Geneva, Switzerland

Sweetzerland!

I can’t claim credit for the title of this post. Sweetzerland is the name of a chocolate shop that you’ll want to visit when you arrive in Geneva.  The author of the NY Times article ’36 Hours in Geneva’ boasts that this is the shop ‘where Russian tourists come to buy chocolate by the kilo’ since all of the sweets are made with pure, organic cocoa butter.  We savored our small bag of chocolate covered almonds for three days 🙂

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View from St. Pierre Cathedral

Travel tip: Geneva offers a warm welcome to visitors: free transport from the airport if you ride the bus within the first 80 minutes upon arrival. So civilized!  The #5 bus became our close acquaintance as it took us from the terminal to our airbnb accommodations in the La Florence neighborhood.  It’s not surprising that our first stop was Parfums de Beyrouth, our airbnb host’s suggestion for lunch.  Families, uni students, couples and a variety of people of colour were eating chawarma wraps and mixed lunch plates.  We were so hungry that we forgot to snap pictures of our mixed plate of chicken and lamb.  If you feel the need for a sweet afterwards, don’t hesitate to pick up an almond, honey, or pistachio pastry by the cash register.

The #18 tram is walkable from Parfums de Beyrouth, and drops you directly at the iconic dome of CERN, Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or the European Council for Nuclear Research.  Their exhibits were fantastic for layman who needed very simple and straightforward descriptions of the physics projects.  Both the featured and the permanent exhibitions were interactive and incorporated sample demos for visitors.  The real test will be if I can summarize my take-aways here!

The spherical building (below) that welcomes guests to the campus is only one small part of the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC.  There is an underground circular highway below the buildings on campus that accelerates atomic particles at 1/3 of the speed of light.  As the atomic particles are released into this underground circular highway they spin insanely fast and crash into one another.  Physicists from around the world study the various collisions to learn more about particle characteristics and interactions, and ultimately the matter of our planet!

After leaving CERN’s Universe of Particles, we rode the #18 tram to the opposite end of the line into the Carouge neighborhood.  This neighborhood is well-known since it was designed by Italian architects, and thus has a different feel than the other parts of Geneva we’d passed on the tram.  Many of the streets were lined with shorter shops, galleries, and patisseries rather than with larger, immaculate buildings with identical windows in the other parts of Geneva.  I vowed that I’d return to Rue de Saint Joseph as it looked like a prime spot for holiday shopping (update during post: this never happened).  Not much was open after 5pm, but we did find Wolfisberg Patisserie for a warm drink and the first of Corey’s many pan de chocolate/pain au chocolat.

Against my better judgement, we passed all of these cosy looking, candle-lit bistros to find a sushi restaurant for dinner.  There’s nothing to report on our meal at Sake, but I would suggest Chat Noir for a fun night out after a meal. With two floors, you can find something if you wanted a low key night with friends and drinks upstairs, or a more active night with pub-quiz and dancing downstairs.  We unofficially played the ‘name that tune’ portion of the pub quiz over a vin rouge before heading home on the #21 bus.


We usually try to get out of the main city centre for at least one leg of a trip, and on this day we set out for Montreux and Lausanne.

Travel tip: Buy a joint ticket at the Geneva train station that includes your round trip to Montreux, you bus round trip to Chillon Castle, and the entry ticket for Chillon Castle. The overcast weather matched my coming down with a cold, but even in the mist, Le Lac (the lake) was beautiful from the train car.  You walk down a two levels of stairs to see the main street in Montreux which also hosts a wonderful view of the lake from their riverwalk-type pathway.   On Sunday, it’s very sleepy, but it’s easy to imagine the crowds of folks visiting for a ski weekend or for the summer jazz festival.

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I loved that Pret has full on veggie and fruit boxes below their prepared goods. It’s like a full on supermarket in this train station!

Our Italian lunch at La Rouvenaz was just ok, but we reflected that everyone had wine which we skipped, and many ordered shellfish which we also skipped.  We walked off lunch by following along the bus line until we were ready to board the #201 to Chillon Castle.  We found the Zurcher Chocolatier which should not be missed if you are in need of a decadent pastry.

