Well, it’s been a year since we started our last adventure, so we figured it was time to start blogging about it, and also try to figure out where the heck a year went!
While we were traveling we didn’t have much time to blog and frequently didn’t have consistent internet access. So, we’re now back home, well rested from our adventure and have decided to blog by looking back a year. For us, it’s a great way to remember the wonderful time we had so it doesn’t fade from our memories so quickly.
We hope you’ll enjoy following along as we visit some amazing places.
But, yes, this trip started with us jumping in front of a bus – a Greyhound bus to be exact.
Early Morning Start
On July 21, 2014, a year ago today, very, very early in the morning (it was about 5:30am and still dark), we began our adventure.
Although the place that we had to wait to catch our bus was not a long walk from our home, we had more luggage than we cared to carry that far. The solution: we drove to the designated spot, dropped our luggage and I stayed with it while Geoff took the car back home, prepared it for being left for a few months and then walked back to where I was waiting.
But, we still haven’t gotten to the reason we would have to jump in front of a bus yet.
You see, we live in a very small town in Northern Ontario. Our town, at that time, was not a regular stop on Greyhound’s schedule – you need to wave down the bus. Seems easy enough – right?
Well, at 6:00am, while it was still dark, the idea of a bus driver seeing us frantically waving our arms at the side of the road seemed less than certain.
Trying to be as Certain as Possible
We had, of course, called the nearest Greyhound station a few days before to be sure they left a message for the driver that there would be passengers (us) waiting. However, we also knew that the only thing that station could do was leave a note for the driver as there would be no official actually at the station when the driver made his designated stop there around 4:00am. We had to trust that the people we spoke with would remember to leave the note and that the driver would remember to pick it up.
Now, this might seem like a lot worrying. Couldn’t we just get the next bus if we missed this one?
Well, no. If we missed this bus then the entire trip was in jeopardy. While this bus got us to Thunder Bay way ahead of our flight time, the next bus, which was more than 12 hours later, would mean that we would miss our flight.
As we like to do, everything was pre-planned and pre-booked months in advance for various reasons but mostly to get the best prices so the trip wouldn’t be too expensive. Near the end of our journey we faced another very tight schedule that could have been a disaster if we missed connections, but that’s in another post.
We were pleased to see another couple was also waiting for the bus this early in the morning. They said they had also asked Greyhound to make sure the driver knew they’d be waiting.
Let the Worrying Begin!
The estimated time for our bus to arrive, according to Greyhound’s website, was 6:15am. Well, 6:15 came and went, as did 6:20, 6:25 and 6:30. Naturally, we were all speculating what might have happened; an accident on the highway, bus breakdown, etc. We were consoling ourselves with the fact that we had been there so early that we couldn’t possibly have missed the bus. Right?
Just as we were about to call Greyhound, hoping that someone would be available, some very large headlights appeared in the distance. Now, we’d already seen many transport trucks go by, mistaking many of them for the bus, but this time we were almost certain.
Time to Jump in Front of the Bus
Geoff ran to the edge of the highway and began to wave his arms, hoping that he didn’t have to actually jump directly in front of a moving bus. As luck would have it, the driver saw him, using his turn signals to indicate that and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. The bus may have been a bit late, but we still had lots of time to get to the Thunder Bay airport.
Once we arrived at the Thunder Bay Greyhound bus station, we immediately grabbed a taxi and headed directly to the airport.
The taxi fare was a little more than expected – about $30 Canadian. I guess we didn’t realize just how far the airport was from the bus station.
Long Journey to Iceland Begins
We settled in at the airport to wait for our first of three flights that we would be taking today. Once again, all of these flights had to leave on time (or close to) for everything to work out. The one advantage was that we had booked all of these flights directly with IcelandAir, so if we missed any of them because of delays, cancelations, etc., they would have to reschedule us
Here’s the schedule of what needed to happen today (We’ll talk about the schedules we had to hit tomorrow – tomorrow).
6:15am – Bus to Thunder Bay
1:35pm – Flight from Thunder Bay to Toronto Island (Billy Bishop) Airport (2 hour flight)
5:00pm – Flight from Toronto Airport to Newark, New Jersey International Airport (1-1/2 hour flight)
8:45pm – Flight from New Jersey to Reykjavík-Keflavík Airport, Iceland (5-1/2 hour flight – arriving the next morning at 6:15am Iceland time)
Why So Many Flights?
You may be asking yourself at this point, “Why so many flights? Surely there’s a direct flight from Toronto to Reykjavik.” Well, yes, there is. However, we’re always looking for the cheapest most economical way to travel because, well, we’re cheap frugal. 😉
Anyway, we missed out, by a day or two, on the least expensive fare involving only two flights. That left us with the three flight option, at a significant savings, so that’s what we booked.
Yes, it made for a long day that was a little stressful, but, as long as it all came together as anticipated, we decided it wouldn’t be that bad.
It All Comes Together
As it happens, with some tiny glitches, everything came together and we were on our way to Iceland!
A year ago today (July 22, 2014), we landed in Iceland.
Early Morning Arrival in Reykjavik
No matter how you cut it – Eastern Daylight Time in Canada or Local Time in Iceland – it was an early morning arrival.
We arrived at 6:30am local time, which was 2:30am back at home. We collected our luggage and headed for the FlyBus shuttle, after a short stop at their duty-free shop. We had pre-booked the shuttle, over the internet, almost as soon as we booked our flight – so well, well in advance. For arrivals, the schedule is actually pretty flexible because they take into account that delays are a part of life. Our return shuttle ticket, however, was for a very specific time.
The shuttle takes almost an hour to get into Reykjavik and, of course, they waited until the shuttle was full, so it was around 8:00am by the time we began our trip into Reykjavik.
Being used to living in Northern Ontario, the landscape of Iceland seem rather barren. Very few trees or bushes, lots of rocks and moss, but still beautiful in its own way. The landscape changed little on the one-hour ride into Reykjavik. For most of the trip, we were much too bleary-eyed to appreciate it, or take much in. However, we looked forward to exploring this country at our first opportunity.
Apartment in Reykjavik
We rented a small apartment, through Vacation Rentals By Owner, for the duration of our stay. This is a much better option than a hotel room, as far as we’re concerned. Even more so in this case because we discovered, both by checking online and talking to people who had been here, that eating out in Reykjavik is very, very expensive. This way, we could do our own cooking rather than spend a small fortune in restaurants. On top of that, an apartment gives us a lot more space than any standard hotel room.
As it turned out, our apartment was not far from the bus station where the shuttle dropped us off – about a 10 minute taxi ride. We had to give the taxi driver a print out of the address because there was simply no way we could pronounce the name of the street – or even recognize some of the letters. Really! Here’s the name of the street – Hlyngerði. No matter how many times someone told me how to pronounce it, I just couldn’t wrap my tongue around it and gave up. That held true for a large number of street names and other Icelandic words as well.
The owners of the apartment (it was the lower portion of their house) had left the door unlocked for us because they knew we would be arriving early.
We were pleasantly surprised with the apartment. There’s always that worry in the back of your mind when booking something like this over the internet, but we were glad to find it was exactly as advertised. The apartment had a fully equipped kitchen, a combined living room and dining room and the living room had a leather sofa, chair and love seat, so that gives you some idea of the size. Also, there was a decent size bathroom with a large shower. The bedroom, though small, was comfortable and sufficient for a 3-day stay with a queen-size bed.
Take a Nap or Stay Up and Power Through the Jet Lag?
As we sorted out our luggage and checked out our accommodations, we needed to make the decision to either take a nap or stay up in an attempt to reset our internal clocks to the local time.
We had napped a little on the plane, but that was certainly not a restful sleep. We were amazed that we were not dog-tired when we finally got to our apartment. There was also the need to get some groceries so we could start making our own meals.
So, the decision was made, we’d stay up and, perhaps, make it an early night. At this point we had already been up for 24 hours.
After taking showers, we both felt completely refreshed and ready to enjoy the rest of our day.
As part of our (possibly obsessive) planning, we had printed out a Google map on how to get from our apartment to a local grocery store. It predicted it would be about a 20-minute walk and that was about right.
Once again, even trying to pronounce any of the street names was just an exercise in futility but, with map in hand, we could at least compare the street names on the map with the actual street signs, which is exactly what we did.
We followed the map’s instructions exactly and did not see the store we were looking for. The name of the store was Bonus – Yay! a name we could actually pronounce.
As we approached the end of the street we stopped a local couple and asked – fortunately most Icelandic people also speak English – and they simply pointed over our shoulders. The store we were looking for was just around the last corner. If we had walked just a few more steps we would have seen it!
Help! Grocery Labels All in Icelandic!
Okay, most grocery items you can tell what they are just by looking at them, but that doesn’t hold for everything.
We were okay picking out our veggies – not a big problem there. But when it came to the frozen fish, all of the labels were in Icelandic. Sure, we could tell what was salmon – or maybe that was Arctic char? Hmmmmm.
We picked up some lovely looking fillets that we thought were haddock, but we couldn’t be sure. We asked one of the employees, but he was unable to translate for us. He went to get someone who could, but it seemed that there was no one available that would be able to give us a proper translation.
We bought the fish anyway and then Geoff entered the Icelandic words into Google Translate and what came out was – Haddock Fillets, Frozen at Sea. We had made the correct choice. Good thing because, given the size of the package, we would be having fish for dinner for the three nights we were in Reykjavik.
Off To Explore Reykjavik
In our travel package, I had a map with directions from our apartment to the old harbor in downtown Reykjavik. (For every extended trip we take, I make up an accordion file that contains just about everything – copies of tickets, any reservations, maps, schedules, things to do, you name it. I’m actually a bit obsessive about it and, for this trip, the file got quite large.)
Along the way, we deviated from the map somewhat but were still able to find our way to the old harbor after almost two hours of walking.
Actually, we had almost given up finding the downtown. We stopped by a small bakery and had a wonderful cup of coffee and a traditional Icelandic donut – not very sweet, but lovely nonetheless. The proprietor of the bakery gave us directions to the old harbor – we were almost there!
Heading out towards the harbor we took some time to visit the HARPA building – a architecturally unique structure. We took a few pictures there and then we pointed in the direction of downtown.
At this point we were really starting to fade. We enjoyed some of the sights along the main street, including taking each other’s pictures with some very impressive trolls, then headed down to the bus station determined to come back to give proper time to exploring the downtown area.
At the bus station we showed the lady behind the counter the address of our accommodations. Trying to actually pronounce the name of our street was totally out of the question.
The lady at the bus station sold us some tickets and told us to take either of two buses. We picked one, only to see the other one leave before our’s arrived. Oh well! Also, it started to rain a bit and we had to seek shelter under an overhang while we waited for our bus.
