Bonjour, mes amis! La journey magnifique!
Ok, so I have a really awful American/French accent, and I haven't a clue whether I am using proper grammar, but hey, it was only a couple of days! I only came home to write my travelogue, pick up some paints, brushes and clean clothes, and I am going back to Paris! I have to practice being rude, but I guess that moon the other day put me well on my way!
Our journey didn't start in France. We began the weekend trying to pack as light as possible, as we were going to have to do a few trains to get to our hotel in London. The kids were told that they could take their backpacks, filled only with what they could carry!
We left around noon on Sunday and drove to Stanstead Airport, left our car in the Pink Elephant parking lot (not sure that name gave me a sense of security, but...) They had shuttles that took us to the terminal where we bought train tickets to London. It was a nice train, even had a trolley to sell drinks and snacks if you wanted. We changed trains at Liverpool Street, getting on to the Underground, just hours before the workers threatened to strike. Another train change and we came to Waterloo Station. Our train to Disney left from Waterloo, so we picked a cheap hotel near the station to stay. (Believe it or not, there are affordable hotels in London!)
The hotel was located in what was the county hall for London for most of the 20th century. It was built in the 1920's and is the size of a city block. The government offices moved out in 1989, and the building is being converted to leisure use. At this point the building houses a hotel, a McDonalds, an Aquarium and several other businesses. Another hotel is under construction as well as other businesses. It sits right on the Thames, right across the river from Westminster Palace. The building was built in the Renaissance style and is one of the grand buildings on the London skyline.
We went to London early enough on Sunday with the hope of doing something fun with the kids. When we got there, we discovered that the London Aquarium was right there in County Hall! So, once we got settled into our hotel, we went to the Aquarium. It was a wonderful place to visit. It had three levels, including some displays that were two levels high. The displays were so well designed that it gave you the best view of the creatures. Some were regular aquariums, but there were others that had flat glass tops so you could look down on the creatures. There were touch pools, where you could feel starfish, sea anemones, crabs and even rays. We spent nearly two hours in the aquarium. It is interesting to note that the County Hall building has at least two sub basements (the aquarium is built in the 'depths of the County Hall'). This is most amazing because the sub basements go well below the level of the Thames, which is just a few feet away from the building.
When we left the aquarium, we had dinner at McDonalds, and then walked along the Thames. The Thames is a tidal river, and therefore rises and falls with the tides of the ocean. It was high tide. We chuckled as a riverboat, filled with tourists, tried to go under the Westminster Bridge, but couldn't quite fit. Just an inch or two! Luckily, the tide was beginning to go out (you could see the change in the direction the river was moving), so with patience and perseverance, the boat captain finally made it through (after 20 minutes of trying!)
After a pleasant rest, we got ready to go to France. >TRAVEL NOTE: If you like to use a face cloth when bathing, take one along. There were none (just bath towels and hand towels) at either hotel. Maybe my jet setting friends can share with me whether they've experienced this in other places around Europe.
Monday morning, we went to Waterloo International to get on the Eurostar. Check In was easy, so we sat in the waiting area watching the crazy Scots who were going to Paris for their second game in the World Cup. They were certainly rowdy!
The train trip was pleasant. We just sat back and watched the world go by. The train goes through the beautiful Kentish countryside, and you can see oasts (used for drying hops for beer making). The train stops as Ashford International, and we might use that station the next time we go to France. There is good, affordable parking as well as hotels close by.
Shortly after the station, we arrived at the Chunnel. 20 minutes and we were in France! The French countryside is very agricultural, flat, not many trees. You could see pretty churches in all the little towns, and the water towers added interest to the skyline.
We arrived at the Marme le Vallee/Chessy station just three hours after leaving London. This station is right at Disney. We checked our baggage and got our tickets, and then went right to the park. We spent six hours enjoying the rides, parade, food, atmosphere, characters, rude French kids... LOL. Disney is Disney. There were a few things that were different about this park, but in general it was just like the ones in Florida and California. I won't bore you with details, because I am sure many of you have been to Disneyland or Disney World. I will share a few disappointments and surprizes when I talk about the park.
The weather was pretty good. We had to dodge a few small showers on Monday, although we were inside each time it rained. We were starving when we got to the park and so we went in the first restaurant we saw. Big mistake, because it was the most expensive one, although we were on main street and got to watch the parade from the second floor of the restaurant. Several of the characters saw us in the windows and waved directly at us.