The #201 drops you right at Chillon Castle’s gate, and guests can explore the stony and sparse rooms with the brochure’s suggested itinerary.  The castle is built on a small island that was strategic in coordinating movements between the north and south of Europe.  It’s survived French, English, and German occupation, the earliest being from 1150.  My favourite part of the visit was climbing the stairs to the top of the Tower for a bird’s eye view of the lake and neighboring towns.  On the way up the stairs, I took pictures at each level convinced that the current level I’d reached was the most beautiful view….and then I’d get to the next landing and be just as stunned.

We didn’t walk the castle’s surrounding walking trails but we wanted to make sure we had enough time to check out Lausanne before heading back to Geneva.  We missed the mark and it was dark by the time we reached Lausanne.  I should probably note here that we didn’t know what we’d find at Lausanne, but that I was keen to visit as I’d decided this town was the namesake of the school where Kwaku currently teaches in Memphis.

The attendant at the information booth right outside the train station shared that at 17:30pm on a Sunday, we’d probably find little to do. She highlighted that the main loop for a tourist trek would be about an hour.  We’d see St-Francois Church (built in 1270), a gothic cathedral (built in 1150) overlooking the city, and the Flon district which is now known for it’s modern architecture and design shops.  The goal was to reach the cathedral by 18:00pm if we wanted to see the interior.  Everything else would be closed.

She failed to mention the start of the walk to get to St-Francois church was completely uphill!  The winding streets along the way were clearly the commercial shopping district.  I joked that you’d either need to be very clear about shopping for only one item, or you’d need to be very dedicated to moving slowly from one store to the next to forget that you were shopping at a constant 45 degree angle!  Just to note, we did the loop with success and saw the cathedral with five minutes to spare!

We followed the signs noting ‘de-escalation’ from the cathedral to find the #2 metro to take us to Ouchy (the name of the Lausanne port).  Tourists flock to this area since it’s the home of the Olympic museum.  The restaurants were actually open in this part of town as well.  We were attracted to a sign that read ‘Food non-stop 24/7’.  Clearly.

I loved the ambiance at Le Vieil Ouchy!  The tall candles were lit on every table, and my wine glass seemed to remain full of vin rouge the entire meal.  Corey ordered a serious cordon bleu!  Based on every other orders we saw, we’d also suggest fondue if you’re not a member of the lactose intolerant club.


Today was memorable.  Not only did I enjoy everything we saw and ate, but it was also a major turning point in Corey’s career; he accepted a severance package from his company right before our walk through the old town. Read on…

From our neighborhood, the dependable #5 bus dropped us of directly in front of MontBlanc.  What’s important about this location aren’t the steeply priced ball point pens, but that we stumbled upon Sweetzerland at this very moment (just across the street from the luxury writing utensils)!  Please ask for a taste of the chocolate covered almonds even if you don’t purchase anything!  Maybe bring one back for us?

The promenade along Lake Geneva to Bains de Paquis was dreamy. We were walking around 10:30am when the sun was bright and the weather crisp.  When you arrive at the bathhouse, it draws you in even though it’s no frills. The cafeteria style tables had light streaming across them, and a wood burning stove was warming the indoor seating area.  The teal painted sea creatures detailing the walls, and the walk-up window for ‘grub’ made us feel as though we’d found a hidden gem.

Within fifteen minutes, we were surrounded by senior citizens, uni students, and the few locals who weren’t working 9am-5pm jobs on a Monday.  It’s incredibly cheap for such yummy food!  Most ordered the Plat du Jour which comes in a standard meat or meat-free option.  The plates are hearty!  Some also shared the fondue pots, and we opted happily for the soup and bread.  It’s a must that everyone drinks ginger tea, too!  To my surprise, some folks were lying on the wooden slats to soak up the sunny day though it was the end of November.

We felt warm and content as we walked to an art installation called ‘Stop Telling Women to Smile‘.  I knew that Tatyana Fazlalizadeh had her art showcased in Paris, and in Brooklyn, but I hadn’t been able to catch her yet.  Her art focuses on the gender based harassment that women face while simply walking down the street.  She covers large mural spaces with faces and voices of women responding to this harassment in their daily environments.

