Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Luck of the Irish

I fell in love with Ireland as I flew into Dublin. I had gotten up early for my flight from London to Dublin and so fell asleep right away once the plane took off. The flight was quick (about an hour and a half maybe?) and just as I was waking up we were flying over Dublin and about to land. The view outside my window was incredible! It was such a beautiful sight and I desperately want to return and spend more time exploring the area (maybe just not in the wintertime though).

The tourist office in Dublin was very helpful (not something I can say about all the cities I have visited). Unfortunately the directions I had received from my hostel told me that the bus would drop me off on the same street. So, I rode the bus about 20 minutes longer than I should have because I was waiting for the bus to turn and go down the street. I ended up getting off the bus and catching another in the opposite direction getting off on a street adjacent to the one my hostel was on.

Unfortunately the house numbers in Dublin are not as orderly as they are in the states (or other countries) so as I walked past 20, 83, 72, and 38 (not necessarily those numbers, but in a similar sporadic order) I was beyond frustrated that I couldn’t find 90-92. I ended up asking another hostel for directions (classy I know) and found it around 12:30 (about two hours after my flight had landed). I dropped off my bag and headed out for the New Europe Free Walking Tour.

I have really enjoyed going on these walking tours around Europe. I have done them in Berlin, Munich, Prague, Paris, London, and Dublin. They have all be extremely informative and because the work on a tips only basis it is very affordable and you can give based on how well you think the tour went. I definitely recommend that you check it out if you are in a major European city, especially if you don’t know a lot about the history already and want a good overview as well as some random and quirky tidbits and facts.

My tour ended at Trinity College where I went to see the Book of Kells. I could have spent hours looking at the two pages that were on display (but I didn’t want to annoy the other viewers). It was incredible to see something so old and authentic and beautiful. I also was able to view the Long Room Library (where the book is kept). They have the Dublin harp on display (I’m not sure if that’s the official name, but basically it is THE Dublin harp – it is also the logo for Guinness beer). I went to a pub that night and had a Guinness and listened to some live Irish Folk music (they even played Jingle Bells). I met two girls from Ohio at the pub and we chatted it up for a bit. They were very nice girls and I enjoyed my time with them. I went to a different restaurant for dinner, which was fun, but always strange to sit and eat a meal by oneself, and then headed back to the hostel and went to bed early.

My last full day in Dublin I visited a local coffee shop, that had been recommended to me, where I bought a Chai Latte (better than Starbucks). I then headed toward Stephen’s Green and then on to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I took my time and didn’t rush, which was nice for a change. My next stop for the day was at the Guinness Brewery where I went on a tour of how the beer is made and got to see various historical advertising displays. I enjoyed the tour (though it was self guided) but I think I’d recommend the Red Hook one over it (it’s a much better value for your money). You do get a free pint at the end of the tour and I opted to have my pint along the tour where I was able to pour my own pint, which was fun. The top of the brewery gives panoramic views of the city which was also fun.

The last stop was the Old Jameson Distillery. I arrived about 30 minutes before the next tour started, so I had some tomato soup (that I ate rather fast and burned the roof of my mouth). It was tasty (but I still prefer the Safeway brand deliciousness) and good to have something in my stomach after drinking a pint and before having my whiskey sample! The distillery tour was brief, and somewhat informative, but not the best “alcohol making tour” I have been on. There were some obnoxious Scotsmen on the tour who were giving the guide a hard time about the difference between Irish and Scottish Whiskey. The tour ended and I had my whiskey and coke before I bought a few souvenirs and headed back to my hostel for my last night in Europe! After three months of traveling, it’s quite weird to think that it’s almost all over!

Border Control

I took the Chunnel from Paris to London but I almost wasn’t allowed on the train. When I went through the UK border control the guard didn’t believe me that I planned to leave after three nights and go to Dublin. Because I have been backpacking I did not have access to a printer and so had none of my records with me (printed) to prove that I did indeed have a departure flight. He told me that because I had been in the EU for 4 months already (actually it was 3 months and 1 week but I didn’t want to argue) and only had 150 Euro on my person that I posed a problem.