Language was never really a barrier. Since many of the people who visit the park are English speaking, most of the cast members speak several languages and all the instructions were spoken in French and English. As a matter of fact, many of the cast members come from English speaking countries. Many of the cast members we spoke to were just at Disney for a few months, doing work/study. If you have a college student looking to live in Europe for a few months, check with Disney to find out how to qualify. I think it would be an awesome experience.
We spent most of that first day in Fantasyland, because the kids wanted to ride just about all of those rides! They had a really neat Ferris wheel that I didn't remember at either US Disney. It was shaped like a windmill, and the people carriers were big buckets. When you got trapped up on the top, you could see the whole park. Of course, we had to ride in "It's a small world". Somehow, the song didn't seem as annoying as it usually does. Maybe because it was sung in French rather than English most of the time. At the end of the ride, there was a cute little set-up sponsored by French Telephone, with little videos to watch about communication (of course, showing all the ways that French Telephone can serve you, e-mail, conference calls, fax...). I am sure that the Disney parks in the states have corporate sponsors, but I don't recall them being so flippant.
We road on a race course ride where you get to steer and control the speed yourself. Of course, keeping safety in mind, Disney has put a huge rim in the middle of the lane so you can't go too far off course. We let the kids drive. I don't know how well Vicki did, but Zack did pretty well! At this ride is when we 'met' our first truly rude French people. A huge group of kids, teens or early 20’s decided to jump the queue. They were caught, right in front of us, and refused to get out of line. I don't know exactly what happened to them, we did get our turn, while they stood and argued with the girls running the ride. Unfortunately, it was a scene that would repeat itself several times. Even worse, the queue jumpers didn't always get caught. A few times, the people running the ride didn't do anything about it.
We finished the day, tired but ready to get settled into the hotel. The Eurodisney resort has several luxury hotels as well as a place called Disney Village. There is also a campground. It all had American themes, such as Hotel New York, Newport Bay Club, Hotel Cheyenne, Hotel Santa Fe, Sequoia Lodge. We stayed in the Newport Bay Club. The theme was a New England yachting club, with the cast members in shipmate uniforms and portals as windows. The room was comfy, although no face clothe again. By the time we got settled, it was late and the kids were complaining about being hungry. We didn't want to get a full meal at the restaurant (which was pretty expensive). We finally found some pre-made sandwiches at the Boutique. We explored the hotel a bit, and found the pool. It was too late to go swimming, but we stood on top of the ship that was built right into the pool and watched those who were swimming. The pool was an indoor/outdoor pool and you could swim between the two.
After a restful night, we had a wonderful continental breakfast (named that because we were actually on the continent), which included croissants, baguettes, ham, cheese, yogurt, fruit, cereal, juice, coffee. Yummy. We strolled around the resort a bit, checking out the lake and the other hotels. The Hotel New York actually has a place called Rockefeller Center, where you can go ice skating (although it was covered up with Nike stuff because there was a big International Nike convention going on at the resort).
We met our bus for our trip to PARIS!!!! It was a double decker bus, with headphones for listening to the recorded tour guide. Disneyland is just 40 kilometers east of Paris, so our trip into Paris didn't take very long. We got to sit on the top of the bus, so we got really good views of everything. I kept looking for the Eiffel tower, thinking you must be able to see it from everywhere, but the city is big enough that you can't see it until you are right in that area.
The bus took us around to see lots of the major sites, giving bits and pieces of history. I am afraid that I am going to have to go back to give you a good description of Paris. There was just too much to absorb in one trip! It does appear that much of the city was built in the 19th century. The Revolution and fires in the mid 19th century seems to have destroyed much of what existed in the city before that. Paris itself is 2000 years old, beginning in the days of Caesar. The buildings that predate the revolution are generally from the reigns of the Louis (13, 14, 15). And all the sites have much older historical significance. Of course, Notre Dame is older, although it was nearly destroyed during the revolution, so much of it was rebuilt in the 19th century. The Bastille is completely gone, the stones were used in building the Assemblee Nationale. We saw the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Grand Palais (a museum and theatre), Le Petit Palais (another museum), Musee d'Orsay (built in an abandoned rail station), Palais Royal, Ecole Militare, Invalides (a hospital for military with a beautiful church -- the dome is guilded with gold) Place de la Concord with its Egyption Obelisk and fantastic fountains, and so many more famous places.