On our way to see her traveling series, Corey got a call from HR and we stopped outside of a cafe for the next forty minutes so Corey could take notes on his next steps!

As you can imagine, the rest of our walking tour through St Pierre Cathedral and Old Town was focused on his career more than taking in the specifics of these sights.  I enjoyed walking through the tiny red door to walk up the steps to the cathedral’s look out, and the Old Town has lovely shops and most likely lovely places for lunch (which we didn’t try because we were too busy talking).

We stopped on the edge of Old Town to take in the view of the city.  I guess it felt symbolic to be looking out over the city, and recognizing how small we are in all of this, but also how much promise you can feel as you look out across a beautiful city-scape.

After a final pan de chocolate, we continued our talks of Corey’s decision on the bus, at the airport, and all the way home.  In a short three-day weekend, we enjoyed the bread, butter, and the French influence on the pastries.  We found it was easy to walk around the neighborhoods to see the facades of the buildings which were designed with simple yet elegant eaves.  We wished we were able to talk to more people as there are a number of non-Swiss people who’ve made Geneva their home.  It’s also got wonderful potential for someone who likes to combine city and nature on their vacation.  Finally, Geneva will also forever be the city where Corey closed his chapter at BBG.  And it’s not a bad location to start reflecting on the next steps of one’s career…

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Quickshot:

Day 1: 

Day 2: Day Trip

  • Take a day trip to Montreux, Lausanne, or one of the various mountainous towns outside of Geneva
  • ((One blog even suggested renting a car and driving across the border to France for a market day!))

Day 3: 

  • I’m pretty sure if I’d been to Bains de Paquis earlier in the trip, I’d have gone at least twice for lunch or… even for the bath experience. Make sure it’s on your list for a hearty, healthy and amazing lunch!!!
  • No judgement if you choose to stay at Bains and bathe, read, or philosophize for the larger part of the day
  • Walk to Old Town to see St Pierre’s Cathedral and then meander as long as you like
  • Make sure to eat bread and chocolate. Oh, and butter on the bread. Yes!
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Colchester, England

A Cold Day Trip to Colchester

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Elephants have been my favourite animal since I was about eight years old so I was taken with Colchester’s love for the keystone species as well!  We arrived knowing that Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town, but didn’t know that when the Roman Emperor Claudius invaded the settlement in 43AD that he brought elephants along to intimidate the locals.  Today you can see small elephants decorating the street signs & placards near the town centre, and the local zoo is said to have some friendly ambassadors as well.

When you take the train from Liverpool Street Station you can alight at Colchester or Colchester Town.  We arrived at Colchester, but then took an Anglia train to Colchester Town since this stop was closer to some of the sights we wanted to see before lunch.

St. Botolph’s Priory is directly behind Colchester Town station.  It was founded in 1100 and was the first Augustinian priory in England.  I had to look up priory (a small nunnery or monastery) and Augustinian (relating to a religious order observing a rule derived from St Augustine’s writings…I admittedly didn’t go deeper than this so I’m still not quite sure of the importance in a specific religion).  The walls that remain are from the 12th century which is just a tad bit older than our country 😉 I thought the arches were stunning.

Most people seemed to be using the priory grounds as a shortcut to get to the train station.  We walked against the grain of pedestrians about five minutes up Queen street to Castle Park.   It’s the equivalent of the central park of the area, and many families were visiting this Saturday. I do think there were more children around the back of the castle at the tiny Christmas fair than enjoying the historical site itself.  We weren’t much better than the seven-year olds as we dropped coins into the entrance’s well , but didn’t pay the fee to go beyond the foyer.

The lady at the castle till offered up a few lunch spots, including Tymperleys on Trinity Street.  It’s a beautiful Tudor building with a pretty garden outside.  We were hungry enough for a full lunch, but they also offer afternoon tea as well.  Their mulled wine was the first I had of the holiday season but it won’t be the last!

After seeing the historical sights, and having a cosy lunch, we spent the rest of the chilly afternoon strolling past the Trinity Street shops.  There were many commercial stores like Primark and H&M, but we noted that barber shops and tattoo parlors also made a strong showing.  These brought up the stereotypical images of Essex men from the TV show ‘The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE)’ — similar to our reality series ‘The Jersey Shore’.