Apparently he thought I was planning to remain in the UK and try to work or live illegally, though he didn’t say anything so direction. Obviously that was not the case and I explained to him that I was leaving on the 7th for Dublin and then for Seattle on the 9th and that I had savings in my bank account and a credit card on me as well. I told him I was getting married in June and that my fiancé lived in Seattle. He still didn’t quite believe me. Earlier in our conversation I had told him the documents were on my computer to which he sarcastically replied, “that’s quite convenient isn’t it?” and said that they didn’t have time for me to pull through those documents.

In the end he took me aside and asked another agent to look at my computer to verify my flights. I also was able to show them a bank statement indicating that I had plenty of funds and would not be “stealing” a job from any UK citizens. Eventually I was handed my passport by the second guard (who was quite nice), told “thanks,” and that was it! I was “free” to go. For so much trouble that I seemed to have caused they let me through rather easily once I showed them my flight info. Phew!

I had a little bit of difficulty finding a place to stay in London. The hotels were all booked up for Saturday night. I had a place on Friday night fortunately but had to scramble to find something for Saturday. I ended up at a hotel a bit further outside of town. It was a hotel but they had a hostel/dorm room that was actually cheaper than anything I had found in the city and even with the cost of a day ticket for the tube I was only paying a few pounds more than what I would have paid for the hostel alone in the city! It was a great little place and the others in my room were quite friendly.

I enjoyed London and would definitely like to go back someday. I only really had two full days so I didn’t nearly get to see everything but I did do a lot. I went on a walking tour, visited a Christmas festival in Hyde Park, went to the British Museum, and walked by London Tower and Bridge, as well as several other landmarks like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. I also walked across the millennium bridge and visited the Tate Modern museum. I saw Buckingham palace, but it is closed for visitors during the winter. I did a lot and had very busy days, but there is more that I would like to see and do – so someday I will go back.

One thing that really struck me about London was at the British Museum. I found it interesting that just about everything there had been taken from another civilization or area that the British had “conquered” or occupied at some point in history. There is one Caryatid column from the Erechtheum that was taken from the Acropolis in Athens. When I was in Athens the notice near the remaining five statues/columns in the Acropolis Museum seemed to imply that they would very much like to have the sixth statue returned, however in the British Museum the note next to the statue indicated that it was a good thing for them to have taken the statue, so as to preserve it better and save it from pollution and deterioration.

There were a few other articles that had similar stories (not that I necessarily saw places where the artifacts originated from) where I felt that it would have been more appropriate for the original piece to be in its historical setting (i.e. the Rosetta Stone). I don’t know that I think it is fair for one country to own a significant cultural artifact for another culture. In some situations maybe, where the country of origination doesn’t have proper means to protect or display the artifact, but countries like Greece where there are museums that are capable of displaying and protecting their national treasures, I think the items should be returned.

The other thing that struck me at the museum was that there were no restrictions regarding photography. People were using flash and video liberally – something that I know is not permitted in many museums across Europe. I do think that photography should be allowed in most museums, but I understand the need to not use flash, in order to respect and not damage the pieces. I was surprised to see no restrictions at the museum. It made me question if the items on display were actually original pieces or perhaps replicas and the originals were locked away somewhere else. I don’t know. Maybe I’m distrustful, but it seems strange that they wouldn’t respect their collection more.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Finishing France

Tuesday morning we caught an early train to Caen. The train ride was uneventful, though we did begin some of our wedding planning details which was fun, but tiring. (Guest lists are a bit daunting!) When we arrived we began to follow the directions I had written down regarding how to get to the hotel we were to stay at. Google maps had located the hotel for me and it looked easy enough to get to. Well, as some of you may know, Google maps is not always the most helpful tool. The hotel was actually a good mile further down the road from where the search engine had said it was so we spent a fair amount of time walking in circles trying to find a non-existent building. Eventually we did find it though.

We had planned to catch a bus to one of the D-Day beaches and spend the afternoon exploring a bit. Unfortunately that didn’t quite work out. Apparently the information I had was bad information and the buses didn’t run out of Caen, they ran out of Bayeux, so we were out of luck. It was however 1 or 2 by this point and the thought of taking a bus to the beaches, explore, and get back in the few short hours of sunlight that were left felt a bit tiring. That combined with the fact that we had gotten up ridiculously early to catch our train, we decided Caen was going to be a nice relaxing place and we would just explore the town a bit later on.