We spoke to a few people about what a nice day it had been for most of that day and they assured us that it was the best day they had had that year! Yikes! it was already well into July! So, we decided to take credit for the beautiful day saying we had brought the sunshine and warm weather with us.
When our bus finally arrived we hopped on with some trepidation about recognizing the stop where we would need to get off.
Finding Our Way Home
Thankfully, Geoff recognized the stop and we got off. However, we did manage to get a bit turned around and accidentally headed off in the wrong direction. We stopped one gentleman, and showed him the address we were looking for. Unfortunately, he was unable to help and apologized profusely.
We wandered around a bit more, trying to get our bearings, but to no avail. We then asked another gentleman if he knew which way we should be going and he not only said he did, but that he was going that way as well.
He walked with us, past his own apartment (which he pointed out to us) and walked us almost all the way to our door. What a lovely thing for him to do. We thanked him and he headed back towards his home as we headed to our apartment to settle in for the night.
That night consisted of a lovely fish dinner, using some of the haddock we had purchased earlier, and then early to bed.
The Icelandic Language (and thank goodness everyone speaks English!)
The most recognized Icelandic word is probably the one in the title of this post – Eyjafjallajökull. Yes, that’s the name of the volcano that erupted in April and May 2010 that caused so many problems for air travel.
Try as we might, we simply couldn’t wrap our mouths around the correct pronunciation, or any other Icelandic words for that matter – like the name of the street our apartment is on.
Many very helpful people tried, during the course of our stay, to help us with such pronunciations. They were extremely patient but each time we tried they’d say, “No, it’s …” and they’d make the sound again, waiting for us to give it another try. And, each try, we would mangle the word beyond recognition.
We simply had to accept that speaking Icelandic was not one of the skills we were ever going to master and just learn to be grateful that everyone (that’s right – everyone) in Iceland also speaks English.
We did, however, look up the translation for Eyjafjallajökull. It’s actually three words, if you separate it right – eyja fjalla jökull – which translates to island mountain glacier. However, knowing that in no way improved any of our attempts to pronounce the Icelandic word.
No Cash Required
While doing research for our trip, we had learned that cash isn’t really required in Iceland. Almost everything is done electronically. And, we found that was true.
Our first experience was at the duty-free store at the airport. They actually do things a bit differently in Iceland. You can buy duty-free items when ENTERING the country. Okay, it’s not surprising that such a store would accept debit or credit cards.
However, when it came to the taxi, we were a bit concerned that we didn’t have any cash. We explained that to the cab driver and he assured us that was not a problem. And, sure enough, he had a wireless device in his taxi that would accept credit card or debit card payments.
When we paid the taxi driver, we also found out that tipping was not something that was done. You simply paid the bill you were presented with – nothing else. We found, in our experience in Iceland, that that was the norm.
We never did bother to get any Icelandic cash at all for the three days we were there. We just didn’t need it.
Looking Forward To Tomorrow
We needed to get a good night’s sleep, and get up somewhat early the next day when we were taking the Golden Circle Tour. We had to meet the bus at 8:30am at a bed and breakfast establishment just a short walk from where we were staying. We had printed out another Google map to make sure we could find our way there. But we’ll pick that up tomorrow after a much-needed sleep.
A year ago today (July 23, 2014) we embarked on the Golden Circle Tour in Iceland.
What To Do In Reykjavik
When we were researching Reykjavik for things to do while we were there, we considered several options. We wanted to pick something that was the best value for money (the budget is always a consideration). Some of the experiences we considered included whale watching, various tours, local bus passes, Hop On, Hop Off buses, etc.
As we had such a short time in Reykjavik, we decided on the Golden Circle Tour, a day-long trip that would hit the highlights of the natural wonders of the area.
Getting The Best Price
The Golden Circle Tour is offered by many tour companies so, prior to leaving Canada, we began our search for the best tour at the best price.
We found one that looked like the best deal and, wanting to be sure, we called them to confirm the tour, the price and the pick up points. They picked up from many local hotels and bed & breakfast places, but we were staying in neither. They were, however, able to locate the closest pick up point for us when we gave them the address of our rental apartment (I needed to email them the address as, once again, I simply couldn’t pronounce it or even spell it for them because of the special letter that was included in the address – the one that looks like a stylized “d” with a cross – “ð”.)
As luck would have it, the very act of calling, apparently, entitled us to a 5% discount on the price and we’d already determined that this tour company had the best price anyway.
Needless to say, we went ahead and booked the tour, got the address of the pick up point and printed out a Google map with directions and estimated walking time. The walk should only take us about 10 minutes.
Golden Circle Tour
We arrived at the pickup point in plenty of time. I am a firm believer that it’s much better to be very early than just a couple of minutes late. So, we had about 20 minutes to wait but it was a pleasant morning.
Apparently smaller shuttles were dispatched to pick up the other travelers from their various hotels. These shuttles then converged on the tour company’s office in downtown Reykjavik where the large tour bus was waiting.
We were all ushered into the tour company’s office where we needed to exchange the printed confirmation of our booking for an actual ticket. Once that was done we were allowed to board the bus.
I am always amazed at the number of people traveling at any given time, in any given location. It seems no matter where we go there are always several tours and they all seem to fill up. Our tour was no exception. There may have been one or two empty seats on the bus and that was it.
At the beginning of the tour, we drove along a highway past the rather bleak Icelandic landscape. There are no real trees to speak of, a few bushes and the rest consists mostly of rocks, lichen and moss.
As you know, Iceland has a lot of volcanic activity resulting in lots of heat, lava, etc. just beneath the surface. They have harnessed a lot of this energy, using geothermal plants, to heat water and pipe it into Reykjavik. No house in Reykjavik has a hot water heater. The geothermal heated water is piped directly into each house. So, unlike us, they have two water lines coming into the house – one for hot water and one for cold. Also, no one has to shovel snow off their walkways. The hot water lines run right under that roads and walkways and melt the snow as it falls. What a great idea!
One little downfall, for us anyway, is that the hot water has a bit of a sulfur smell to it. When we thought that this was heated cold water (like we’re used to) we were hesitant to even taste the cold water from the tap. But when we ran the cold water, we didn’t notice the smell at all and the water tasted just fine. We understood why when we were told about the separate hot and cold water pipes coming into the house and the absence of any hot water heater. It’s only the hot water that has the sulfur smell and, apparently, that is added to the water to keep the pipes clean.
These pipelines, from the geothermal plants, run for miles and miles with little loss of heat/energy. Amazing!
The Rift Valley
Our first major stop on the tour (we stopped for a bit to get a good view of the geothermal pipelines) was the Rift Valley. This is an active tectonic area where the North American and Eurasian plates meet and are moving away from each other at a specific rate.
Our tour guide told us all to stay close as we only had a little time here and we might not find our way back to the bus. We were dropped off at the top of a cliff that overlooked the Rift Valley and would need to meet the bus in the valley. She didn’t bother to mention, or point out, exactly where the bus would be, nor did she make it very easy to follow her – no sign being held up like other tour guides, no attempt to make sure she had the whole group with her.
We managed to get separated from the group even though we were trying very hard to keep an eye on her. We can only surmise that she and the majority of the group moved on (there were several paths leading in many directions) while we were busy taking pictures and video.
At some point we just realized that we didn’t recognize anyone that was around us and didn’t see our tour guide at all. All we knew is when we were expected to be at the bus but that didn’t help much as we didn’t know exactly where the bus was supposed to be.
We saw two parking lots containing several tour buses. We stopped at each one (they were fairly far apart) and didn’t see our bus. We asked some of the other bus drivers but they just shrugged their shoulders and were particularly unhelpful. We then moved on to a small church that we were sure was part of the tour and saw a third parking lot that wasn’t easily visible from the other parking lots we had been to. As we headed off in that direction we began to recognize some of the people from our group and then saw our tour guide and our bus.
By this time it was too late for us to visit the little church because we had wasted so much time trying to find our group and where the bus was parked, even worrying if they had, perhaps, already left without us.
We asked the tour guide why she hadn’t simply pointed out where the bus would be parked when we were at the top of the cliff as the area would have been easily visible from there. She just shrugged her shoulders and said, “That’s why I tell everyone to stick together.” That made no sense to us. If some people, like us, did get separated from the group, didn’t it make more sense for them to know where the bus would be, particularly with the fact that there were THREE parking lots for tour buses.
But, she just didn’t seem to comprehend our objection and we didn’t understand why she couldn’t grasp what we were saying.
We just got back on the bus, shaking our heads but glad to be back with the group anyway.
Finally! An Icelandic Word We Can Pronounce.
The next stop on our tour was Gullfoss or Golden Falls. Gullfoss, an Icelandic word, is pronounced just like it looks. So, finally, we had an Icelandic word that we could actually pronounce. A rarity, to be sure.
As we were heading to that destination we kept expecting to see some waterfalls, off in the distance, coming down the side of a mountain. But, there weren’t any real mountains visible and there weren’t any discernible waterfalls from any of the hills, or volcano cones, in the distance.
To our surprise, we pulled into a rather flat area and parking lot. It seemed an unlikely place to see what was supposed to be a very impressive waterfall.
This stop also included a restaurant that served traditional Icelandic soup. We had packed a lunch for the trip but thought that it might be a nice experience to have some authentic Icelandic soup. Well, not at almost $12.00 per bowl! We simply couldn’t believe how many people were buying it – and for whole families – at that price. However, everything at this cafeteria-style restaurant was outrageously expensive and we were certainly glad that we had packed a lunch after all.
Next to the restaurant was a boardwalk that lead down to the fall. That’s right – DOWN to the falls.
As it turned out, the falls were part of the large, somewhat narrow canyon that was carved into the landscape. And they certainly were impressive.
The water fell over several levels of large, flat steps into a narrow canyon and you could view it from two levels, accessed by either a gravel path or a wooden staircase. Trying to describe it in mere words would not do it justice. Even the pictures and video we took does not do it justice. If you find yourself in Iceland, we recommend a visit.
We had passed the geyser area on our way to Gulfoss and, after getting back on our tour bus, we headed back to spend some time there.
Our tour guide had hoped that the bus would be able to fit in a parking lot close to the geysers but when we got there that lot was full. The next option was to park across the street from the park, which is what happened.
It wasn’t much of a walk, so it didn’t really matter to us that the bus couldn’t use the closer parking lot.
Once again, words cannot express adequately the beauty and size of the geysers and the thermal pools. One geyser in particular went off on a regular basis and we were able to watch it erupt several times. You were never quite sure if you were going to get sprayed or not and you had to be careful not to get too close because the water was very, VERY hot.