Around 3:30pm, the sun started to fade so we turned up our collars and walked for twenty minutes from Trinity Street to Colchester station.  It’s easy to see why commuters do this route during the week– getting back into Liverpool Street station takes about a hour so it’s an direct and easy day trip to and from London!

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St Albans, England

St. Albans: A Favorite Day Trip from London

If you catch the Thameslink train from Kings Cross St Pancras, it takes a little less than an hour to be whisked away to St. Albans.  At this point, I feel confident that this is my top suggestion for a day trip from London!

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The bell tower at St Albans Cathedral

The walk from the St Albans City Station takes about ten minutes to arrive in the centre of town.  If you visit on a Saturday, you’ll get swept up in the market of food hawkers, artisans, and bowl-for-a-pound grocery stands.  But before the market, I knew my first stop would be the cathedral.  The street signs for this main attraction point you in the right direction from the moment you arrive, yet I found myself veering off path to check out small alleys and lanes.  Once such path took me to an arcade with vintage jewelry and crocheted household items, and it ended with a tea house full of senior citizens.  I was tempted to hang out with the locals, but a sign caught my eye pointing me towards the gardens and side entrance of St. Albans Cathedral. Bingo! (If you wanted to find this arcade, the only marker I remember was that it was near a Starbucks off of St Peters Street).

St. Albans Cathedral is the landmark that gives the city its name so it’s a must-see when you visit.  There is something around every corner once you get inside!  Apparently, the nave is the longest in England at 85 meters.  Weaving in and out of the various sections, you will see beautiful art and design.  Honestly, I’m usually the one that takes a seat while Corey explores the nooks and crannies of every church and cathedral we visit, however this one is a worthy stop if I do say so myself.

I was tempted to sit outside on the green surrounding the St. Albans Cathedral, but I wanted to make sure I could see the Roman Ruins before lunch time.  You will love the 20 minute walk along Fishpool Street towards St Michaels Village and the Roman Ruins.  I was very taken with the doors and windows of each residence, and I’ve added these pictures to the end of my post.

Verulamium Park is over 100 acres and on the way to the Roman theater. You can’t miss this perfect place for a stroll or run.  There are sections where you can see parts of the old Roman wall, and the Verulamium museum sits along the park edge for families and visitors.

To visit the Roman Theater, you walk away from the park and the museum, down a side road that brings you out to an expansive field.  A beautiful country building welcomes you to the landmark, and you pay a minimal toll to walk on the grounds.  I learned that the Romans built the third largest city, St Albans, in Roman Britain, and Verulamium theater was built as a space where native ceremonies could still be performed by the local people.  However, the locals weren’t too happy about the new residents and at one point, Queen Boudicca, burned the settlement to the ground!

It was time to visit the market to have a late lunch.  I took a different path back to the town centre so I could see more of the surrounding neighborhoods.  With Autumn in full effect, I couldn’t help but take my time.

FYI, the market and its food stalls close down by 4pm, potentially earlier, if the weather is chilly.  So I definitely missed lunch, but grabbed a samosa, and walked the length of St Peters Street.  While people were friendly, they were definitely closing up shop, so that was my cue to start heading home as well.  The trip back was an easy train ride, and I caught a gorgeous sunset as well at Kings Cross station.  It was a wonderful end to a lovely trip.

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And one more random bit…I might have walked up to various homes to catch a glimpse of their door knockers.

 

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Brighton, England

Brighton Day Trip

I woke up Saturday morning feeling like I wanted to get out of the house.  London is still feeling great, but we haven’t been somewhere new since the school year has started.  A day trip to Brighton seemed like an easy remedy.img_7973

Brighton is a seaside town about an hour south of London on the train. It’s really easy to get to from the London Bridge station so we packed our camera and some grapes for the train ride.  Being near the sea meant the first stop had to be for fish and chips.  We read that Bardsley’s fish and chips shop has been serving up piping hot cod and haddock since 1926.  We ordered a platter that included calamari and shrimp as well. Go big or go home!

