Europe: London and Paris

12:08 PM

We embarked to London and Paris in Europe the early part of January 2017.  Recap, we have voyaged.  Our little family has become our priority.  All others have fallen away.  Our gift each year is and adventure.  The years are flying by and the memories are adding up.  This one was lovely so I will share it here. 

We LOVED, LOVED, LOVED spending our first international adventure in London and Paris.  This was very interesting because we really happened by these destinations more by chance.  We knew we wanted to gift our family a vacation rather than the end of the year traditional gifts.  We just thought it would be that much more meaningful if we had memories instead of "things".  So I set out researching destinations.  I costed out a few options and then just for kicks I typed in out of country places I wanted to see.  That is when I discovered that the cost of a State-side vacation would be similar to an Abroad vacation (what!  I was shocked!).  I checked with the hubby and got the all clear to book the tickets and we were going to LONDON!!    

DISCLAIMER: I personally have been trying what seems to be my whole life really to heal old wounds.  Obviously going on a vacation to a place that you personally haven't traveled is not a cure-all for any emotional damage but it is a great start!  It is a great start because we get to practice our skills of love and understanding by gaining perhaps a new perspective.  We get to do this for a little over a week without our normal responsibilities and distractions.  With the good of me sharing our experience perhaps with tips that might be helpful, you will also get a little extra personal details (might be good or bad, but I can not share the story without my feelings).  I feel completely blessed to be able to gift our family this and I don’t want to portray that it isn’t tricky and something we have to mindful of all year (we have to sacrifice some little things because they add up).  I try with all my might to accomplish these adventures within the realities of our budget and time.  I have complied the three places we have visited with the intent to share tips we have picked up through our travels.  I have copied and pasted thoughts in each post for those that happen along one will still get the whole story.  

My dad died in 2012.  Since he passed I have struggled in the sense of feeling close with extended family members.  There is so much that goes into that and it isn't worth sharing all the details.  And it turns out that we soon experienced similar feelings on my hubby's side as well.  I realize that I had changed and again I won't go into details.  Growing up in the US and even more specifically in Utah, I will refer to it as the Holiday Season...  it is difficult to live the holiday season when you aren't close with extended family.  It 2017 I decided to throw in the towel and treat our little family to something amazing because we didn't really have to "stay around" for other people and it was a bit of an escape.  Crazy thing... it ended up being one of the best decisions we have ever made!  I can't begin to tell you how much fun we have had and how much we have grown as a little family venturing out.

So we were nervous because we had never been out of the country.  We had never been on a flight that long.  It was a little scary.  But we were excited because we have had everything in Europe romanticized to us since forever and we were going to be able to experience it first hand.  We opted to take two large suitcases and a few carry-ons.  I thought it would be easiest to pack the kids together with an adult.  That way we wouldn't have extra luggage (that was a little problematic... first thing is that the luggage is weighed.  If it weighs over 50 lbs you are charged additionally, which is easy to get over that weight when you are packing for two people.  Second thing is that it is very bulky, it doesn't fit well in the trains/planes/automobiles.  Third thing the sidewalks are not exactly flat in London and the distances a person walks is a lot further than Stateside.  We opted for four smaller suitcases for our next trip to Japan and it was a much better solution.)
We reside in Utah.  We used a combination of miles we had earned through our credit card and buying tickets outright.  For that reason I had to get creative with the tickets.  We flew from SLC to SEA to LHR and then returned home LHR to JFK to SLC.  Weston and Cately left a few hours before Alex and I and then we met up in Seattle (that is where the creativity came into play, because the flights that we could get low spenditure of miles on were not the ones that had low cost buying the ticket outright, if I could split our group I was able to get the best deal).  Honestly it was completely fine to have separate beginning flights because we then flew all together over to London Heathrow (a nine hour flight).  On our way home Alex and I left a little earlier flying from London to New York with Weston and Cately on a later flight meeting us in New York.  Then we flew all together back to Utah.  It actually wasn't bad with the few hour differences.  Alex and I just took an earlier bus to the airport on the last day in London and time separated was fun one-on-one time (it almost made some things more simple).