We were also able to take some photos and videos of the geyser erupting. You had to be pretty patient, but it was certainly worth the wait.
Our final stop on the tour was a geothermal plant where the hot water was treated and, believe it or not, cooled down, to be sent down the pipeline into Reykjavik.
There was, of course, the requisite gift shop and a small cafe – both very expensive. But, on top of that, if you actually wanted to tour the plant, there was a charge for that, too. It equated to about $10.00 each for a 15-minute tour. We passed on the tour, as did most of our group.
Back To Reykjavik
The tour bus headed back to Reykjavik from the geothermal plant and we arrived back in the early evening. We were dropped off close to our road and this time we were able to find our way back to our apartment without assistance.
It was a pleasant day, a great experience, and we’re glad we went.
A year ago today (July 24, 2014), we were exploring downtown Reykjavik.
Tourist and Souvenir Shops
The main street in downtown Reykjavik sports many, many souvenir and gift shops. However, everything is very expensive. That just seems to be the way it is in Iceland.
It was fun browsing through some of the shops and looking at all the cute things they had for sale, but we were never actually tempted to buy anything.
Well, that’s not entirely true. We both loved a t-shirt the poked fun at the difficult Icelandic language. It was a simple t-shirt that read “What part of Eyjafjallajökull don’t you understand?” (Yes, this is what we named one of our posts.) We both thought it was perfect but at $30 for a t-shirt we couldn’t justify the purchase. As we have said before, on such long trips, budget is always a consideration and this was just the fourth day of our trip.
As it turned out, our only souvenir of Iceland was the plastic grocery bag from the Bonus supermarket. (see our first post about Iceland) And, of course, our pictures, videos and memories.
Whale and Puffin Dinner
We browsed many of the restaurant menus as we walked through the downtown area and can confirm that it is definitely expensive to eat out here. One particular sign caught our eye though and we had to do a double-take. At first glance, we thought the name of the restaurant was The Whale and Puffin Diner and thought that was a really cute name.
But, no, it was a restaurant actually offering a whale and puffin dinner! That’s right – real whale and real puffin – for dinner! We were shocked and dismayed that such a thing was allowed.
Thermal Swimming Pool, Hot Tubs and Steam Bath
The walk through the downtown area eventually lead us to a public swimming pool and steam bath complex that we had identified with the help of Google Maps. It was one of the first ones to be built in the city but was still in amazing condition.
Everything is, of course, heated with geothermal water/energy.
Locker Rooms and Showering
Some North Americans may find it a little uncomfortable in the locker rooms and shower area. There are signs on the walls indicating, by way of pictographs, which parts of your body to clean particularly well, with soap, before entering the pool and hot tub area. Also, you are required to shower without your swimsuit on and there are no enclosed shower stalls. There are, however, a few enclosed change rooms in the locker room area although most people don’t bother with them. And, yes, swimsuits are required in the pool, hot tubs and steam bath.
Pool and Hot Tubs
The pool was huge and while not particularly cool, it was not anywhere near as warm as the geothermal hot tubs that were located outside on a balcony-type terrace with a lovely view of the immediate area.
There were two hot tubs at two different temperatures. The larger of the two was relatively easy to get into, although pretty hot nonetheless. The smaller one was very, very hot and we were only able to stay in that one for short periods of time.
The steam bath was quite small and we were the only ones in it at the time we used it.
We found we preferred to alternate between the two hot tubs and the pool and did that for quite a while before leaving and heading back home.
Getting Used to the Bus System
This time we decided to take the other bus route home as it seemed to run more frequently and we had no difficulty recognizing where we needed to get off and we easily found our way back home.
So it really didn’t take us that long to get our bearings and be able to find our way around some parts of Reykjavik.
But this is our last day. Tomorrow will be a very early morning for us in order to catch our 7:30am flight to Gatwick.
A Note About IcelandAir
When we originally began planning this trip, Iceland wasn’t even part of the equation. The trip was going to start in the UK. So what happened?
When we were searching for the cheapest most economical flight to the UK, we found that IcelandAir had the best price – yes, to Gatwick – but with a stopover in Reykjavik. We then noticed that IcelandAir also offered up to a stopover in Iceland, for up to seven days, at NO EXTRA COST on the airfare.
So, our reasoning was, “Hey, we’ve never been to Iceland. Let’s go!” It only added three days to our trip, no more on the airfare, and only three nights accommodation. We figured it was worth the relatively small additional cost it added to the trip and jumped at the chance to accept IcelandAir’s offer and spend some time exploring their country.
Reykjavik, Iceland to Gatwick Airport to Longfield, UK
A year ago today (July 25, 2014), we left Iceland for the UK.
Very Early Morning
Our flight to Gatwick was leaving at 7:30am and so, in order to get to the airport in time, we needed to decide how early to get up, when (and how) to get a taxi to take us to the bus station to get the Flybus shuttle back to airport (knowing that the shuttle to the airport would take an hour).
So here’s how the decision process unfolded:
the flight leaves at 7:30am – it’s an international flight – they want us to be there two hours ahead
that meant arriving at the airport at 5:30am
the shuttle to the airport takes an hour – that meant getting the shuttle at 4:30am
we needed to take a taxi to bus station to pick up the shuttle – that meant booking a taxi for 4:00am
even though we had packed everything the night before, we still needed to get showered, dressed and have a quick breakfast – that meant getting up at 3:00am
Yep – 3:00am – a very early morning indeed.
We were concerned about booking the taxi. It was once again the problem with not even being able to pronounce the name of the street we were on. Fortunately, the gentleman that we had rented the apartment from said he would call the taxi company and arrange for a 4:00am pick up.
We were waiting outside at about 3:50am, in a slight drizzle, and the taxi showed up five minutes early at 3:55am, so we didn’t even have time for any panic about whether the taxi company would remember.
Once at the bus station – 20 minutes early for the shuttle – we settled in to wait.
We noticed several people going to a kiosk and scanning their etickets and receiving actual tickets, so we decided to check it out.
As luck would have it, the instructions were also in English or we would have been totally lost. However, it became clear to us that we needed to scan the QR code on our eticket and print out an actual ticket. We did that without any problems and then had our tickets in hand when the bus was ready to go.
Flight to Gatwick
Upon arrival at the Reykjavik airport it became apparent that self-checkin was the norm.
We used one of the many available kiosks and typed in our last name and locator code for our reservation. The machine not only printed out our boarding passes but our luggage tags as well.
The only thing we needed to do after that was drop off our luggage at a specific spot and head to our gate to wait for our flight. All very organized and automated.
The flight took off on schedule and we arrived in Gatwick, also on schedule, at 11:30am UK time.
Two Together Rail Pass
Once again, having done our research in Canada prior to our trip, we were prepared to purchase a rail pass called a Two Together Pass. As the name suggests, it is for two people traveling together. It applies a 30% discount to any off-peak rail travel for the two people shown on the pass when they are, obviously, traveling together.
Because of our research we knew we needed two passport-size photos – one of each of us – and a completed application form. We had all of that with us and ready in my handy dandy travel file.
Not only did the British Rail agent help us get our pass, she also issued our tickets to Longfield as well as our return tickets for August 10th, when we would need to return to Victoria Station to catch the Megabus to Paris. And all at the 30% discount thanks to our Two Together Pass.
The Two Together Pass cost us £30, but with all the train travel we had planned for our stay in the UK, it more than paid for itself and then some. Yes, it was worth the investment.
Train to Longfield
Our tickets to Longfield were valid all day as we were already in off-peak time. Peak time is each morning (except for Sundays, which all off-peak all day) until about 9:30am. The rest of each day is considered off-peak.
That meant we didn’t have to rush to get a particular train.
There are many trains leaving from Gatwick and the station has more than one level. We had to ask where we needed to go to catch our train and were directed up a stairway and from there we were able to check the departure boards to find our platform.
Getting to Longfield required changing trains at Victoria Station, but once again, checking the departure boards helped us find the correct platform.
It doesn’t take very long to get from Victoria Station to Longfield – just a couple of stops.
Taxi to Resort
We were happy to find that there were a couple of taxis waiting just outside the Longfield train station. We loaded up our luggage, told the driver where we were going and were at the resort in short order after a taxi fare of less than £10.
Our Base for the Next Sixteen Days
For the next sixteen days this naturist resort was going to be our base while in the UK. It was conveniently located for getting into London and area by rail and we had planned to use the rail system for all of our planned excursions – of which we had many.
We picked this resort for several reasons:
it was a naturist resort and we are naturists
it was conveniently located for easy access to London
it was considerably less expensive than a hotel room in London and had a pool, hot tubs and a small restaurant
Basically a Wooden Tent
We knew we were booking “basic” accommodations but didn’t realize until we got there just how basic the accommodations were.
For all intents and purposes, what we had rented was a wooden tent. It was a small cabin – about the size of a garden shed – with a small, covered terrace that could accommodate two chairs, and nothing more. The inside was a single room, with a queen-size bed and a night table and nothing else. The toilet and shower facilities were in a separate building that was also where the hot tubs were and the restaurant as well.
It was all we really needed. It was the right price. It was a good location. But it was truly basic.
Another Long Day of Travel
It was another long day of travel by the time we got settled in.
We took advantage of the hot tubs and then a decent meal of fish & chips in the restaurant, before turning in early.
A year ago today (July 26-28, 2014), we were settling in to our accommodations in the UK, where we would be until August 10, 2014.
Several Days In One
Sometimes there’s not much point in blogging each and every day, particularly when there’s not much happening. It could get pretty boring, actually. So, this post consists of several days.
There will also be times, when we simply skip a few days if nothing in particular happened on those days.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Relax at Resort
Today was a day to just relax, reset our circadian rhythm and spend a little time in the sun.
Alas, I am subject to kidney stones from time to time. Most of them have happened when I haven’t had easy access to medical assistance. Actually, of the four kidney stones I’ve had up until today, I have only been near a hospital once.
Today was yet another time that medical assistance would not be nearby.
I have learned that there’s nothing much that can be done about a kidney stone. You just have to wait for it to pass. But the pain can be excruciating while it passes.
My doctor has given me some strong painkillers for just such an occasion but the trick is taking them early enough, as soon as the symptoms start and the initial symptoms do not include pain, just pressure and an odd, hard to explain, feeling.
However, with this one – being my fifth kidney stone – I was able to recognize the symptoms fairly early and immediately took the painkillers. In the past, I had always taken them too late and the pain would make me vomit, ejecting the painkillers before they had a chance to do any good.
Even with taking the painkillers early enough, it only helped ease the pain, it certainly didn’t mask it completely and I realized that I’d just have to tough it out, with the aid of the painkillers, until it passed.
This one, thankfully, passed fairly quickly – in about four hours or so.
