Europe Travelogue

Date: Tue, 04 Aug 1998 10:49:08 -0700
From: Frances Whitney <franny@inreach.com>

First day, big adventure. We rode to LAX on a vehicle called The Airport Bus of Bakersfield. I'd never used it before, but it was very convenient and we didn't have to try to park. We caught TWA Flight 100 to St. Louis and saw the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River from the air. I thought of Twiggles, but knew she is off in Nauvoo at the City of Joseph Pageant. We had to hustle be make our connection to London. We flew all night. What amazed me about my first sight of the UK from the air was the fields weren't square! And they were growing all different colors of crops, not the same thing for miles and miles like they have here. We landed at Gatwick and then took a train to Victoria Station and a taxi to our flat where my brother Leonard met us.

The taxi ride was a real eye opener. Those guys are maniacs. People who bag on Los Angeles traffic ought to go to London. Susie and I both were hit by a motorcycle and Rachel was nearly flattened by a bus. I bought a London Taxi postcard for my scrapbook but am not sure I really want to remember it.

Our flat was above some little shops and art galleries in Knightsbridge. Pretty handy to a lot of the sites. It was a real adventure trying to figure out how to use all the appliances, turn on lights, etc. We had a little combination machine that both washed and dried--sorta--and even a dishwasher. I very bravely even used the oven once. The instructions said you could set the timer button to turn the oven on at a certain time, so I roasted a chicken and dinner was ready when we got home from sightseeing. The only thing we never figured out was the garbage disposer. My brother and I shared a room with twin beds and the girls slept in the big king size bed in the master bedroom.

On the first day, Monday, after a nap, we went to the Underground and bought transit passes and took the tube down to the Thames to see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben by night. We found the place where they sell the cheap theatre tickets.

Tuesday, Leonard and I went grocery shopping and eventually dragged the girls out of bed. We walked over to Hyde Park and took our pictures at the Speakers' Corner, where the first missionaries preached in the 1800s. We saw the lovely gardens, pigeons, squirrels, etc. In the evening we went to see "Chicago."

Wednesday we spent all day at the Tower of London and seeing the Crown Jewels. My feet were killing me! In the evening, we went to see "Rent."

I had wanted to see some Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre but we couldn't get any tickets we could afford.

Thursday was St. Paul's Cathedral (the girls climbed up to the roof!) and the National Gallery of Art. An exibition of the Dutch Masters and also Carravaggio's "The Flaggelation of Christ" were visiting, but the girls were bored so Leonard and I told them to go away and they went off shopping. The Golden Age Dutch are my favorite old paintings, and Leonard wanted to see them too. It was nice to go with someone who doesn't sigh and roll his eyes and want to leave. When we had seen the gallery, we went and sat on Trafalgar Square and ate ice cream and talked to the pigeons. They actually sell pigeon food there for people to feed the birds; can you believe it? Leonard remarked that if someone tried that in San Francisco there would be public outrage. I rather like the British outlook on animals, myself. In the evening we attended a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The program (or should I say Programme?) was Beethoven and Brahms. The Fourth of each. I've never been to a concert before where TWO symphonies were performed the same night. I was flabberghasted to see the conductor proceed through both pieces without a score! I asked the couple sitting next to me if that was usual here and they told me no, but this guy is very talented.

Friday we rode a boat up the river to Kew Gardens and spent the day oohing and aahing over the botany. My poor feet had about had it. This was the nearest we came to "having tea", in the snack bar at Kew Gardens. Of course the girls and I didn't have tea, ha ha. We barely made it to the last boat back to London and I went to bed early because in the morning I had to catch an early train to go meet Anne at the Temple.

Saturday morning I got up and left the inert bodies sleeping, and got to the underground as soon as it opened. I was really proud of myself for finding my way to the train station, and changing trains, and all that other stuff all alone. I sat by the window and watched the little towns and countryside unfold. It was nice to escape the girls for a while, bless their hearts. Anne met me at the train station--the Preston Temple is actually in a lovely little town called Chorley-- and I anxiously watched to see if she drove like a maniac too, but she was okay. No worse than I am. (tee hee.) The Preston Temple is absolutely lovely. Anne and I changed back to civvies after the session and she took me to see the baptistry. Only trouble was, we got lost. Eventually we found the cafeteria and ate lunch--probably the Very Worst Hamburger I ever ate in my life. But it was wonderful to be with Anne and hear all about her adventures at YW camp. We sat there and yakked and yakked until we eventually realized that the cafeteria workers were mopping the floor and turning out the lights and so we took the hint. But then got lost again and ended up in the men's initiatory! This did not make us popular with the brother in charge there, but he got us out. Outside, she introduced me to her SP and his kids, and the SP took our picture. Then he said, "The best picture is inside, looking up through the glass roof at the spire and Moroni," so I stepped inside and snapped one, and then did the temple workers ever come running! I thought they'd put me to rot in the clinker for sure. But the SP explained that I was his cousin from California, and I didn't even speak English, so that seemed to be acceptable.

Anne gave me some books with pictures of Scotland to lure me back, but I was of course already interested!

On Sunday, our last day in London, Leonard didn't want to go to church, so we went and "worshiped" at Regent's Park (gorgeous rose garden!) and then to the Zoo, where they had to throw us out at closing.