Riding through Paris was interesting. We were on the top level of the bus, so much of what I could see on the roads was an optical illusion. But I have to say that the bus driver got around corners that he never should have even tried, LOL. And the circles! I thought England was bad. At least in England they have little lines to keep you going in an orderly fashion. Some of the circles we went through, especially at the Arc de Triumph were at least 6 lanes wide, but there were cars EVERYWHERE. I don't know how we missed hitting a couple of the cars that went from the inside lane to the outside lane in one movement! 12 roads lead off this roundabout, a 'architectural wonder', and everyone wants to be at the road they just passed, LOL. We went through another intersection that I can't even describe what happened, but I am sure that we just drove a straight line through several roundabouts!
Around lunchtime, we stopped at the Isle de la Citie, the centre island of the city. This is the central point of most activity of Paris throughout history. Notre Dame is located on this island, as well as several other important historic sights. We had a very short amount of time, so we popped into Notre Dame for a quick look. I have to admit that I have seen prettier cathedrals, although the rose shaped windows were beautiful. Notre Dame was built with flying buttresses, the arches on the outside of the building, which allowed them to make the walls thinner and with more glass. The flying buttresses provide the support that is necessary for the high vaulted ceilings, and before they were invented, the walls needed to be very thick to support the roof. Since the walls could be thinner, they could put more windows in the walls, and Notre Dame has lots of stained glass windows. The church is definitely a living church, because we saw priests counseling people in small chapels inside the Nave. There were plenty of places to pray and light candles. France is still a Roman Catholic country, so honours to Mary are prominent in the cathedral. Several people were deep in prayer at the base of a statue of the Virgin and Child.
Outside the cathedral are plenty of cafes and souvenir shops. We managed to get some postcards, a book and a video. The kids wasted some of their francs on useless junk. Of course, I bought one of those medal Eiffel Tower souvenirs that you must get if you go to Paris, LOL. And I bought a pin with the World Cup mascot holding the American flag. (Side note, the US had played Germany on Monday in Paris. Unfortunately, they lost, but one French cast member at Disney said, "They put up a good fight, and you Americans just need more time to get into 'soccer' and you'll be winning the World Cup!" We tried to watch the game for awhile, but it was in French and we had no idea what was going on.)
We grabbed some lunch which we took on to the bus to eat (didn't want to waste our time eating, LOL). We toured more of the city, finally reaching the precinct with the Eiffel Tower. We had an hour-long boat ride on the Seine, which took us all the way from the Tower to Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the boat was filled with school kids on a class field trip (imagine...) and at EVERY bridge that we went under, they screamed! Now, growing up we did some car trips. When we went through a tunnel, we always held our breath. I wonder if it has something to do with this screaming thing. It was wonderful to see the city from the river, although the Seine is not among the cleanest of rivers. At one point, Vicki asked, "What's that smell?" Unfortunately, it was the Seine. Many of the buildings along the river had gardens on the roof, and flower boxes, and whole forests on the balconies, with pretty little rod iron bars. Our best view of the Louvre came from the river, and it is a massive building, which contains 600,000 pieces of art, as well as a library. The most impressive bridge was the one in honor of Alexander. It had guilded statues that glowed with gold. We saw lovers and artists, tourists and business people, walking along the river, enjoying the beautiful day. I think at least a couple French boys on a bridge tried to spit on us, and many of them waved in a rather rude manner, if you know what I mean.
Except for the screaming, it was a pleasant trip. We ended at the base of the Eiffel Tower and went there next. We had tickets to the first level of the tower. The elevator goes up on a diagonal, right along the leg. Here are some facts about the tower. There are 18,038 metallic parts, 2,500,000 rivets. Total weight is 10,100 tons. It was completed on March 31st, 1889. It was opened to the public on May 15th that year. Total cost (in 1889) was 7,800,000 Gold French Francs (I don't know how to convert into dollars from 1889, but we got 6 francs for every dollar this week). It is repainted every seven years, and the paint weighs 50 tons. The tower is higher today than in 1889. It was 300 meters (984 feet) and is now 320.75 meters (1081 feet, 7 inches). It is interesting to note that this massive structure does not put any more stress on the ground per square centimeter than a man sitting on a chair.