Once the stone has passed, everything is fine again and it’s like nothing ever happened. And I was certainly grateful to reach that stage.
Sadly, it ruined our Saturday evening.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Walk Into Longfield for Groceries
The menu at the resort was limited and not very vegetarian-friendly, so we decided that we needed to get some supplies to be able to make some of our meals ourselves even in our wooden tent. So, Google Map in hand, we headed into Longfield to get some groceries.
What the Google Map didn’t show was just how narrow the roads actually were between the resort and the town. Even though we had experienced the narrow roads in the taxi, I guess it hadn’t registered that it would be difficult when translated into a walking excursion.
Our Google Map showed us the way to the Waitrose grocery store in Longfield. However, we had also seen how close it was to the train station when we first arrived, so we had some idea where we were headed.
Dodging cars by pushing ourselves into hedgerows became a bit of an art as we walked into town. But we made it, totally intact except for a few scratches, in about 40 minutes or so.
We looked around the immediate area and saw that, in addition to the Waitrose grocery store, there was a bakery, a Co-Op grocery store, a take-away fish & chip shop, a restaurant with an outdoor patio and a pub touting an “American” chef. Maybe an American chef was impressive to the local population but it made us want to avoid it. If we were going to go to a pub we wanted a British experience, not an American one.
We did our first shopping at Waitrose and headed back to the resort with several bags, not quite sure how, or where, we were going to stock everything. We did have a soft-sided cooler that we had brought with us and we were pretty sure we could get ice from the restaurant.
Oh well, we’d figure it out somehow.
A Short Video About the Longfield Area
Monday, July 28, 2014
Canceled Trip Into London
According to our carefully planned schedule for our UK adventure, today was the day that we were supposed to head into London for a walking tour and visits to Selfridges and Harrods.
The weather, however, had different plans. It was cold and rainy and, according to the weather report, it appeared that it planned to stay that way for the entire day.
We scrapped our plans for the day and just hunkered down at the resort. Fortunately, we had a couple of distractions to rely on – an internet connection and a hot tub.
A year ago today (July 29,2014), we made our first foray into London.
Walk Into Longfield
Today began with another walk into Longfield, but this time it was to catch a train into Victoria Station and spend the day in London. As we were able to head into London “off peak” we could, of course, use our Two Together rail pass for a 30% discount on our return fare.
Note: It’s always better to get a return fare than one-way tickets. The return fare was £15.50 and the one-way fare £15.30. As you can see, it’s much for cost effective to buy return tickets.
Drop Off Laundry
Before we could get our train we needed to drop off a bag of laundry at the local cleaners. That meant lugging the bag on the walk into town. Unfortunately, Geoff got stuck with that duty.
the entire bag of clothes, the charge for a wash, dry and fold service was only £8. We didn’t think that was too bad and, besides, we didn’t really have any choice, there was no laundromat either at the resort or in Longfield. So, local cleaners it was. We told them we’d be back on Thursday to pick it up and they said “no problem”.
Train to Victoria Station
This was our first trip into London since arriving at our resort and it went quite smoothly. There was a ticket agent in the train station which meant we didn’t need to deal with the automated machine. We weren’t exactly sure how that would work with our rail pass and were grateful that we didn’t have to figure it out.
Walk Along the South Bank of The Thames
From Victoria Station, we headed directly to the Thames and began a leisurely walk along the south bank. We passed Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament as well as the London Eye and more.
As we passed the Globe Theatre (home of many Shakespeare plays), we decided to stop in for the tour. It was a planned activity for this day, but we also had prepaid tickets for the Tower of London. However, as we were standing right in front of the Globe Theatre, we decided to take the tour now rather than try to make time for it on the way back.
Two For One Tickets
As part of our research for this trip, we discovered that there were two-for-one ticket attractions offers for rail passengers. We just needed to have the two-for-one offer printed out (which we did at home and was part of our travel folder) and our train ticket for that day.
We were able to get the Globe Theatre tour at the two-for-one special.
On the tour we learned that this was not the original Globe Theatre but a carefully constructed replica. It was also not on the exact spot of the original, either, but it was close.
The tour was very interesting and full of history. We won’t go into any detail, though, as we wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to take the tour.
Tower of London
The tickets for the Tower of London were not available with the two-for-one deal during July and August, so we booked online, from Canada, to get the best price possible.
We headed across Tower Bridge to the Tower of London to begin our tour.
To our mind, the best way to get much of the history of the Tower is to take one of the tours with a Yeoman Warder – a Beefeater. These men are the Queen’s personal guards and they must have been in military service for over twenty years before they can become a Yeoman Warder. They, and their families, actually live within the walls of the Tower of London and are LOCKED IN every night at 10:00pm during the Ceremony of the Keys.
The one that gave us the tour, along with several other people, was both knowledgeable and humorous (with sharp-witted British humor). The tour was thoroughly enjoyable and we were sad when it was over.
Crown Jewels and More
After the tour we were free to wander around on our own and visited the Crown Jewels, the White Tower (built by William the Conqueror over 1000 years ago), the rooms where people like Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I were kept.
Executions at The Tower Of London
We were surprised to discover that there really weren’t many executions carried out at the Tower of London. Given the Hollywood productions of such historical periods you would have thought it was a common occurrence, but it really wasn’t.
A tour of the Tower is definitely recommended when visiting London.
Next up was the Tower Bridge Experience and we were able to take advantage of the two-for-one deal here, as well. Lots of interesting history here, not to mention the amazing view from the top of the bridge.
Walk Along the North Bank of The Thames
After the Tower Bridge Experience, we started our long walk back along the North bank of the Thames and back to Victoria Station to get our train to Longfield.
There were a few places where the walking path didn’t follow right along the edge of the river and we had to make a couple of detours onto regular streets and then pick up the path further on.
We finally made our way back to Victoria Station, tired after a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Back to Longfield
The train ride back to Longfield was enjoyable just for the mere fact to have a place to sit for a while (about 30 minutes, anyway), after having spent most of the day walking. We decided that it was best to take a taxi back to the resort from Longfield as it was getting dark and we didn’t relish the idea of navigating the narrow roads in the dark. Also, we were already tuckered out from the amount of walking we’d already done.
A year ago today (July 31, 2014) we opted for a day at Chislehurst Caves rather than a very long trip to Biggleswade.
Chislehurst Caves, Some Shopping and Biggleswade Postponed
Biggleswade Postponed Indefinitely
Today was the day we had scheduled for a trip to Biggleswade, the town where the Wells family comes from.
Geoff’s grandfather ran a large store there – Victoria House. We researched this and found that, although Victoria House is still standing, it has changed hands and purposes several times.
Biggleswade, and Victoria House, were where Geoff’s Dad grew up as the baby of a family of nine kids.
I guess we hadn’t really checked how to get to Biggleswade by train before leaving Canada. Geoff found that it was a long trip – three hours one way – and an expensive train trip to boot, even with our 30% discount.
Although it would have been nice, Geoff said he didn’t really remember Biggleswade much. So we tabled this excursion until our next trip to the UK. On our next visit, we plan to do more traveling around the country. This time, the focus was on visiting places within easy reach of London plus Bath and Stonehenge.
While researching things to do in London and area, Geoff came across Chislehurst Caves and thought it looked interesting. Apparently it’s quite a popular attraction and yet it is something that Geoff had never heard about even though he grew up just outside of London. And, at only £4 each, it was one of the cheapest attractions we planned to visit.
Getting to Chislehurst took three separate trains but we weren’t on any of them for very long.
As had become our habit, we walked into Longfield, getting quite adept at dodging the traffic on the winding, narrow roads and coming away with minimal scratches from the hedges that were so close to the road that they seemed to make it even narrower – and bit more harrowing on some of the curves.
But we made it to the train station reasonably unscathed and told the agent where we wanted to go. He printed our tickets and not only explained the changes we would have to make but printed out a trip itinerary for us that would help considerably as we made each change.
Three Trains to Our Destination
Our first train was the one we would normally take into London’s Victoria Station, however, we would be disembarking at Bromley South this time – the last stop before London.
At Bromley South, after checking the departure boards to make sure we chose the correct platform, we boarded the train to Petts Wood. That one actually sent us back the way we had just come for a time before making a curve to the right.
Getting off at Petts Wood, as our itinerary indicated we should, we again checked the departure boards to find the platform for our train to Chiselhurst. The signage is relatively easy to understand and the trains are very reliable.
We didn’t have long to wait for our train and were in Chiselhurst less than an hour after leaving Longfield, even with so many changes.
Tour of the Caves
The entrance to the attraction, complete with restaurant and gift shop, was not far from the Chislehurst train station and fairly easy to find. Following the signs, we walked through a small downtown area with a pub, a convenience store and a couple of chippies (fish & chip shops).
When we arrived at the reception are, where we could buy our tickets, we learned that the guided tours went every hour on the hour. That meant we had about 40 minutes to wait. The small gift shop didn’t even take five minutes and we weren’t interested in the restaurant, so we spent most of our waiting time on some benches just outside the entrance to the caves.
At the allotted hour, the doors to the entrance opened wide and our guide emerged to announce that the tour would begin momentarily.
Just a couple of minutes later he gathered our group together, accepted our tickets, and led us down a sloping tunnel into the caves.
Actually, the first thing we learned is that these weren’t really caves at all. They were actually a series of tunnels cut into the chalk. The tunnels, now interconnected, were actually mined in three sections over a very long period of time. One section had been mined by Druids (making this part almost as old Stonehenge and they used antlers and their mining tools), another by the Romans and the third in more current times.
Complete and Utter Darkness
Many of the people in our tour, us included, were issued kerosene lanterns for the tour. However, in one section we were encouraged to experience complete and utter darkness. Our guide took all of our lanterns and wandered away to allow us to experience something that many of us have never had the opportunity to experience.
It was quite interesting. No matter how much we tried to peer into the darkness, there was only darkness.
However, the experience was somewhat ruined when a couple of people in the group decided to open their cell phones, breaking the darkness for the rest of us. There’s always someone, isn’t there.
World War II Sanctuary
During World War II, the caves were used to house thousands for people to give them sanctuary from the bombings. You can still see some of the tunnel designations so the inhabitants could find their section. It was like an underground city even containing a hospital and a school.
We would certainly recommend taking the tour and felt we got value for money at this attraction.
Lunch At The Local Chippy in Chislehurst
After our tour of the Chiselhurst Caves it was lunch time and we checked out the local chippies. In one of them Geoff noticed they had a menu item called Rock. He asked if it was Rock Salmon – that’s actually eel, but Geoff has fond memories of it from his youth.
The proprietor, who obviously wasn’t British, assured him that it was.