Caen ended up being one of our favorite destinations. We walked into town and got to enjoy the cute little houses and each others’ company while we tried to stay warm (it was quite cold and windy). We found an old gothic church that we were able to tour and really didn’t do much other than walk around. I had looked up a good place to eat dinner online and read about a local sandwich shop that also sold Potato Jackets. It sounded good to us and was in our price range, so we decided to try and find it. We were successful, but as we approached it we noticed that the logo for the “restaurant” (it was more of a fast food window you ordered from) was a clown – not Eddie’s favorite thing in the world. Despite that fact the food was great and the price was even better. We shared a large sandwich and a container of potato jackets for about the same price we had paid for one of our entrees two nights before! If we had had another day in Caen we would have returned for lunch and dinner the next day.

On our way back to the hotel we stumbled across another old church and a Christmas light display. It was beautiful and extremely charming. The moon was out in all its glory and it just felt like the perfect moment. We had some fun taking pictures and being silly but really just enjoyed the time together in the quaint romantic little town. If we ever make it back to France I imagine we will visit again and say hello to our clown friend.

Wednesday we left in the early morning once again and headed to Mont Saint Michele. We arrived easily enough but had trouble with the hotel service there. We arrived around 11 or 12 but couldn’t check in until 3, which was fine. When we asked if we could leave our bags the receptionist (quite rudely) told us we could leave them at the restaurant next to the hotel. We did just that, but it was quite funny as they just had us put them by the front door – not out of the way of customers’ view or anything. Strange.

We then walked into the actual little town which was a windy and cold trek, but we entertained ourselves by taking pictures and laughing at ourselves. We arrived at the town and explored quite a bit, visiting shops, taking pictures, and again, just enjoying each others’ company. We didn’t go into the large Abbey at the top of the island (as neither of us were particularly interested nor felt like paying the 9 Euro each to get in) but I am convinced that it was used as a model for the castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It reminded me of it so much! This of course led to me singing random Beauty and the Beast songs for Eddie, which was entertaining to say the least.

On our way back to the part of town where the hotel was it began to rain, and not only did it rain, it was extremely windy so we were pelted with what felt like ice pellets the entire walk back. When we arrived it was only 2pm and the reception was locked and closed until 3. We were soaking wet and didn’t really want to sit in the rain, so we went to the restaurant (where our bags were) and each had a crepe (one that was more like a meal with ham and egg and salad and one that was a dessert style). Finally at 3 we were able to check in. It was a wonderful feeling to get out of our wet clothes and dry off!

Needless to say Mont Saint Michele was not our favorite destination. This was reconfirmed on our train ride back to Paris on Thursday. When the conductor came through to check our tickets he informed me that he had a problem with my rail pass. I had written my dates on the pass but because I wanted to make them perfectly clear I had written them in twice (on top of each other so that they were extra dark). The conductor confiscated my pass and said he would come back later. When he returned he was convinced that I had changed the previous date (the 2nd) from a 1 to a 2. There was nothing however that he could do about it since it was the 3rd and he believed that my three was a three. He then wrote on my pass that the 3rd was the last day I could use the pass and gave it back to me. I apologized to him for the trouble (since I had written the dates in darker which is what had sparked the whole controversy) and he took that as an admission of guilt. Basically he was just very rude to me and called me stupid and all this other stuff. I just brushed it off though. It wasn’t worth making a scene over especially because at his whim he could charge me several hundred Euro in fines just for double writing my dates.

We returned to Paris and decided to have dinner out that evening as well. We got some good food at a different restaurant near the hotel (the same one we had stayed at earlier) and then decided to call it an early night as we were tired from all our traveling. We did check Eddie’s flight information first, which was a good thing. We had both been thinking his flight was in the late afternoon, but when we checked we discovered that it was actually midday! That changed our plans for the next morning. So once again, we were up early and off to the train station!

We parted ways, Eddie for the train to take him to the airport, and me to catch my Chunnel to London.