DISCLAIMERS: I am posting this to be an informational guide for families/travelers similar to us with budget/time.  I don't go into detail about the sights by posting about each location.  If you are curious about where we went simply search that (London, Paris, Westminster Abbey, London Tower, London Bridge, Stonehenge, Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Chunnel) and you will find plenty of information.  I am just sharing an informational guide about cost/how we navigated/details that I had a hard time finding when searching other travel guides that would have helped me.  I have provided links to our accommodations/tours the best that I could.  I can confidently say that we sampled wonderful parts of London and Paris.  I would love to visit both of these places again and plan on doing so.

The first day we were SO TIRED!!!  We flew all night and it was hard.  We were exhausted.  We stayed at a Marriott a distance away from the Heathrow Airport and actually from the Downtown London area as well (We took this into consideration with our trip to Japan.  The location of the hotel was difficult in London because we spent a large amount of our time on buses getting to the Tube Stations.  If we had to do this over I would have made sure the accommodations were within close walking distance of any Tube Station.  That would have saved us SO MUCH TIME!  But on the upside we did see a lot of London via buses that we wouldn't have otherwise.  When you are underground the whole time you just pop out and see a little bit but riding the buses you are seeing a lot more. BUT NEXT TIME we will stay right near a tube station).  We ate breakfast in the last 5 mins of it being served because we were so tired and woke up late.  But then our day started.

We took a bus to the Tube Station and set out to see London's Historical Sites.  Westminster Abbey was hands down my favorite place we visited (even over the Eiffel tower).  I just loved it!!  It was gorgeous!  I will never forget emerging from the subway and then right in front of our face was this unbelievably beautiful Abbey.  I was floored.  I was completely in Awe.  It was this amazing experience.  We enjoyed the tour inside.  We listened to the audio tour and it was fascinating.  It was also so relaxing I might add listening to a tour at your own pace and repeating when necessary.  Another thing that I will add is that ALL OF THE TOURS throughout Europe gave a HUGE discount for children.  It was less than half the cost of an adult.  Other than paying for the flights over to London the kids were so inexpensive to have with us on the trip (MONEY: We were able to solely use a credit card throughout all of London and Paris. We didn't get any currency exchanged.  The kids did find some currency on the ground and it turned out to be a fun game to try to spot more change.)  The other great part of the audio tours was including a children's version.  Alex had a great time with the age-appropriate info he was able to listen to.  Cately was a little old for the children's tour but she did participate and in the end they got a huge chocolate coin for finishing.  So they were even more kind to us parents having the kids getting a discounted price and candy.  We we so impressed.  It was wonderful.  Very Family Friendly and this was the case throughout London and Paris.
We ate lunch in Westminster Abbey's cafe.  It was yummy.  We all had soups because it was chilly weather.  We also had some yummy hot chocolate while we waited in the short line to see inside of the Abbey.  Our waiter was so fun and charismatic.  The interesting thing about this particular time that we visited was our president Trump had just been elected.  It was interesting how our waiter was talking with us about our president.  I did not vote for Trump.  I am a centrist so I do vote more on the individual and I just do not like him personally.  However, he is our president now and I hope that he does some good if he has it in him.  It was very interesting how our Stateside business is very talked about in London/Paris.  It was on the television channels and in the newspapers.  It was everywhere.  Our waiter mentioned this and it was a funny conversation (he was from Italy).
Big Ben and the UK Parliament was on our list as well.  It was so pretty to see all of these with our own eyes.  It felt like we had to keep blinking because it felt like a dream really with each place.  We crossed a bridge to see Big Ben.  He is so great!
Each day we would see all that we could and then head back to our hotel.  We would eat all over the place.  The difficult thing for us in London was that everything closed so early.  It was hard to get all the sites in and get to a place to eat before it closed.  Also, the light during this time of year was limited.  By 5:00 it was DARK, things were closed.  For that reason we had a few dinners at our hotel.  They were very yummy.  We also walked to the restaurants within walking distance around our hotel.  There was a yummy one with more home style cooking.  The funny thing about eating there is that it was a local place where not many tourists frequented.  We stood out, in fact we would walk in and every head would turn to look at us and when being led through the restuarant again each head would turn.  It was funny because we didn't think that we stood out that much but apparently we did (it wasn't like we were talking, we were just quietly following still getting that reaction).  We had a good time ordering because of our accents and theirs are so different.