Geoff’s memories of Rock Salmon are of it being white and flaky with a large bone running down the middle. He decided to go ahead and order it even though it was one of the pricier items on the menu. And, apparently, the price didn’t include the chips – they were extra.
Sadly, Geoff was disappointed as the fish (eel) was rather mushy, with a much smaller bone than he remembered, so he found the meal somewhat disappointing.
On To Petts Wood
We decided that we would spend some time at each place we needed to change trains, just to explore. The next stop was Petts Wood. It had a cute little downtown area with a lot of small shops including several charity shops displaying donated, slightly used, items. It did take us long to walk the entire downtown area and then get back to the train station for the next leg of our journey.
The next stop was the station at Bromley South. This proved to be a much larger community with a street market happening selling all manner of items including clothing, shoes, fresh veggies and more. We spent a lot more time exploring this town.
Search For An Electric Kettle
Up until now we have being purchasing our morning coffee from the restaurant at the resort. As it is only instant coffee, and costs £1 per cup, we thought we’d try to find an inexpensive electric kettle so we could make our own coffee each morning. Two cups (at least) per day and £1 each over 16 days adds up pretty fast. But we had no idea how much a kettle would cost, so we stopped in a few stores to find out. Another criteria was that the kettle be small and easy to pack so we could take it with us when we moved on.
About the cheapest kettle we could find was almost £20 and much too large.
As we continued to wander around we passed a charity shop that not only sold used furniture, but used electrical appliances as well. We decided to have a look.
On the shelf, next to the large electric kettles, were TWO compact travel kettles that were actually dual voltage, so, with the proper adapter, they could be used on 110 volt, too. Not only that but they also included the original booklet, two small cups, a measuring cup and a plastic container to store the coffee (they all fit INSIDE the kettle to save space). They were also certified as working and were only £3 (the cost of 3 cups of coffee bought from the restaurant). SOLD!
99p Store Bromley South also had a very large 99p Store (kind of the equivalent to our dollar stores).
After our score of an electric kettle we would now need instant coffee, sugar, powdered creamer and whatever else struck our fancy.
We got exactly what we needed including a UK three-prong plug to a Europe 2 pin adapter so we could use the kettle on the rest of our European trip, if needed.
Oh, and a few other items made their way into our basket as well.
Shoes For Geoff At The Street Market
One of the stalls at the street market was selling slip-on, leather flip flops and Geoff actually needed a pair. He found some he liked and actually ended up buying two pairs.
Back To Longfield
The last leg of our journey, of course, took us back to Longfield from Bromley South and we still had a lot to do there.
Pick Up Our Laundry
The first stop was at the local cleaners to pick up the laundry we had dropped off a couple of days before. It was ready and waiting for us and we were pleased with the results.
Geoff’s Modeling Career
When we were in Longfield a couple of days earlier, the local hairdresser had a sign outside saying they were looking for models for their students and that would include a free haircut. Well, Geoff was ready for a haircut, so we stopped in and inquired.
Sure enough, they needed models for their students on Thursday at 6pm and there would be no charge for the service. Geoff had signed up to be a model and he was now waiting for his haircut.
The students were all supervised, of course. The student assigned to Geoff had never given a haircut before and she was closely supervised but did an amazing job. As a matter of fact, both Geoff and I believe that it was one of the best haircuts he has ever had. He was certainly glad he had volunteered to be a model.
Dinner At Monroe’s
We decided to have dinner at the local restaurant – Monroe’s. They had an outdoor patio, as well as indoor seating, and a Marilyn Monroe theme going on. They also had daily specials at what seemed to be a reasonable price.
I can’t remember exactly what we had that evening but we were impressed with the quality as well as the price and were determined to return.
Back To The Resort
After picking up a few groceries, we grabbed a taxi and headed back to the resort for the evening, with our prized possession of a new (okay, used) kettle and the means to make our own coffee the next morning.
A year ago today, (August 4, 2014), we spent the day in London taking in many, many sites.
A Full Day of Visiting Many Sights in London
Getting Into London
As has become our habit, we once again walked into the train station in Longfield, a mostly pleasant, but sometimes harrowing forty-minute walk. But we’re still here to tell the tale and, tickets in hand, once again made our way to Victoria Station.
This time, however, we purchased a day pass that would allow us not only to use the rail system but also the underground and bus system, for the entire day. As we planned to cover a lot of territory, we felt this was a wise purchase.
First Stop – 221B Baker Street
As almost anyone knows, this address is, of course, the fictional address of the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes.
We arrived to see a long line of people waiting to get in to see the apartments. We actually had no desire to look inside. I was certainly just glad that I was able to find it.
It’s not actually where 221B should be – between, say, 221 and 223, so we got a little confused as to which way we should go on Baker Street once we exited the Tubes. But we managed to find it anyway and take a few photos.
I am now happy to say that I have made my pilgrimage to the home of Sherlock Holmes.
From the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes, it was not a long walk to Selfridge’s.
We actually got a lot of information about this game-changing department store from a TV series, starring Jeremy Piven (one of our favorite actors).
Neither Geoff nor I knew that the person who built Selfridge’s was actually an American and forever changed how shopping was viewed in England.
The store is HUGE and I don’t think we even came close the seeing all of it. That seemed a rather daunting task.
I have always found prices, of just about anything, rather expensive in Europe, but the prices in Selfridge’s were simply astronomical. I couldn’t even bring myself to buy a small memento of my visit because I thought things were so overpriced.
But still, it’s an amazing place to visit.
Harrods was our next stop and, at this establishment, from everything that I’d heard, I expected ridiculously opulent merchandise and equally ridiculous prices – and I was not disappointed. As with Selfridge’s, there’s a lot of history attached to it.
If you go, make sure you see the Egyptian escalator and the statue devoted to Princess Diana and Dodi el Fayed.
Continuing on, and making good use of our day pass, we visited the Marble Arch at one end of Hyde Park.
It was time for lunch, and a bit of a break, so we wandered into a Sainsbury’s (grocery store) just across from Hyde Park and bought a couple of savory pastries and something to drink.
We then settled down on a bench in Hyde Park and enjoyed an al fresco lunch and a chance to just sit and relax for a bit before continuing our explorations of London.
Hyde Park is also the location of London’s famous Speaker’s Corner where anyone can talk about anything they please.
We found the exact location but there was no one espousing their views that day.
Greenwich And The Cutty Sark
Another hop on the Tubes (underground/subway) and we were off to Greenwich and the preserved Cutty Sark, last of the China Tea Clippers.
Just My Luck!
I’m afraid my luck was of the “bad” variety when we boarded the underground to head for Greenwich. I didn’t realize it immediately, but apparently I had chosen a seat where some had spilled coffee. These seats are upholstered, so it wasn’t immediately obvious there had been a spill like there would be if the seats had only been hard plastic like those found on my subways – in Canada, at least.
I didn’t actually realize it until we got up to exit at our Greenwich stop and then felt that my bottom felt a little odd – and damp!
Geoff confirmed that you could, indeed, tell that my shorts were wet. Somewhat embarrassing.
We stopped into a pub, each ordered a cider, and sat until my shorts dried somewhat and the stain was no longer visible.
Actually, I guess I can be grateful that it was just coffee on the seat (at least it had a decidedly coffee aroma to it, thank goodness). I suppose it could have been worse.
After I was less damp, we continued with our outing.
The Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark was another of the attractions that offered a two-for-one admission if you had the coupon (available online and printed out) and a rail ticket for that day. Which, of course, we did!
The ship – the original ship restored – not a reproduction – is actually suspended and the lower portion of the hull is surrounded by glass that creates a roof over the displays and cafeteria BELOW the ship.
There are also several interactive displays within the ship itself, explaining the history of it’s voyages and how it came to be in Greenwich.
The Greenwich Observatory
By the time we got to Greenwich and the Cutty Sark, it was late in the afternoon. We could have bought a combined ticket for both the Cutty Sark and the Greenwich Observatory, but we didn’t have enough time left to be able to get to the Observatory, which was a shame because we really would have loved to see that, too. Perhaps on our next trip to London.
Back to Longfield – Sort Of
Neither of us is quite sure how it happened, but we obviously picked the wrong train back to Longfield.
Oh, it was going in the right direction, but it must have been an express, or something like that, because it blew right past Longfield taking us into uncharted territory.
We got off at the next stop (Rochester), checked the departure board and found the right platform for the train that would take us back to Longfield.
We explained to the train’s conductor, who was coming around to check tickets, the error we had made and she just smiled, knowingly.
Dinner at Monroe’s
Monroe’s have a wonderful carvery – kind of like a buffet – with several different types of meat – usually beef, pork and turkey – and a huge selection of vegetables. On this particular day, the selection of vegetables included kale, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, green peas, roasted parsnips and carrots.
While we are vegetarian most of the time, it can sometimes be difficult when eating out. So this time we chose the carvery, had a little bit of meat and piled our plates high with the veggies.
There were also sauces and gravy available as well.
The food was good and the prices were reasonable, which is why Monroe’s was quickly becoming our favorite restaurant.
A year ago today (August 5, 2014) we had what can only be described as the perfect day. Read on to find out why.
Early Morning Train Into London
In order to meeting the tour bus at Victoria Coach Station, we had to get up very early. The bus would be leaving at 8:30am and we needed to be there to meet it at least 15 minutes prior to that.
Up at 4:00am
In order to make it all happen so that we could be at the tour bus in time, we had to be up at 4:00am to get showered and dressed. We then started our walk into Longfield at 5:45am in order to catch the right train into London.
No Rail Pass Discount Today
This was the only day that our Two Together Rail Pass was of no use to us. Anytime before about 9:30am is considered “peak” time, so we just had to bite the bullet and pay full fare on this day.
Meeting The Tour Bus
Had we been staying at a hotel in London, the tour company would have picked us up at our hotel. However, that was not the case and we need to get ourselves to Victoria Coach Station. The Coach Station is about a 10-15 minute walk from the train station, but we had coordinated everything correctly and we arrived at the tour bus in plenty of time.
The first stop on our day-long tour was at Windsor Castle.
On this type of tour, trying to fit so many things in on a single day, generally there isn’t enough time at each stop.
We had to line up and wait for our tour guide to procure our entrance tickets and the line was already quite long when we joined it. However, it didn’t seem like a long wait before we had our tickets and were exploring the castle.
Windsor castle is actually a royal residence and has pretty much been so since it was first built in the 11th century. Queen Elizabeth II was not, however, in residence when we visisted.
Some of the sheer opulence amazed us – a rather obscene display of wealth but that seemed to be the norm of such sites that we visited, including the Tower of London where we saw the crown jewels.