The next morning, we caught the Channel Tunnel train to Paris. It sure goes faster than any other train I've ever been on. In Paris, the girls had a major disappointment because Bank of America decided not to let them use their ATM cards there. Rachel was angry and called their 800 number to complain, and they really didn't have a satisfactory explanation. I think they are both going to change banks and give BofA a real earful. The bad part was they had planned to shop till they dropped in Paris and there they were stuck with having to borrow money from Mom, and my ATM card only allows $300/day in cash withdrawals. $300 didn't go far in Paris, by the time I bought groceries, guidebooks, tickets, etc.

After we settled in to our apartment, we walked around and took a boat tour of the Seine. We stayed in the section called "Le Marais", which is the setting of "Les Miserables." Our building was from the 16th century, but up to the minute modernized. That was one thing that struck me again and again in Paris. It's full of narrow, winding, medieval streets and all those old buildings, but the country seems to run at state of the art. They even have satellite tracking on the busses, and there is an electronic readout at every bus stop that tells you how many more minutes until the next bus, and the one after that.

I was a little worried about travelling in a country where I don't know the language, but by the end of the week I was cobbling out sentences and could talk to the butcher, etc. I had been hoping Susie would get us by, since she has taken three years of French in high school, but she was shy with the people and said they talked too fast. She understood everything they said--five minutes later. But we got by. The only person I really had to talk intensively to who knew no English at all was the owner of a Doc Martens store. It was pretty hairy trying to translate our American shoe sizes into British Doc Marten sizes and then into the European sizes he was thinking in, but it turned out he knew German, so we got by with me butchering that language instead of French. We ended up not buying any shoes from him though, as he didn't have the colors/sizes in the proper combinations. He had a lovely pair of bright green ankle boots for me but the girls wouldn't let me buy them. Which was a pity, because they were half what I would pay here.

Our second day in Paris we saw the Eiffel Tower and Rachel and I had our pictures done by street artists while Leonard and Susie waited in line to go up. They were just finishing our pictures when the police came and busted our artists and chased us away. The police gave me my picture and told me it would be free, but they kept Rachel's. She was furious, since the street artist had made her look particularly glamorous. From what I could understand, it was an Immigration kind of thing. All the artists we saw looked Vietnamese. So after the Eiffel Tower we went looking for our artists and by some miracle found one of them and he gave us Rachel's picture and we paid him. I sure hope he gave the money for my picture to my artist! All I can do is hope that since I was honest and tried to pay for it, even though I could have gotten it free via the police, he will be honest also and share the $ with the other artist.

Wednesday we went on the train to Versailles. I thought it was very much the worse for wear. What a maintenance and restoration nightmare the place must be for the French government. Our feet were in agony after the tour, so we didn't see the Trianons, etc., just rode the train shuttle past them.

Thursday was the Louvre. More sore feet. There was a huge crowd in front of Mona Lisa but I couldn't figure out why since almost every other picture in the place is prettier. I spent most of my time in the objects d'art, seeing tapestries, furniture, armor etc. You could spend your whole vacation there and not see it all.

Friday morning we went to the Museum of the Middle Ages at Cluny because I wanted to see the "Lady and the Unicorn" tapsestry which is so famous. It was so beautiful I bought the book. I also saw a 12th century waffle iron and shot a whole roll of Tri-X of the castle. Leonard remarked "I'm beginning to think you live your whole life through a viewfinder!" Which might explain my faux pas at the Temple. Then we ate at McDonald's and Susie and Leonard went back to the Louvre while Rachel and I went to visit Princess Diana's accident site. On the way we rode the Ferris wheel in the Tuleries garden, and saw an astouding view of Paris from the top.

On the street above Diana's accident tunnel is a sculpture erected probably ten years ago by the Herald-Examiner. It is a replica of the flame of the Statue of Liberty and celebrates free speech. People have set it up as a shrine for Diana and written all over it, all over the sidewalk, all over the overpass railings. There are messages in every language. Around the sculpture people have left flowers, poems, pictures, essays, artifacts. One that particularly touched me was a string of origami cranes--probably a thousand of them by the looks of it. I explained the legend of the thousand cranes to Rachel and she cried.

In between all this we saw every monument, every famous old church, the big department store, everything.

On our last day in Paris we visited the Musee d'Orsay--art from 18-something to WWI. Then we shopped. The next morning Leonard left at 5:00 to catch his flight and we left at 9:00, It was a real ordeal, and the airport was a madhouse with everyone who had spent a week sightseeing after the world cup games now trying to leave. Our plane was hours late leaving Paris so we didn't get the nice long layover in St. Louis after all. After 22 hours in the air we landed at LAX and stood out in the traffic for an hour waiting for the Airport Bus of Bakersfield. Took forever to get home because an awful accident on I-5 had closed it down to one lane. My friend Jeannette met us at the bus station with a reassuring hug and the car keys. I was a zombie by then. Yesterday all we did was drag out to get our kitties, some groceries, and drop off our film (30 rolls!)

I'm planning to come to life sometime soon. My black and white pictures are probably ready at the photo store now, and the rest will be in at Target tonight, and then I'll have to start the..... scrapbooks! I'm going to make one for Leonard, as well as one for each of us. This trip will doubtless fill a whole book each. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I'm so grateful to my wonderful brother for providing such a marvelous oppportunity for me and my girls.

I missed you all, missed my bed, missed my kitty, missed Hershey bars, but had a great time!

Did not miss Zeke the Zuke. Have not even been out to the garden to see how he is doing, but at least I can see from the window that he is not higher than the garden fence yet. Hopefully someone stole him while I was gone.

frances
xooxox