We visited the London Tower.  I really enjoyed the London Tower as well.  The nice part of visiting this location is that it is so large.  People are able to spread out.  When visiting this place in particular we noticed there were a wide array of people from all over Europe.  We could tell a little by the language they were speaking.  We were taking the tube with a German family (I was trying to set Cately up with the German boy of the same age, there were sparks I could tell).  It was fun to see how curious we were of them and vice versa.
As you can see there are some stark differences in the buildings in this area.  For me it is so beautiful.  I love seeing the tower with the modern buildings right behind.  SO CRAZY!  I loved it!

The tours through out the tower were great!  Staff were all over the grounds giving the same information over and over again.  You would simply make your way through at your own pace and then when you wanted additional information you would stop to listen in.  One thing that comes to mind was the torture chamber in the bottom of the tower.  They had items that would torture people just like historical depictions.  So crazy to think that people did endure things like that.  Times have certainly changed.  Another spot they had people dressed in period clothes and that was neat to hear their little speech.  But more than that I realized how the Tower served as the community.  Everything was within the walls.  They had places where people would live and work and eat and they were all connected by the walkways around the perimeter on top of the high walls protecting the community.  It would have been so fascinating to live in the times where these were the conditions.  Fascinating and Beautiful.
In close proximity to the tower is the London Bridge.  We enjoyed walking over the bridge and back. Pretty Awesome experience.  This part of London included theaters, the London eye, just a hub of entertainment.  The day we visited it was New Year's Eve.  They were setting up for their celebration.  You needed to purchase tickets in order to stay in that area.  The subway station was shutting down in the center.  If my memory serves me there was 100,000 people that had tickets to enjoy the festivities.  We could see the fireworks from the window of our hotel room and we watched the celebration on television.  We headed out of the area to Portobello Road to eat our New Year's Eve dinner.
The kids enjoyed the tower tour.  Weston and I would have enjoyed to read more of the displays and to spend more time learning really.  The kids were distracted easily (ages 9 and 12).  We didn't have high expectations for everything we saw for them to be fully invested.  For me I feel like I will return one day and when that time comes we will already have that bonus crash course we have in our arsenal.  I was happy to enjoy what we could and I know they will fully understand what we saw one day (really you can research all that you want in the comforts of home so we just needed to experience it visually which was wonderful with a little reading while there).

Again, so pretty.  One thing that we discovered in London is that you were required to pay to use some of the facilities.  Once inside the attractions this wasn't the case (with the exception of the Paris Station... I was irritated because it had been a long day of walking and I was tired and we didn't have any need to have Parisian currency for the one day we were there except to use the restroom, dumb).  They were available to anyone to use at no additional cost besides you ticket cost.  Outside the London Tower there are food vendors in place for a light snack.  Everywhere we went we would have a cup of tea or a hot chocolate and coffee in Weston's case.  The weather warrantied that.
To get to all of these places we took the Tube.  It was difficult at first to navigate the place but just like every other place we have visited a few days in we are approached by people asking us for help.  It is just funny to think about it that way.  We catch on quickly what can I say.
In Utah we don't have buildings that even come close to the age of the building we saw.  Some of the restaurants were older than any structure in the whole state of Utah.  It made each place we ate/visited magical to us.  There were windy hallways to find the restrooms and old tile that gives them so much ambiance.  It was gorgeous.  It makes me think differently about preserving history.  It isn't perfect and for that reason it has it's unique story.  But I will interject that being an able person I don't have limitations and the accessibility just isn't the same in any way.  It just wasn't.  Many of the ways the buildings that are preserved over there just wouldn't be allowed over here because building laws etc.  We are renovating a historic home right now and I think back to London and ours will be accessible but at the same time you loose that quaint feel that London preserves.  Accessibility doesn't equal quaint.  I think thought given that ours is a little home in Utah isn't as special as what they have and so therefore it can be brought to a better compromise without too much trouble.
We took a driving trip.  It took some convincing to have Weston drive a rented car.  I thought that it would be much nicer than trying to find a long tour to take us to see Stonehenge.
We did it!  He drove on the wrong side of the road and I drove in the parking lot on the wrong side of the car.  It was fun!
Stonehenge.  Yep, that was awesome!  We loved the drive.  With our google maps we made it no problem.  We thought we could see a few things on our way back in the small towns we passed but most things were closed.  This time of the year is the off season for much of London.  The outlying historical Castles were closed until late spring.  It is very wet and much of the grounds are soaked.  I can see that it is better preserving those places by limiting the time they are open to the public.  Also, it allows for any renovations to be made during those times off as well.