On the walk to Brighton Pier we saw a surprising amount of graffiti art.  The Royal Pavilion was unfortunately covered by white tents , but you could still make out the ‘oriental’ influence in the architecture. (Yes, the word ‘oriental’ was used to describe the design).  The town’s main shopping area, North Laine, included something for everyone: hemp bracelets and MC Hammer pants were neighbors with expensive coffee beans and gourmet donuts.  Vintage sweaters and records shared the block with H&M and Barbour.  This weekend, there were also stands dedicated to Halloween inspired face painting.

The pebbled coastline stretched for miles, and I can imagine it being dotted with tourists in the summer months. The pier was a predictable scene of tempting arcade games where one could win a million tickets or an apple watch if you could position the coin-pusher-arm or crane-claw just so.  Every few feet, a vendor was selling something incredibly fried, and of course, there was a log ride that Corey had to check out. He also noted the bumper cars seemed more polite than usual- is it really because we’re in the UK?!  We caught the tail end of some Saturday markets on our walk, including a Quaker place of worship that was hosting a craft fair.

We finished our trip with a bag of chocolate sweets for the train ride home, and an airplane sized nip of wine (you can have a tipple on the train!).  It was nice to return home and still have the evening hour to finish a good book.  This mini-outing did just the trick!

 

 

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London, England, Oxford, England

Caity’s Pitstop to Rosnaree

We were honored to be a stop on Caity’s journey to Rosnaree, Ireland.  Though the trip started with Caity having a pretty hefty airport security experience, we made up for that with an evening at Gokyuzu, a new favorite Turkish restaurant in my book.  In true Forrest/Tremblay/Leonard fashion, we talked for an entire evening about her Davis graduation, her new plans to move to upstate New York, and her other upcoming European pitstops.  Corey was shocked at how he could barely get a word in!

My cousin set off on her own each day, and there are few I know who have a sort of museum stamina like Caity Tremblay.  Each day, she’d return with stories of the smallest clocks built in the last 200 years living at the British Museum or we’d learn about the unique journey of a piece of mail that was not delivered to its final destination at the Postal Museum.  I’m just realizing as I write this how uncanny it would have been if Caity met Jules Capaldi at our wedding. They would be an unstoppable force for museum curators to reckon with.

Caity isn’t so much into drink and I had to reflect seriously about how many activities I’ve shared with our visitors that involve the imbibing.  Thank you, Caity, for keeping me honest about that!

For the weekend, we took a trip out to Oxford, where we had a pretty delicious afternoon tea at The Grand Cafe, the first coffee house established in Oxford. Yes, I know that we asked for tea in a coffee house but they really do both very well.  We got a really tasty clotted cream with our scones, one that Caity decided to take home in a doggy bag regardless of the face that we had about half a remaining scone to use as mechanism for getting the cream into our bellies (no shame!).

We wandered through a mass of dancers with bells, face paint and props as the Folklife festival was traveling through Oxford on this weekend.  We toured the small botanical gardens and also took a lightening quick tour at the Bodleian Library, where parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed.  It’s pretty amazing to know that every single item printed in England is sent to this library, and that the royal family has a tradition of retreating into the vellum stacks to study at some point in their career.  We avoided most of the commercial shopping but did manage to meander through a few markets.  Oxford is an easy day trip from London with a little bit of “British” for everyone in terms of history, beautiful scenery, and treating oneself to lovely tea rooms.

 

On Sunday, we hit up Spitalfields Market and on Monday we had an extra day with Caity as she got things in order to get on to Ireland.  I always say it’s nice to hang out with cousins as adults.  I know that Miya had this with Ginny (Caity’s sister) so it was fun to have this experience with Caity and to hear about her adventures during this gap year. (Note: As my posts are clearly so delayed, ask Caity about her trip as she’s fully returned from Ireland at this point and quite possibly in NY at this time!)

 

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Dover, England, Dublin, Ireland, London, England

London, Dublin, and Dover with Dad

img_0709_128_hrWe’d been emailing, facetiming, and planning for so many months that I almost couldn’t believe it when I was finally on my way to pick up Dad from Heathrow.  And when you’re picking someone up from a London airport you feel like you’re reliving the opening scene of Love Actually in the arrivals terminal, and you can’t stop smiling.