We did our best to hit the highlights within the allotted time we were given at this site and easily found our way back to the waiting tour bus thanks to the clear instructions given by our tour guide.
The town of Bath, located in Somerset in Southwest England is a quaint town that maintains its look with strict building codes.
Most of the houses and buildings use the tan-colored stone and the entire town has the same “feel”.
Of course, Bath is most famous for the excavated Roman baths and that was the main reason we wanted to visit.
Some of the excavated areas are amazingly well preserved, but there are still many places where you can see the areas that have been less restored. The site itself is fairly large and we enjoyed wandering through the ruins for the short time we were there.
From time to time you’ll actually get a “Roman” explaining the history of the baths and we would pause to listen.
OH! MY! GOODNESS!
I was not prepared for my reaction to Stonehenge. Geoff, who had been there several times as a child, had always, jokingly, referred to it as “just a pile of rocks.”
As soon as I saw it I was totally overwhelmed and even began to cry. I believe it is the closest I have ever come to a truly spiritual experience. I have always been drawn to older structures, ancient history, etc. but this is the first time I have come face to face with something so awesome (and I do not mean the glib “awesome” we all use too often. I am using the true meaning of the word – that which creates awe.) and so ancient – 5,000 years old!
Show Some Respect!
Given how affected I was by Stonehenge, I’m afraid I did not handle well the people that were treating it like it was just another attraction. As we passed some teenagers, that were barely even looking at Stonehenge, I got annoyed at the fact that they were laughing, roughhousing and munching on crisps (potato chips). I’m afraid I lost it a little bit and grumbled, “For goodness sake, show some respect! This is 5,000 years old!” I doubt they even heard me, or would have cared if they did.
That’s so sad.
Not Nearly Enough Time
I didn’t want to leave. I was already planning a return, somewhere off in the future, and hoping to be there for one of the solstices when they actually allow a certain number of people INSIDE the stone circle.
There is also much, much more to the area than just Stonehenge, but we had no time to explore. We had to get back to the bus. But, not before spending some time in the museum at the entrance and, the inevitable, gift shop.
Last Ones Back
Geoff can attest to the fact that I’m always the one trying to make sure that, on any trip like this, we’re always back to the bus on time. I never want to be the last one. I never want to keep others waiting. I never want to risk missing the bus.
This time was different. Even when we realized we really needed to get back, and we picked up some speed in our step, we were still the last ones back to the tour bus.
Our tour guide had already headed back with everyone else’s self-guided tour electronic recorders and then had to take our’s back separately. (We had been admonished at the beginning of the tour not to return them ourselves but to bring them back to the bus for our tour guide to return.)
Back to London
From Stonehenge it was a straight shot back to London, which took a couple of hours.
With all of these types of tours, they’re always quite happy to pick you up at your hotel (but that didn’t apply in our case as we were staying too far outside of London), but dropping you off was another matter. They would identify a few spots and drop you at the one nearest your hotel.
We had actually picked up the tour bus right at Victoria Coach Station and thought that we would get dropped back there. Apparently that was not the case.
Dropped Off Near Victoria Station
The tour bus dropped us, with a few other people, “close” to Victoria Station. But, as we had already been into London a few times, we had no trouble finding our way back to the train station, which is exactly what we did.
Dinner In Longfield
It had been a long day and we finally got back to the Longfield Train Station just before 9:00pm. It would be a very late dinner for us tonight.
Our first stop was, of course, Monroe’s, which had become our favorite restaurant in Longfield. Unfortunately, they were just closing up, which wasn’t too surprising given the time. Fortunately, though, we did know that the local chippy was open until 10:00pm and it was just across the street.
Fish & Chips at the Local Chippy
We wandered across the street to Longfield Fishbar to treat ourselves to some fish & chips.
Even though Geoff noticed that Rock (what he knew as Rock Salmon) was on the menu, after the disappointment experienced in Chiselhurst, we both decided to order Halibut & Chips.
While waiting for our order, Geoff spoke with the proprietor of the shop and asked about the Rock Salmon (actually a type of eel). He had heard that it had all been fished out in the UK and, apparently, he was right. The Rock they served now actually came in the from USA. He only served it occasionally because he only offered fresh Rock, not frozen. It was only on the days that it was flown in – once a week or so – that he would have it available. He told Geoff that the Rock he had in Chiselhurst was likely the frozen kind and it just didn’t hold up well frozen.
Geoff also asked why it was now called simply Rock and not Rock Salmon as it was when he was a child. The proprietor explained that that was due to European Union regulations. You weren’t allowed to use the word “salmon” if it wasn’t actually salmon.
Lovely Halibut & Chips
Even though this shop had a couple of sets of tables and chairs outside, it was a bit cool for us and we decided to eat inside instead. There was no thought of us just taking our fish & chips back to the resort as they would have been cold by the time we got back. So, we opted to sit on a couple of chairs inside the shop, with the cardboard box packaged fish & chips on our laps and eat them there with the supplied plastic knives and forks.
Indoor Table and Chairs
The proprietor didn’t like to see us struggle with our meal on our laps, so he brought one of the tables inside for us. He then brought us some real, metal cutlery to use as well and that certainly made it easier to enjoy our lovely fish dinner. He also insisted on supplying us with a couple of bottles of water, on the house.
We also had a very interesting dinner conversation with him. Among many other subjects, we discussed the high cost of housing in the UK and encouraged him to check out Canada for his retirement.
A year ago today, (August 7, 2014) we visited Hampton Court and had encounters with royalty!
Last Chance to Get Our Laundry Done
As we would be leaving the UK in just a few days – on August 10th to be exact – this trip into Longfield would be our last chance to take in our laundry and have it ready for our fast-approaching departure to France via the Chunnel.
We won’t go into the somewhat perilous walk into Longfield (oops! actually, I guess we just did). But it was without event or injury and our laundry was safely deposited at the cleaners.
Train – Tube – Train to Hampton Court
With our two-together rail pass in hand, we bought our tickets to get us to Hampton Court, where we would spend the day.
It was a train to London Victoria Station, then the tubes to Vauxhall and then, for the final leg, a train to Hampton Court.
Hampton Court is just a short and pleasant walk from the train station and the entrance is very impressive.
Once we had arrived at Hampton Court, we needed to queue up in order to get our official tickets to actually enter the court.
There was, of course, the obligatory gift shop – for your convenience as you wait.
Various Types of Architecture
Hampton Court has some competing architecture. That happened because it was first started by Henry VIII, but when William & Mary came to the throne of England, they had different ideas and built to their tastes.
Originally, they had planned to undo everything Henry had done and replace it with their own vision. Fortunately, it was prohibitively expensive to pursue such a goal, and much that Henry built has survived, along with what William and Mary built.
Encounter with Henry VIII
While wandering the myriad halls of Hampton Court, we had the distinct pleasure of coming across Henry VIII discussing, I believe, one of his women, and what he needed to do about her.
His minister, who was walking along with him, was trying to be as helpful as possible, but Henry seemed particularly distraught. We all watched with fascination as they worked through their problem before wandering off down the hallway still deep in conversation.
It was a truly amazing experience with Henry and his minister staying in character for the entire encounter. It was fascinating to watch and to listen and to feel like a part of history.
And, as luck would have it, this would not be our only encounter with royalty while at Hampton Court.
The gardens at Hampton Court are – in a word – amazing! Perfectly manicured, incredibly tranquil and totally enjoyable.
We happened upon some of the groundskeepers and were able to chat with them for a while. Needless to say, upkeep of such extensive gardens is a full-time job, but what a remarkable result. Obviously a labor of love more than just a job.
Naturally, we did the maze as well, expecting full well to get lost. We understand that there are people available to lead you out if you do, indeed, get lost.
However, we didn’t actually find the maze that difficult and were able to get through it in a reasonable time.
Our Second Encounter with Royalty
Our second encounter with royalty happened while we were walking in the gardens.
George II and his minister were ambling along a path, discussing matters of state, we presume. We were able to approach them and speak to them both for quite some time.
Again, these actors remained totally in character the entire time and provided us with an unforgettable experience and memory of our day “at court”.
Dinner at Monroe’s
To top off the day, we finished with yet another dinner at our favorite restaurant in Longfield – Monroe’s.
A year ago today, (August 8 & 9, 2014) we had our last two days in the U.K for this trip.
Our 26th Anniversary
Friday, August 8th, was our 26th wedding anniversary. We had planned to walk into Longfield again today, to pick up our laundry and to have our anniversary dinner at – yes – Monroe’s.
Sadly, the weather had other plans for that day.
The rain started at about 8:00am and came down in buckets for quite a while. After that, it settled in for the rest of the day.
Spirits Not Dampened
However, we didn’t allow the weather to dampen our spirits and spent a relaxing day reading and enjoying the hot tub.
We did resolve, however, no matter what the weather was like the next day (Saturday), we simply had to go into Longfield to pick up our laundry. After all, we were leaving very early on Sunday morning to catch the MegaBus that would take us to Paris. Yes, we were taking a BUS to Paris! Be sure to read of August 10th blog post for how we did that.
Instead of the lovely dinner fare we had hoped for on our anniversary, we had to content ourselves with a not unpleasant, but plain, dinner of sausage, chips and salad. As we said earlier, the small restaurant where we were staying had a basic, but limited repertoire. But we enjoyed it, nonetheless.
Rain Continued Throughout the Night and Into the Next Morning
We began to get a little worried about the required trip into Longfield on Saturday as the rain continued right through Friday night and was still there to greet us on Saturday morning, although with much less fervor.
It finally began to clear and just after lunch we felt it was safe to make our way into town.
Our Favorite British Fare
While in the UK we indulged in some of our favorite British products. Some we even packed away to take home with us.
We both enjoy Digestive Biscuits and just had to get the ones that came in their own tin. These digestive tins have now become a decoration in our kitchen and, as we couldn’t resist eating all the biscuits, now hold spaghetti.
Geoff has always LOVED Marmite, so when he discovered this HUGE jar he just couldn’t resist. He decided that this was a collectors item and would lovingly carry his prized possession, unopened, all through Europe and across the Atlantic.
Sadly the Geoff/Marmite love affair came to a tragic end in Los Angeles, but you’ll have to wait until the November 3rd post to read the devastating story of how it all ended.
Laundry and Dinner
We had phoned the laundry to make sure they were open regular hours on Saturday and, fortunately, they were. We said we’d stop by that afternoon to pick up our laundry and they confirmed that it was ready and waiting for us. Good thing, too, because we were off to Paris the next day and we needed our clean clothes!
As our plans to have our anniversary dinner at Monroe’s last night were thwarted by the weather, we decided that tonight, our last night in the U.K., would be just as appropriate.
Although we no longer recall what it was we ordered that night, we are quite sure it was good as we never had a bad meal any time we ate there.