Kings Cross Station is the station we had to take the Chunnel from London to Paris.  We visited it a day before so we knew where we needed to go on our way to Paris.  The station has the cute Platform 9 3/4's for Happy Potter Fans (which for the record three of our family members are).  It is very large including shops to shop and yummy places to eat.

The other activity that we enjoyed while in London was Afternoon Tea.  It is delightful!  The afternoon tea was my favorite meal of the whole vacation.  I know I could eat this way everyday all day all the time.  The biscuits on the tops were the BEST!

We visited Regent Street for some shopping.  Regent Street is a HUGE area of shopping.  We experienced this during a holiday season so it was packed!  It was packed in a fun way.  We weren't there for anything other than fabric from Liberty of London.  We found that shop and I purchased a few things to bring home.  Other than that we were just seeing the sites and taking some telephone booth photos.  That takes all rush out of the equation so even with all the people we managed just fine.  The light display as you can see in the video was stupendous.
By the way, it isn't just one street.  There are many streets some of which are just for pedestrians.  They were all themed differently.  To see just that was awesome in of itself.  

We took pictures in the booths.  Cute!  Cute!  Cute!
We always seem to have a splurge item on each of our vacations.  These would include something that is kinda expensive in terms of activities but are really once in a lifetime experiences that makes them worthwhile indulgences.  In this case for me it was taking the Chunnel from London to Paris.  The Chunnel is under the water in a tunnel bored into the ground coming up the other side in France from England.  It took 2 hours to travel form London to Paris.  We stayed 12 hours in Paris walking the complete city.  We had to wake up pretty early to get to the station by taxi.  When we returned we were able to take the tube and bus back to our hotel.  

I just need to pay kudos to the kids.  We walked for 12 hours through Paris.  Paris is very easily laid out so that you can walk from each landmark to the next.  The crazy thing is that we didn't even notice that we had just traveled so long and far.  It was just amazing  to be in the city.  We had so much fun taking it all in.  We found the Seine River and followed that.  It was so pretty.
We had to stop by a Mall to charge Weston's phone (Alex felt that it was more important to charge his i-pod the night before).  But it was a good break.  The Apple kiosk was happy to let us use the cords for about an hour.
We got to visit the Eifel Tower.  We ate macaroons and enjoyed Paris.  We stopped off at a cafe to eat some lunch.  It was a nice little cafe.  It was the most leisure lunch we have ever had.  We knew we had time to take so we let our feet rest and were very European.

And then we continued our walk through Paris.
We stopped off at the Louvre.  I begged Cately to change shoes with me at the Louvre (we only had a few hours left of walking about 3ish hours).  So the thing is that I wore some black boots.  I know it was dumb.  I was dying with each step.  Next time I am wearing tennis shoes.  I don't even care.  She traded me and it felt a tiny bit better in her Converse and she was fine in my boots because she hadn't been walking in them for 9 hours.  Oh man.  Big mistake of my life (interestingly enough I have another shoe memory in Colombia as well, I wore hiking shoes to walk down to the coffee plantation and back up, they were a little bulky but they didn't hurt at all... the next day my calves were killing me!  killing me!  they were just heavy enough to wear out my calves and I was sore the next day and a half, you know we just don't put shoes to the test in my real life like how we do on vacation, when in doubt wear tennis shoes always).

FACT: For the last three years three members of our family wear the same shoe size.  Boy did it come in handy in Paris.
We flew home taking up pretty much the whole day.  As mentioned before we took separate flights to JFK and then flew together back to SLC.  The flight is always hard when you have those long legs.  But it sure is worth those long flights to experience another part of the world.  JET LAG is REAL.  We woke up for a week at 3:00 in the morning and then 4:00 in the morning and then 5:00 and so on until we got back on Utah time.  Japan was not the same.  We adjusted much better and with Colombia as well.  JET LAG LONDON.  

To wrap up our little vacation I will say that we thoroughly enjoyed this trip to London and Paris.  We learned a little more about ourselves and a little more about Europe.  I am always so surprised at how much a person can grow in such a short time.  I look back now that we are back and I know we have changed.  

We hope to share more adventures, check back soon and/or click Travel tab for one's you might have missed.  Loved this adventure and it was a treat to share.  
Au Revoir London and Paris, Jusqu a la Prochaine Fois.  Je t'aime.

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