Paris Part Deux

The second day that Eddie and I spent together in Paris was Sunday, November 29. Eddie had been inspired a few weeks before and had started to e-mail some leaders at the English speaking Hillsong church plant in Paris. So, on Sunday we went to their church which was an interesting experience to say the least. Half of the songs were sun in French and half in English and everything that was spoken was translated either from French to English or English to French. That wasn’t really a huge deal (since we were in France and all) but the worship and the message were just not really what either of us were looking for. The people were very nice and in our conversation with one of the people before hand we shared about our recent engagement (of about 12 hours) and he shared that he also proposed to his wife at the Arc de Triomphe. I told Eddie it was cliché ;)

After church we wandered around to find some bread and meats for lunch and then hopped on the metro to go to Versailles. We didn’t have too much trouble with that (although for a brief moment I thought we had gotten on the wrong train but we asked someone and we were actually where we needed to be) and made it to Versailles by the early afternoon. We spent the rest of the day there walking around and checking out the palace. Cliff and Eddie were reunited and Eddie got to see his first palace. It was a good day. That night we decided to get real food for dinner. On our way home we were trying to find a grocery store to buy some pasta salad or something already made that we could take back to the hotel room. All we seemed to stumble across though was a grocery store where everything was deep frozen.

Even though we didn’t have a stove or microwave to cook anything with, it was raining and the store intrigued us, so we went in. We didn’t find dinner there, but we did find some ice cream bars that were very cheap and looked yummy so we thought we’d give them a try. We did manage to find a little restaurant to eat at (and only half a block from our hotel) where they have furniture and bikes on the ceiling. We decided to get the onion soup (because in France they don’t have to call it French Onion Soup) and some tomato pasta. Both items were yummy, but the soup was especially good. The amazing discovery of the evening was that the ice cream bars were incredibly delicious. There were four in the box so we each had to have two (as we had no way to preserve the remaining two) and I’m sure we could have each had at least one more.

The next day was devoted almost entirely to the Louvre. We had a bit of a late start, but we spent a good 3 or 4 hours there and managed to see most everything. Granted we did not spend a lot of time looking at things, but we did make it to just about every room. We had a lot of fun but by about 3 o’clock we were exhausted and museum-ed out. We left the Louvre and headed toward Notre Dame stopping at an English bookstore that is famous (I forget the name of it but something Shakespeare). One of Eddie’s favorite authors, Hemmingway, used to go and buy books there when he lived in Paris. It’s been around for quite some time. We then finished our day up at Notre Dame touring the interior and then staying for an evening Vespers service, which we both really enjoyed. It was a nice way to end the Paris portion of our trip.


I just discovered it's spelled Arc de Triomphe in French or Arch of Triumph in English ... Oops! Please accept my spelling error apology. :)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Paris Engagement (Paris Update Part 1)

Sorry for the delay in my updates! It’s been a busy week! After Eddie arrived in Paris we were on the go just about every minute the entire week.

His flight came in around noon last Friday and he was supposed to meet me at the hotel. After about two hours of waiting I got anxious and decided to meet him at the metro station that I knew he would have to come out of to get to the hotel. What I didn’t know was that he had decided not to take the metro but to walk from the main train station instead. So, I stood at the metro for about 10 minutes before I gave up and opted to go back to the warmth of the hotel. When I arrived he was there waiting for me (though he’d only been there about 5 minutes) and I was greeted with a “it’s about time you showed up” response.

We didn’t have much time to catch up as we rushed out the door to catch the 4pm free Paris walking tour. There is a company called New Europe that does walking tours in several cities around Europe and they are quite informative. The guides work on a tips only basis so you can contribute what you can afford and based on how well you think they did. I really enjoy them and definitely recommend them. The tour lasted about three hours and ended near the Champs Elysees. The Eiffel Tower was in the distance and we got to see it “sparkle” which was fun.

We were both pretty hungry by that point and decided to find something to eat on our way back to the hotel. Unfortunately Paris is much more expensive than either of us expected and we made it all the way back to the hotel without finding anything in our price range. We ended up walking around a bit longer and found a seedy (but delicious) little kabob shop and each had a doner plate. The staff at the restaurant were super friendly and had fun with us. After we ordered the guy told us to sit down and Eddie asked if he needed to pay then and the guy pulled a knife out and gestured that Eddie needed to sit down, “or else.” It was quite funny.