There are three levels. We only made it to the first level, which is 57.63 meters (189 feet). If we were to take the stairs from ground level to the second floor at 115.88 meters (380 feet, 2 inches), we would have climbed 1665 stairs. You cannot climb to the third level at 276.13 (906 feet), you can only take the elevator that high.
The view from the Tower is awesome. You can see everything, and this was our only opportunity to see the Sacre-Coeur, a beautiful church that stands elegantly on the summit of a hill. It is white with bell shaped turrets. With the sun shining on it in late afternoon, it looks almost dreamlike. The view from the first level was absolutely awesome, I can't imagine it would be any better from the top! We might have been able to see the US from up there. Walking around the outside of the tower wasn't very scary (the height thing) but I found it very difficult to look down on the inside. There were having a Jules Verne exhibition, murals and sculptures about his stories.
One of the 'disappointments' was when we photographed the Tower. There was this big light up thing, in French, that I figured was an ad of some sort. I was mad that I couldn't get a photo without that silly ad! I later found out that it was a countdown to the millennium, LOL. On that day, we were just 564 days from the turn of the millennium.
We finished in Paris, getting stuck in traffic (it's a small world after all). We spent a few hours at the park and then went back to the hotel to do a little swimming. Unfortunately, the pool was having technical difficulties, so we ended up getting chocolate bars and soda and having a party in our room.
After another restful night sleep. We went to Disney Village to the Key West Restaurant, for breakfast with the Disney characters. It was a delicious breakfast. But we were really disappointed with the characters. First of all, the only major character that showed up was Pluto, and he was a lot of fun. The others were Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumm, The Sheriff of Nottingham, the King from Robin Hood. Eventually Chip and Dale came. The Sheriff and the king were downright mean, trying to steal from the kids and pretending to punch anyone who came close. They weren't very good at dealing with the kids, they didn't back off when a kid started crying. I noticed the same thing in the park later. The guys from Pinocchio were actually taking kids away from parents and telling them to stay in a corner, 'threatening' them. We managed to see some characters in the park, we hugged Daisy, Donald, Minnie (right in the beginning at the train), Pluto, Goofy, Tigger, Chip and Dale, and a bunch of minor characters. Vicki and I saw Winnie the Pooh, but we couldn't get close enough to hug him. The only time we saw Mickey was in the parade. We never found him available for hugs. I was very disappointed, and even until the end, I thought maybe it would be like that Disneyland commercial when the little girl got to hug him on her way out of the park. I wonder if he was unavailable because of copyright stuff or if it is just too dangerous to let him out too much. They do get very rowdy in the park. We saw at least one group being led away by security. For those of you who've been to Disney in the states recently, did you find the characters available?
Well, we spent Wednesday finishing up the park. We needed another day, though. Bruce managed to ride on the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but I didn't get on any of the roller coasters. Space Mountain actually goes out the top of the building here, and I really wanted to experience that.
We had a wonderful time, but we had to come home. We took the train back from Disney to London, and here's another weather note. It was sunny and warm in France, but as we came out of the Chunnel, back on English soil, it was raining. C’est la vie! We spent the night in London again, as it was really late. We were going to try to do something in London on Thursday, but we were pretty tired, and we were starting to bicker a bit. So we did the trains back to the airport, to our car in the Pink Elephant parking lot. An hour later we were home, unpacking and resting.
We really had so much fun, it is impossible to describe everything. We spent four days without a care in the world. We didn't have to worry about driving anywhere, or phones, or anything. We ran out of time (and we were running out of money, LOL). I guess that means we'll have to go back.
Speaking of going back, it is time for me to leave. I have gathered my stuff, and I am off to live on the banks of the Seine, to paint and write. I don't know if I will ever write to you again. I.... hey Bruce, what are you doing..... No..... don't put me in that closet..... No........ ahhhhhh, comeon..........
Attention friends, this is Bruce, Peggy will be detained for awhile. She's a bit, uhhh, tied up right now. She will be able to write again when she comes to her senses and gets rid of that train ticket to Paris.
More Pictures from Paris