Heathrow Express dropped us quickly in London, so we snapped some photos at St. Pancras station and rode the bus top level, front window to Angel to get a warm welcome from Corey at our flat.  We took my dad to his first Sunday roast at Smokehouse, a great little spot in our neighbourhood that has yummy Yorkshire pudding.  We spent the rest of the day strolling through our neighbourhood so my dad could get a sense of where we were living.

We realized how much FaceTime makes the distance between us feel shorter. We hadn’t seen each other for eight months, but we felt completely caught up with the goings on of our daily lives as Grandad and Tia.  But that didn’t stop us from keeping our tradition of staying up late the first night we’re reunited to share our stories all over again.


The flight to Dublin was an easy yet early one.  Honestly, the entire three days in Dublin felt like we had good karma following us around.  We voted to cab into Dublin, and ended up with the nicest cab driver who told us about the previous week’s events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.  We ate lunch at a well-known café bar that we found on a random side street with delicious traditional Irish stew. Our hotel was a stone’s throw from Trinity College, and included traditional Irish breakfast every morning, no additional charge.  I should also note that any time we saw something that was advertised as “traditionally Irish”, we basically bought it, ate it, or saw it.

Doing Dublin on foot was the best way to go from our experience. The Book of Kells was the obvious first stop as we could walk directly to Trinity’s campus so easily.  The small museum is set up with large posted images of the book to show the intricate details of the pages. My favorite part was watching a video clip how the book’s spine was created, and then bound with pages. Also, make sure you don’t miss the library upstairs with hundreds of tomes.

Our map showed that Guinness storehouse was about a twenty minute walk from Trinity.  So we found places of interest on the map along the way: the Molly Malone statue, the bells at Christ Church, and the Dublin Castle. I’m sure we looked so cute, dad and daughter, snapping away on our ‘dad and daughter’ cameras.

The Guinness storehouse was a fun treat.  You have to earn your free pint by touring through the bottom floors of the storehouse. You learn about the process of making Guinness beer, the history of the Guinness family, and how this stout is transported around the world.  On the fifth floor, one can learn to pour a perfect pint (the line was too long), and on the 6th floor, you can have lunch with your pint (again, the line was too long), so we opted for the obvious choice: a glass of the “the black stuff” at The Gravity Bar on the top floor- with 360 degree views of the city.  It started to rain as we toasted to our first day in Dublin- a beautiful sight in a room made of windows.

The rain stopped as we tipped the last of our glasses back, and we walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Each evening at 5:30pm, there is free entry to see the Choral Evensong.  Hearing those voices echo throughout the chapel was just beautiful.  The church is also next to a lovely garden where we spent some time with our cameras

Temple Bar is a part of the city that is touted as the nightlife, food, and live music part of the city. We weren’t sure how much time we’d want to spend on the strip, but ended up wandering through to find the Porterhouse, a restaurant claiming to serve the best stouts in the city.  We thought this seemed a bit blasphemous seeing as though the Guinness storehouse was less than two miles away.  Yes, we had to do a taste test comparison.  The porters and stouts in our flight were yummy, but my Dad said that he’d stick to Guinness for the rest of the trip.  Also, the fish and chips were the best I’d had, though I ended up with a strange ham cream dish.  To finish our evening, we stood outside of a crowded bar to listen to a duo singing U2 songs as a free concert.


The traditional Irish breakfast at our hotel was the perfect way to start our second day. We decided that we wanted to see some of Ireland’s natural beauty so we found a little seaside town called Howth about 3o minutes outside of Dublin.  The train dropped off right on the piers. What a gorgeous day! We walked the trail along Howth’s head, and were in awe of the beauty of the Irish coastline.

Along our hike, we were herded into a ‘free’ walking tour with an Irishman named John.  He let us know that his retirement gig was to give walking tours every day to anyone he picked up along the trail.  As we walked along he shared fun facts, and legends about the area.  He was optimistically trying to collect other hikers along the trail as well.  Other hikers would make up excuses to leave his little group at some point, yet we were too nice to tell him we’d make the journey on our own.  We knew we wanted to do the entire hike, and if so, John would be coming with us.  I guess that nothing could ruin the gorgeous seaside views, and the fact that we ended the tour over a pint with John and a very sweet couple honeymooning from Costa Rica, we decided it really was a great morning. Lunch was fresh oysters, fish pie, and traditional Irish salmon with rye.

