probably because we got there early. Took a Batobus boat to Notre Dame and went through the church. By now it's getting pretty hot.
Lunch at a little crepe shop on the Ile de St. Louis. Walked to Place de Vosges in the Marais district. Diane and I had both read how pretty (and historic) this square was and wanted to see it. But, honestly - not worth the walk. Wouldn't mind spending more time (on another trip when it's cooler) on these two little islands.