A year ago today (August 10, 2014), we took a bus, MegaBus to be exact, from London to Paris. It was a trip we were certainly looking forward to but things did not go exactly as planned. Read on!
Deal of the Century?
Before we get started, I’d like to brag, just a little, about the screaming deal we got on our tickets for this London to Paris journey.
As you know, we always do a lot of research for any trip we take and that included the cheapest most economical way to get from London to Paris.
While doing this research we came upon MegaBus who, as you may or may not know, is a master at offering a few seats at ridiculously low prices – just a few, mind you. But, you have to know when the tickets are first offered and you have to be quick on the draw.
I had been watching their site for a while, waiting for our date to come up. And, when it did, I pounced! I snagged us two tickets to Paris for the TOTAL price of £10.50! That was £5.00/each and a 50p online booking fee. When I checked their site again, just an hour later, the same seats were now £40.00/each.
I was so blown away by the deal we got that I actually called MegaBus to confirm that the price actually included BOTH of us AND our luggage and that the total amount was correct. They assured me it was correct and congratulated us on the deal we got.
How Were We Going to Take a Bus to Paris?
Well, when booking this trip, it was not clear exactly how the bus was going to get to Paris. We knew there were two choices, the Chunnel or the Ferry. We had no idea which way we would be going and figured, either way, it would be an adventure.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, so let’s get back to the beginning of this day’s adventure.
Up Very, Very Early
In order to get to London in time to catch our bus, we determined that we had to take the 7:30am train leaving from Longfield.
We packed as much as we could the night before and set the alarm to give us enough time to have a shower and a light breakfast.
Much to our delight, one of the people we had met during our stay offered to drive us to the train station. That meant we didn’t have to worry about calling a cab. And, true to his word, he was ready and waiting for us in plenty of time to get us to the station.
I am quite certain that the instructions on our tickets said to be at the station two hours before departure. As our scheduled departure was 10:30am, that meant, of course, we were expected to be there by 8:30am. And, we were pretty much on time.
However, when we tried to check in, we were told that the check in process for the Paris bus would not begin until 9:30am. What? That was only an hour before. The clerk just shrugged her shoulders and told us to come back at 9:30.
Chaos at Victoria Coach Station
Any other experiences we’ve had with using Victoria Coach Station have been somewhat disorganized but, for some reason, today was downright chaotic and extremely overcrowded.
We were being jostled and bumped into on a regular basis and finding any place to sit appeared to be an exercise in futility.
There were no clear lines for any of the scheduled buses, no consistent use of gate numbers and any announcements were, to our ears anyway, too garbled to comprehend.
Scheduled Departure Time Came and Went
After checking in at the appropriate time, we once again settled in to wait – as much as we could, anyway. The crowds just kept growing and no one seemed to be leaving. We’re amazed that tempers weren’t flaring at this point, but most people, though disgruntled, were keeping their cool.
When our scheduled departure time came and went, we went back to the ticket clerk to get an update. We were told there was a delay but they couldn’t be specific as to how long the delay would be.
Bicycle Race Through London
After talking with fellow travelers we discovered that, of all days, today there was a London-wide bicycle race and most of the major thoroughfares were closed off with lots of detours causing lots of road congestion. Wonderful!
But we remained hopeful that we would get on our way soon and get to Paris at a reasonable time. Silly us.
Finally on Our Way – Sort Of
After a more than two-hour delay, we finally were directed to our bus. It didn’t pull up to one of the gates. We were lead to our bus, parked a few yards away from the terminal.
And, we had to be paying attention to the muffled announcements and the constantly changing gate information or we could have easily still been waiting!
When we finally pulled away from the station, within just a few feet, the bus stalled. Our driver promptly restarted the bus only to have it stall again after only another few feet.
At this point, a collective groan issued from most of the passengers and the driver, also, seemed frustrated and annoyed.
Thankfully, after the third restart, the bus remained running and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Missed Our Appointment on the Chunnel Train
Because of the delays, we had, apparently, missed our bus’s scheduled appointment for our spot on the Chunnel train. The driver had no choice but to wait until we were rescheduled for another available spot.
He had no idea when that might be so we were cautioned not to venture too far from the bus in case we got a spot and had to move quickly. When he did finally get notified of our appointment, it was almost a two-hour wait.
We were beginning to get concerned about when we would actually make it to Paris. We knew that the hotel we had booked did not have a 24-hour front desk.
Loading the Bus on the Chunnel Train
Never having experienced the trip through the Chunnel, we were uncertain as to what to expect. Would we all have to exit the bus and, perhaps, pick up another bus when we arrived in France?
We were assured by the driver that this bus would take us all the way to Paris.
We watched in fascination as we approached the train and other cars, trucks, campers vans and more loaded before we did.
The train cars are huge! And our bus didn’t even take up an entire train car. We’re still in awe of how they were loaded in the first place, just driving on from the station platform onto the train. I was certain there was no way that our bus was going to make it.
But, of course, it did. All I can say is I’m sure glad I wasn’t driving. It would have seriously freaked me out.
Check out this video of our bus getting loaded into the train car and being unloaded in France.
Welcome to France
A mere 35 minutes later we were in France and the whole unloading exercise went without a hitch and was totally efficient.
It’s obvious that they do this several times a day and they certainly have it down to a science.
No Customs or Immigration
We have marveled before at how there are no customs or immigration requirements as we traveled throughout the EU. We simply got on the train in the UK and got off in France. And, it would be like that the whole time. And we would travel through France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Denmark and even Malta, Tunisia and The Azores (Portugal).
Are We There Yet?
Now that we were finally in France (already well past the time we should have already been in Paris), we assumed that we would make a bee-line to Paris and attempt to make up some of the lost time. Sadly, making up the time, did not appear to be a priority.
Only a short distance into France, we pulled off into a gas station. Because of all the delays, our driver had used up his allotted time for that day and we would need a replacement driver, who was waiting for us at this gas station.
The hand-off was relatively quick and painless, but it was still another delay.
At our next stop, Boulogne, we dropped off one of the passengers at the designated stop. However, after that, we made another stop – still in Boulogne – to pick up another passenger and to drop off our previous driver.
And, as if we weren’t already late enough, we then made an unscheduled detour to drop off the person we had picked up in Boulogne. No idea why we needed to do that, or why it was even allowed.
Lights on the Horizon
From then on, each time we saw lights on the horizon we hoped that maybe, just maybe, we were approaching Paris.
Our hopes we dashed many times during the journey.
Welcome to Paris
At almost 1:00am, we FINALLY arrived in Paris. That was SEVEN hours late.
The original plan was to take a local bus to our hotel. We had, naturally, researched the local system and even knew which bus to take. It would take us about 30 minutes and get us very close to our hotel.
However, at this time in the morning, nothing appeared to be running. The “bus station” didn’t even appear to be a station, just a place where buses were parked.
Call to Our Hotel
We weren’t traveling with a cell phone on this trip so I asked our bus driver if we could borrow his cell phone so we could call our hotel to see if they were even still open. We knew they didn’t have a 24-hour front desk, but we had expected to arrive in Paris much, much earlier than this.
The driver was happy to let us use his phone, thank goodness.
We were ecstatic when someone actually picked up the phone and it took all of the French I know to get across where we were and to find out that the front desk clerk was just about to close up.
We promised we would get a cab right away and be there within half an hour, or so. He said he would wait if we didn’t take too long.
MegaBus Driver’s Promise
The driver promised us that MegaBus would reimburse us for the cost of the cab to get to our hotel as we had arrived so late.
Not only did MegaBus do that, they also refunded the cost of our tickets. Great customer service. We would definitely use them again as, we’re sure, these delays were a freak occurrence and out of their control.
Cab to Hotel
We had to do a little walking from the bus station to a busy corner in order to hail a cab, but we got one in short order, showed the driver the address of the hotel and arrived within the timeframe we had given the front desk clerk.
Happy to Check In
We were so happy to find that, true to his word, the clerk was indeed waiting for us. And, promptly locked up after he check us in.
A year ago today, August 11, 2014, was our first, and only, full day in Paris.
Our First – And Only – Full Day in Paris
With the frustrations of actually getting here quickly fading in our memories, we looked forward to the only full day we would spend in Paris.
Before we get started, we’d like to tell you a little bit about the hotel – the Luxor Bastille, with the wonderful manager, that waited until nearly 2:00am for us to arrive.
Traveling through Europe, one of the things that we most noticed is that almost everything is small – houses, kitchens, hotel rooms, etc. But our hotel took “small” to a whole new level. And this was apparent starting with the elevator before we even got to our room.
So, how small was the elevator? Well, we couldn’t both use it at the same time. As a matter of fact, neither of us could fit in it alone with all our luggage. What we had to do was, one of us took the elevator to our floor and then sent the elevator back down. Then the luggage was loaded into the elevator, the button pressed, and the luggage took the ride alone. The one at our floor removed the luggage from the elevator and sent it back down. Then, the one still on the ground floor got on the elevator for the ride up to our floor.
It was the only way in such a tiny elevator. Really.
When we opened the door to our room the “small” theme continued. While the room was small and basic, it was clean, comfortable and all we really needed, not to mention one of the best deals in Paris (yes, we did our research).
The bathroom did not disappoint on the “small” theme, either. Or, should we call it compact or an efficient use of space? Whatever description is used, the bathroom, though fully equipped, was definitely tiny and the bathtub, if you could call it that, was really just a deep shower base. Trying to actually take a bath in it would be futile.
Almost as a joke, I stuffed myself into the bathtub and there was almost no room left for water and my knees were up at my chin! Truly, I don’t think it was meant for actual bathing at all, just a receptacle for the shower water. But it added to the enjoyment of our Paris adventure.
Aside from price (we got another screaming deal at €68.00/night), one of the other reasons we chose the hotel we did was because of its convenient location. It was in the Bastille district, close to the Seine, close to Notre Dame and close to the Gare de Lyon. The proximity to Gare de Lyon meant we wouldn’t have to take a cab the next day to catch our train to Lyon as it would only be a 10-minute walk.
As we were only spending one full day in Paris, we wanted to be sure to pack in as much as we could. Anxious to begin our day, we grabbed a quick coffee and headed for the Seine, only a couple minutes walk away. (Yes, of course, I had printed out some Google maps so we, hopefully, wouldn’t get lost.) We thought that maybe we’d pick up a pastry or something once we got to the Eiffel Tower.
We had hoped to get the BatoBus (a hop on, hop off boat service plying the River Seine) from somewhere along the Seine, to the Eiffel Tower. That was the plan. But plans, when traveling, are always fluid, whether you want them to be or not. And this was one of those time.