Returning to Dublin, we decided to head North of the Liffey. We poked our heads through the Garden of Remembrance, and then made our way to the General Post Office.  As a side note, on this walk, I learned a bit more about my dad’s travels connected with political work, and his stories coming out of Cal.

The General Post Office was also closed, but strangely had a line around the corner at one of the doors.  While I snapped some shots of the bullet holes remaining from the Easter Rising, a kind woman in line struck up a conversation with my Dad, letting him know that it was the last showing of a play about the Easter Rising in the GPO.  We could stand in line but it might be a sold out show. The folks running the door, asked us to stand aside when we got to the front of the line as they’d have a better idea if tickets were left after everyone else was seated.  After a short wait, we were told we’d have to sit separately, but we were incredibly lucky to get two of the last tickets that evening!  Everyone in the audience was a local, and it was a treat to see the play in such a historical setting.

We laughed on the walk home recapping the events of the day.  I felt like I had a lucky four leaf clover in my pocket since most of the things that we’d experienced wouldn’t have happened if we’d tried to plan it that way.


Our final day in Dublin was spent picking up small gifts for our family, and trying on wolly Irish textiles that were way out of our price range. We walked St. Stephens park, and ate lunch at a local chain before heading back to the airport. Corey made us a meal of stew chicken, rice, and green beans for our return back to London.


On the fourth day of my dad’s trip, reality set in that I’d have to go to back to work.  But we didn’t let us slow us down. We hit up Westminster Abbey at 9am to beat the rush, and I left my dad midway through the audio tour to make my first meeting. Boo! However, I intended to use my flexible hours to ensure that I was out of the office by 3pm to meet my dad at the British museum. While I plucked away at a few more emails, he visited the Rosetta stone and other sections of the ancient Egypt exhibit.  Over dinner, my dad shared his trip to the Churchill War rooms, where he got to hold Churchill’s top hat, and where he was so taken with the exhibit that he basically forgot to eat lunch.  We spent the evening doing what I think we’d do in Oakland together: relaxing on the couch, watching a four part BBC documentary on President Obama’s eight years in office.  It felt like a bit of home here with me.  The series is great btw but I’m not even sure if it’s out in our own country.


For Friday, I spent some time answering emails for work, but our day really got started at St. Paul’s cathedral, a highlight of the city that I didn’t even know about.  The mosaics inside were breath-taking, and is was so fun climbing to the top of the cathedral for a panoramic view of London.  I pointed out the other landmarks we’d see throughout the day.  We walked across Millennium bridge, and popped into the Tate for a quick view.  The Thames river walk led us right into Borough Market where we feasted on salt beef sandwiches.  We walked the remainder of the South Bank, towards Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We were less enthusiastic about seeing the crown jewels after having such an energetic tour by the local Yeoman Warder.  The Yeoman Warders live in their own community within the walls of the Tower to this day! The men, and one woman,  and have served over 22 years in the Queen’s military, and have very expensive and elaborate uniforms.  Our guide really made the history come alive with his dry British humor. PS- they don’t like being called Beefeaters!

We ended our day taking the bus to Bloomberg so that my dad could see the London office. We picked up Corey from work, and walked along Regent’s canal before making our way to Ottolenghi, another neighbourhood favorite.  During dinner, we also decided that our last day in the UK would be spent out of London on the white cliffs of Dover.

 


The weather in Dover promised to be wet and wild.  About two hours outside of the city, we were welcomed with a grey, drizzly day, so we took a cab to the trail head of the chalky cliffs. It was so windy out on those unprotected cliffs, but incredibly beautiful. We passed ponies, and saw ships coming in and out of the port.  It really felt like some of the images we know of England- just being on that craggy coastline.  The saving grace was a quaint light house out on the cliffs serving cream tea! Well, we couldn’t pass up tea and scones when my dad hadn’t had one yet, so our hike ended at Mrs. Knotts Tea Room.