Saturday morning we set out to see the sights and did a good job (if you ask me). We went to the D’Orsay, the Rodin Museum, Napoleon’s tomb, climbed the Eiffel Tower, and the Arch de Triumph. We also walked by a few other areas to take pictures, managed to stop and eat some delicious baguettes and cheese as well as make a pretty big dent in the large bag of Peanut MMs that Eddie had brought with him (on my request). The Museums were incredible and we both really enjoyed seeing The Thinker at the Rodin Museum as well as several other incredible pieces of artwork there and at the D’Orsay.

Climbing the Eiffel Tower was fun as well, but we both felt a little ripped off by it – maybe because we weren’t very well informed. The signs at the bottom said it was 4.50 Euro to climb the stairs (instead of take the elevator) so we wanted to save money and were up for the challenge. Well, you get about 2/3 of the way up and then you have to pay another 5 Euro to ride the elevator to the very top. We figured we had come that far and it was the Eiffel Tower so we had to do it, but we were both annoyed. We did have a fun time on top though.

Eddie had been telling me for awhile that he was not going to propose to me in Paris despite how everyone had been suggesting that he should. I fully believed him and even made a bet with a close friend that he was not going to do it there (sadly I now owe her a dinner). While we were on top of the tower we took a few “pretend” engagement pictures just to be funny. The weather wasn’t ideal and it was rainy and pretty windy – the tower was even swaying the majority of the time we were up there. The best part however was when you would walk to one side of the platform and the wind would rush around the corner and literally blow you over. It was so intense. We took some video and had fun fighting the massive wind.

By the time we got back down to the ground it was dusk and so we decided just to climb the Arc de Triumph and walk back down the Champs Elysees before heading back to the hotel and trying to find dinner en route again. When we arrived at the Arc there was a formal procession going on. There were police and French military as well as American military (or at least people dressed up like American soldiers) as well as someone carrying an American flag. We never quite figured out what they were doing but obviously it was some sort of memorial or tribute to one of the wars both countries were involved in.

We climbed to the top of the structure and because we hadn’t eaten a lot that day I was not feeling so great when we reached the top. I was a bit light headed and dizzy. We sat for a few minutes and ate some peanut mms (the only thing of substance we had with us) and hoped it would help, which it did. We then climbed the rest of the way up to the roof and maneuvered our way to the edge of the building so that we could take some night shots of the Eiffel Tower that we had just climbed.

I was busy taking pictures when Eddie said that the battery on his camera had died and he needed to change it. I thought it was weird that his battery had already died since he had changed it earlier in the day already, but let him do his thing. I did ask if he needed any assistance but he said he did not so I continued to try and take a non-blurry picture of the tower (not an easy task). He then asked me to “hold this for a second” and as I turned toward him, he put a white Bible in my hands that had the name Ann Plana embossed on the front cover. As soon as I saw the Bible I knew what was going on, which was funny because a split second before he handed it to me I thought, “I wonder if he’s going to propose right here?”

Before he could ask me anything, I said “Really? You’re doing this here?!?” and then Eddie, on his knee, asked me to marry him. I was in shock because he had been so adamant that he was not going to propose in Paris and I had told him not to do it there, so it was completely unexpected, but eventually I regained my voice and said that I would of course marry him.

It was funny to me that we were in such a public place and there were so many people around but no one seemed to notice our little romantic moment. We had to search for someone to take our picture and even then, the best one we have is one that we took ourselves. It was quite the experience to say the least! We took a few more pictures on top of the Arch before climbing down the stairs and taking our stroll down the Champs Elysees.

The ring is incredible and absolutely perfect. Eddie had it custom made for me and though it is cliché to say, it is more beautiful than anything I could have imagined or picked out for myself. I think it fits me perfectly and is everything that I wanted in a ring and more. He did a great job and worked very hard (with the help of some very good friends) to design the perfect ring for me. I love it as well as the fact that it is one of a kind and no one will ever have my ring.

As you can imagine we were a bit distracted walking down the Champs Elysees but we did manage to take in a few sights. We stopped and bought some warm Christmas wine and enjoyed the atmosphere of the long and very well lit street. We bought ourselves some good French cheeses, fresh bread, and fruit for the next day as we walked back to our hotel. We also stopped and had Panini’s at a little Italian place where we told the cashier that we had just gotten engaged. It was very memorable and delicious! Even though it was a little “cliché” I wouldn’t trade it for the world and it is a night I will never forget.

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