We did come across a BatoBus stop on our walk along the banks of the Seine, heading in the general direction of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, the boats did not begin running until 10:00am.
That wouldn’t do, as we had an appointment for a tour of the Eiffel Tower booked for 10:45am. So, that didn’t leave us nearly enough time. And, aside from that, why would we want to just wait at a hop on station when we could be exploring? So, we carried on.
As we walked we realized that we would need to gain much more speed in order to get to the Eiffel Tower with time to spare to find our tour group. So we decided to ask for some directions and suggestions as to local transit so we didn’t have to enlist the services of a taxi cab.
We noticed during our walk that there were security forces everywhere – very well-armed security forces. A little intimidating, really, but all too understandable for a city like Paris.
We approached one group and, much to our relief, one of them spoke English. We told him we needed to get to the Eiffel Tower and didn’t have the time to walk all the way, from where we currently were.
He took out his cell phone and did a Google search for the best local transit option. He found the bus we would need and where the nearest stop way. But, he didn’t stop there. He actually walked with us to the appropriate bus stop, reminded us of the bus number we would need and then wished us adieu.
We are pretty certain that, without his help, we may not have found our way to the Eiffel Tower in a timely manner. Local transit from our hotel to the Eiffel Tower was not something that I had researched because I thought we could take the BatoBus. I guess I didn’t research that option well enough or I would have known that the service didn’t start until 10:00am.
Oh, well, all part of the adventure and we wouldn’t have met the amazingly helpful and friendly security guard!
Bus to the Eiffel Tower
We caught the #72 bus at the Hotel de Ville (city hall), for a cost of €3,00 (for both of us) and headed off to the Eiffel Tower.
Along the way, we passed The Louvre (we weren’t going to have time to visit on this trip) and Pont Neuf (and we would visit that after our tour).
First Look at the Eiffel Tower
I’ve got to admit that I did not realize just how big the Eiffel Tower actually was. Nor did I know that the Champs de Mars (a roadway) runs right underneath it.
We had arrived in plenty of time to find out where our tour met and that gave us the opportunity to wander around for a while and also to take the requisite “selfie” in front of the tower.
Our wandering around also included several encounters with souvenir vendors and food vendors as well.
I’m sure you’ve all heard that the food in Paris is very expensive, whether it’s from a street vendor or in a restaurant. And you know what, it’s true!
After checking out what was on offer from the various vendors, and the prices, we decide our hunger could wait and, after our tour, we’d hunt down a grocery store rather than pay such ridiculous prices.
Remember – we’re cheap frugal!
Decision made, we headed off to join our tour group.
Waiting for Our Tour Guide
We had booked our tour online, from Canada. When we were ready to book, we thought we had left ourselves lots of time. Apparently not.
Even though we book many weeks in advance, the tour was almost booked up. As a matter of fact, our order was put in “pending” until the could confirm there was room for us on the day we wanted, at the time we wanted. But within 24 hours of booking, they confirmed our reservation. Phew!
So here we were, tickets in hand, waiting for our tour guide.
Not Just the Eiffel Tower
Our tour included much more than just the Eiffel Tower. Our guide explained a lot of the history of the tower as well as guiding us through a radio/military bunker, very close to the tower, that was used during World War II.
We also got to see the inner workings of the tower including some of the hydraulic pistons and cables that run the elevators and inclinators.
However, for me, one of the best parts of the tour was that our guide kept changing character as we went through different eras, including costume changes that were accomplished with little to no disruption of the tour. Some of his characters included a WW II aviator and a worker during the building of the Eiffel Tower.
He would simply say he was called away for various reasons and would return as a new character. It was very well done and we would recommend the tour to anyone.
Final Stop of the Tour
Our tour included the cost of getting to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and that’s where our guide said his farewells.
There is an amazing view of Paris from the second floor and we took the time to take it all in.
We chose not to go all the way up to the third platform of the Eiffel Tower as the line up was very, very long and we were getting a bit tired of standing as the tour had been over 1-1/2 hours long.
We decided to check out the restaurants on both the second platform and the first platform. If you think restaurant prices are high in Paris, then you certainly wouldn’t want to eat here – and we didn’t. Although the restaurant on the first platform is slightly cheaper than the one on the second.
We made our way back down to the ground via one of the inclinators and there were people there to make sure that there was no wasted space and packed us in like sardines!
It may have been the end of the tour but it was really only the beginning of our day in Paris and we still had so much more to pack in.
We mentioned that BatoBus and its route early in this post, so we won’t do it again here. However, one stop is pretty close to the base of the Eiffel Tower and that’s where we decided to purchase our tickets.
While the line up for purchasing the tickets wasn’t too bad, the line waiting for the next boat was huge!
The boats arrived either every 10 or every 20 minutes depending on who you asked. We waited for a bit for the first one to arrive, and we didn’t make it on that one because of the size of the line up. The wait after that one left was at least 15 minutes before the next one came into view.
Fortunately, we made it on that one and were very glad to just sit for a bit. Since we left our hotel this morning we’d walked a fair distance before getting a bus to the Eiffel Tower, then we walked around the general area for about an hour before our tour started. The tour as over 1-1/2 hours long, then we lined up for our BatoBus tickets and then to get a seat on a Batobus. Yes, we were very glad to sit down for a while.
We were also lucky to get a seat on the Batobus. There were several people that had to stand.
So, in order to get a bit of a rest, we decided to stay on the boat for most of the circuit, which included eight stops. Leaving from the Eiffel Tower stop, the stops were:
Jardin Des Plantes
Hôtel De Ville
and then back to the Eiffel Tower
We chose to stay on the boat all the way to the Champs-Elysées.
As we walked along the Champs-Elysées we began to wish we had a lot more time in Paris. We were discovering that it was a beautiful city, with clean wide streets and amazing architecture. We certainly hope to come back again soon and spend more time.
As we slowly drifted towards the Arc de Triomphe we soaked in the sights and sounds and marveled at the mix of restaurants, fashion houses, stores, fast food joints (unfortunately) and even a Toyota car dealership – yes! – right on the Champs-Elysées.
But, before going all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, our tummies began to remind us that it had been quite a while since we’d last eaten. As mentioned previously, Paris restaurants are notoriously expensive and, on the Champs-Elysées – well – you can imagine.
Lucky for us, we noticed what we believed to be a grocery just down one of the side-streets and we decided to investigate.
Sure enough, the sign we had noticed that said MonoPrix was definitely a grocery store. We grabbed a small basket and began to look around.
It’s probably not a good idea to wander around a grocery store, with so many appealing items, when you’re hungry. But, that’s exactly what we were doing. All the while saying things like “Oh, look at this!” or “Wow, that looks good.” or “Mmmmm – pastry.”
In the end, knowing that we really didn’t want to be carrying groceries around Paris, we managed to be very conservative and only buy a wonderfully fresh and crusty baguette, a small portion of some lovely cheese and a small bottle of milk. It was all we really needed.
And, besides, we netted yet another cheap unique souvenir – a MonoPrix grocery bag!
Al fresco lunch in hand, we found the perfect place to sit on the wall of an underground garage ramp and happily people-watched as we at our lunch.
Arc de Triomphe
While eating our lunch, we could see the Arc de Triomphe from where we sat. As a matter of fact, you can see it from almost anywhere along the Champs-Elysées. And, that was our next stop.
Dodging Parisienne Drivers
Another thing we didn’t know – the Arc de Triomphe sits in the middle of a very large, very busy roundabout. How odd, we thought, and just shrugged our shoulders.
Before trying to cross the traffic, we attempted to take a selfie from the middle of the Champs-Elysées. Not quite as mad as it sounds. However, you can just barely see a piece of it behind us.
While traffic was whizzing by us, in both directions, there was a small (very small) island in the middle of the road for those that couldn’t get all the way across before the lights changed. And, that’s where we stood to take a selfie.
From the same vantage point, we took the picture posted here. However, it really doesn’t do it justice as to how busy this roundabout really is.
Mad Dash Across the Roundabout
We’re pleased to say that we are still here to tell the tale of our mad dash across the roundabout to get to the Arc de Triomphe. There were a few scary moments, and a lot of beeping and screeching of tires, that we thought we might not be. I believe there were a few choice phrases hurled our way as well, but we weren’t able to understand them – probably just as well.
Once across the roundabout, we saw a staircase to an underground walkway and realized that this was the proper way to get to and from the Arc de Triomphe. No wonder the drivers in the roundabout hadn’t been very happy with us. Dumb tourists!
We also discovered that there was a way to get to the top of the Arc. We’re sure it would have been a lovely view, but it was kind of an expensive thing to do (€9.50 each) and the budget was telling us, either do that or have dinner. Needless to say, dinner won.
Back to the BatoBus
We walked back down the Champs-Elysées to the BatoBus stop at Pont Neuf and, once again, had to wait for the second boat as there were already more people waiting than would fit on the first boat to arrive.
As a “hop on, hop off” service, this wasn’t working very well for us with all the waiting we had to do at each stop.
The plan was to stop at Notre Dame, but by this time we were both very tired from a long and busy day.
Once we got on a boat, it started to rain very heavily and the window above our seat was completely open and we couldn’t find a way to close it. We vacated our seats so that we didn’t get drenched and stood for quite a while waiting for dry seats to free up.
Headed Back to Our Hotel
Exhaustion was setting in and we decided to forego a stop at Notre Dame and just head back to our hotel and decide where we would have dinner.
We stayed on the BatoBus to the Hôtel de Ville stop – the closest stop to our hotel – and began the walk back to our hotel. It rained a little more and we took shelter under a bridge for a time and then carried on.
Stopping for Dinner
While walking back to our hotel, we checked out the menus of each café we passed and one in particular caught our eye.
The menu had Steak de Thon (tuna steak) with Riz Sauvage (wild rice) and the price seemed reasonable – for Paris, anyway. The price was €14.50. Really not bad considering on the Champs-Elysées a hamburger was €16.00!
At first we thought we’d go back to the hotel to clean up and then come back to this restaurant but, when we realized it was already 8:00pm, we decided to just turn around and have our meal at this restaurant. It was a lovely meal.
Once back at our hotel, Geoff soaked his tired feet in our tiny tub and when he was done, I tried to fit all of me in the tub. Kind of comical really, but the warm water did help ease the aches and pains from all the standing and walking we did.
In for the Night and Off to Lyon Tomorrow
Given that we were both so tired from the amazing day we had, we made the decision that we were now in for the night.
We also knew that we would be able to sleep in, slightly, the next morning as are train to Lyon the next day didn’t leave until 11:00am, from the Gare de Lyon, which was only about a 10 minute walk from our hotel.
We did as much packing as we could and then just relaxed and had an early night.