Admittedly, we hailed a cab to the Dover Castle- though there wasn’t really another choice in the gusts of wind and rain. The castle is definitely built for families taking a day trip, but I think we did alright when we found out there was a tour of old WWII tunnels on the grounds!  After a visit to the dark tunnels that saved the Allied forces in Dunkirk, we had a pint at the local pub while waiting for our bus. What an incredible day! But wait, it wasn’t over until the last supper was staged at Lahore!  My dad said he’d probably be able to live on the lamb chops and the naan as we all wiped our plates clean. Nothing like sharing the stories of our adventures over steamy curries and spiced lamb.


As usual, the week went too fast. On Sunday, we packed up my dad’s bags, got him a final cup of coffee and headed out to the airport. You better believe I took that train the entire way to soak up the final minutes of our time together. I couldn’t believe it. I just spent a week with the two most important men in my life:  the man who taught me what it means to be loved by a man, and the man who I’ll share that love with for the rest of my life.  To have time with them together, I really felt too lucky.


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Dublin Day 1:

Howth Day 2:

  • Train from Connolly station or your closest DART
  • Easy to find information booth with trail maps
  • Maybe you’ll find John out there?
  • Don’t remember where we ate lunch on the pier

Dublin Day 3:

  • Walk St. Stephen’s Park and do some souvenir shopping at Kilkenny’s where they ship to the US for a flat fee

London Day 4:

London Day 5:

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral- yes, walk up to the top, and then see the crypts
  • Walk across Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern (you can stay as long as you want for free but modern art wasn’t really our focus)
  • Walk along the South Bank towards Shakespeare’s Globe and end up at Borough Market (super crowded on Saturday; go Friday if possible; closed on Sunday)
  • Continue on the South Bank to see London Bridge, City Hall, and the Tower of London
  • Get a Yeoman Warder tour before you rush to see the Crown Jewels

Dover Day 6:

  • Train from home to Dover. Might have to transfer to a bus if the rails are still wiped out.
  • Cab to the trail head to find the White Cliffs visitor center
  • Maybe you want to stop at Mrs Knotts Tea Room? The scones were fine but the cream could have been better. You don’t have to pay to see the lighthouse.
  • Do the WWII Tunnels at Dover Castle (there are two options- we opted not to do the medical tunnel)
  • Eat at Lahore before you leave! BYOB (and there’s an off license next door)
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Windsor, England

Day Trip to Windsor Castle

While Corey was in Milan for his quarterly trip with the boys, I figured I could still get out and about to do some touring on my own. Why not travel to the vacation spot where the queen hosts her family Christmas?

Windsor Castle is only about a 45 minute train ride away from our flat, so last Sunday, I ventured out to see the grounds.  The castle was actually more of a small community rather than one large castle, and along the paths to each building, there were large placards showcasing the Queen’s reign over time. She is now the longest standing monarch in this country. I also learned about jubilees- celebrations to honor the Queen’s 25th year (Silver Jubilee), her 50th year (Gold) and her 60th year (Diamond) as a ruler.

The best parts of the tour were the opulent State Apartments where royalty has hosted huge feasts, where some kings have painted the ceilings in their liking, and where an entire room was dedicated to elaborate porcelain tea sets.  Some of the rooms are decorated to reflect a specific reign, such as King George IV’s crimson room, while others honor the collection of the crown’s artwork, or the crown’s defense.  I really enjoyed the extra touches during this holiday season as many of the rooms were decorated with Christmas trees, lights, sweetmeats, and wreathes.

No pictures were allowed inside of the State Apartments, but that would make for a boring post, so please enjoy the few that I snatched while the guards weren’t looking.

After my time on the castle grounds, I wandered through the quaint neighborhoods, and discovered a road called the Long Walk (see below). I honestly didn’t feel a call to action for this one as it was three miles one way.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Windsor castle,  and I have a year long pass to return with my validated ticket from the Royal Collection Trust. But if you’ve got limited time in London, then I might suggest visiting another landmark that has more culturally interesting surrounding areas.  After the castle tour, I felt pretty underwhelmed with the number of outdoor shopping malls filled with people doing their holiday shopping at the base of this historic site.

Oh wait…maybe this shop would lure some friends out to Windsor? Another reason to come visit me in London?IMG_6230

 

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