May 12 After leaving Armenia and Georgia, we flew into Paris, grabbed our luggage and hopped the Eurostar to London.
A 2 hour ride through the outskirts of Paris, beautiful farmland and with only 15 minutes under the English Channel. (I was happy the time under water was so short!) A cab to Novotel Blackfriers Hotel and smoothly checking in…until she said it would be $ 30:00 each for breakfast. I whipped out my e-mail confirmation with “breakfast included”. She said “but the rules have changed” and I said “but my e-mail hasn’t.” She went away and returned, all smiles, “we will honor your reservation.”
We had a 12th floor executive level room with balcony.
Very nice view. The view straight out was of the Shard Building by Renzo Piano and the tallest building in Europe. Unobtrusive during the daytime and lit with soft colors at night. If you look to the left, a new high-rise blocks the view of Blackfriars Bridge and the river.
Our breakfast buffet was excellent. While we ate we watched out the window as people from the underground hurried to work. All wore black…and it seemed unusual for a mild May day. Never did find out why.
This is a picture of our “extended family”.
Kate and Tom DeBrabander-Van Dessel from Antwerp and their 16 and 6 year old sons who visited us in California last summer. Kate was our exchange student for a year—26 years ago—and continued to be family ever since. Now they had arranged to take turns flying from-and-to Antwerp (takes about an hour) so one of them would be home for the kids at night. Tom came first. We had a glass of wine on our balcony and planned our walking strategy.
The South Bank walk was crowded and vibrant. We ate lunch at Gabriel’s Wharf in a small, Greek restaurant continuing our “catch-up” conversation. On our walk to the London Eye, parallel to the river boats and the crowds beside the water , we approached a mob of people waiting to board the Eye.
This symbol of modern Britain was exquisite ….and huge! It is easy to step on, takes 45 minutes to do the circuit and from the top (on a clear day) one can see Windsor Castle 25 miles away.
We continued on but were forced to stop in front of the Park Plaza Hotel.
A glass atrium soared from the bottom to the top of the building. (And what would one see from the other side?) Up the elevator to the top and the picture shows the view. Later we ate dinner at an excellent Indian restaurant.
The next morning Kate arrived and they joined us for breakfast in our hotel. We entered the restaurant at 9:50 (serving stopped at 10) but our lovely hostess winked and said “on us”. Lovely.
Our strategy: walk across the Millennium Bridge and see St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Sun shining, we crossed this elegant pedestrian bridge, looking every which way to absorb the monumental views. It led us to our next stop: St. Paul’s Cathedral.
In 1942, St. Paul’s was one of the major surviving structures of WWII during the London blitz. (Notice the blown out windows and walls of the buildings in front.) Christopher Wren was the architect in 1660 after the great London fire.
The Cathedral body was so well designed that little re-structuring was needed. Beautiful on the outside and magnificent on the inside.
On the left side of the Cathedral was a coffee house with a covered patio. It began to drizzle so we snagged a table by a fireplace, ordered coffees and reminisced until the sun returned.
Next stop The Temple.
The rounded section on the left side was the original Templar World Headquarters established in the 12th century and lasted until they were “eliminated” in 1312 by the French king and the pope. (And after all the murder and mayhem of the Templars, the king and the pope never did find TREASURES)
Marble effigies of some 12th century Templars are located here. Originally the Inner Temple housed the Queen’s “Council”. Now they contain law offices and law students-in-training. This is consistent with the Medieval Knights Templar “protecting” pilgrims to the Holy Land.
We found a typical English Pub in an alley behind the Temple where we ate lunch and said farewell to Tom, leaving to fly home. His sharp wit will be sorely missed! (But we have Band-Aids.)
Crowded but we got a 2nd floor window table with this great view. (Of course the view became much more beautiful after two glasses of wine.)
The next morning, Kate, Mike and I walked across the Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament.
Known world wide for its beauty, the Westminster Abby has been here since the 11th century. Much of it was destroyed by the 1834 fire and rebuilt. We went to the public entrance but “not open till 2:30”. So, we walked on to St. James Park for coffee….and, as usual, we talked about the trials and tribulations of life. Since we first met Kate at 17, and Tom a few years later, and their families …..our continued involvement with them opened our eyes and our world.
A large gathering of “peaceful protesters” gathered in the park waving signs about Reduced wages, and began to sing. (just like home!)
Leaving I the looked toward Buckingham Palace and saw the Changing of the Guards. Since Kate had to fly to Antwerp around 5, we headed to our hotel bar for a “farewell till we meet again” toast.
Later Mike and I crossed the street to a 1930’s Prince William Henry Pub for a beer and true “pub grub”.
The next morning we were traveling on to Bournemouth-on-the-Channel.
London, we will see you again!