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April 19, 2010 - We leave London for Paris, not Toulouse

We'll figure out Toulouse when we get to Paris. Right now just having Eurostar tickets to Paris is a miracle.

Corner of Waterloo Place and St. Charles II Street

Corner of Waterloo Place and St. Charles II Street

Day 6 — April 19, 2010 (Monday)

I’m writing this in Paris! What a day we’ve had. We had breakfast at the Thistle City Barbican, our hotel in London, courtesy of British Airways. Finished packing and checked out to discover British Airways covered the entire bill. We didn’t have to pay anything which was nice since we’re already paying for a car and house in the Dordogne.

We left our luggage with the very helpful Thistle Hotel people and left for the London Visitors’ Bureau on Regent Street to book a train from Paris to Toulouse. When we arrived, the line waiting for exactly the same thing went around two blocks. Ed stood in line for over three hours and was only halfway. I had gone inside to use their pay Internet connection and when I checked on Ed, everyone was asking why the line had stopped moving. I returned inside and asked a few questions and discovered the SNCF web site for booking trains in France was overwhelmed and had gone down. We gave up and returned to our pub for lunch . . . excellent. We retrieved our luggage at the hotel and treated ourselves to a taxi to St. Pancras Station. The taxi was a Mercedes . . . my first ride in one . . . and the driver chattered the entire way. It was fun and he only charged 10 £ so Ed gave him a big tip.

Line for tickets out of London

Line for tickets out of London


Lobby of the Thistle City Barbican in London

Lobby of the Thistle City Barbican in London

Arrived at St. Pancras Station and Ed zipped down to turn in our Oyster cards. We tried to check in for our train but it wasn’t open yet so we walked across the hall to Paul’s and got coffee and two seats until they opened the check-in. They announced; we checked in and went through Security and Passport Control and into a lovely waiting room with hardwood floors and polite people. It was like airports used to be!

We boarded right on time and didn’t have seats together but a French family traded with us so we were together and they were together. The Eurostar train is very comfortable and quiet . . . much nicer than an airplane. The trip zipped by, across England, under the Channel and across France to Paris. I thought the tunnel would be oppressive but you hardly know it is there. You are above ground until you get to the Channel and then underground for twenty minutes. The minute we came out, I knew we were in France. It looks so different.

St. Pancras Station in London - Ready to go to Paris

St. Pancras Station in London - Ready to go to Paris


View from the Eurostar between London and Paris

View from the Eurostar between London and Paris


View from the Eurostar between London and Paris

View from the Eurostar between London and Paris


View from the Eurostar between London and Paris

View from the Eurostar between London and Paris


View from the Eurostar between London and Paris

View from the Eurostar between London and Paris

Arrived at Gare du Nord just as the SNCF ticket offices closed for the night so we got a carnet of Metro tickets and headed for Metro line #4. One suitcase got stuck in the gate and the girl behind us put her Metro ticket in which released Ed’s suitcase but then she couldn’t get through. Over the gate, I passed her another ticket from our carnet while a nice black family helped her friend get her luggage through. We all eventually got to our trains. It was kind of a community experience.

We rode to St. Germain and walked to Hotel Clement hoping that despite the volcano chaos, they would have a room for us. Thankfully, they did and we are in a lovely room papered in French toile fabric. We're on the top floor with a view of the Pantheon dome (lighted) and St. Sulpice Church (lighted). It is heavenly.

View of Saint Sulpice from our room at Hotel Clement in Paris

View of Saint Sulpice from our room at Hotel Clement in Paris

We’ve met people we never would on an ordinary trip. Two young people offered me seats in various places. The crowd in line were all advising and helping each other. We chatted at length with an Aussie and a young Israeli trying to get to Sophia for his new job. I met a French woman from La Jermay and a British lady trying to get to Paris.

We sent a couple people to STA Travel where we got our Eurostar tickets. We left STA cards with our hotel concierge and gave them to the Canadians we’ve eaten with at the hotel. The hotel manager thanked us for the cards and the staff all wished us a good journey. It’s been quite an experience and we’re not quite there . . . but closer!

Posted by Beausoleil 15:18 Archived in France Tagged london paris france uk eurostar_train Comments (4)

April 16, 2010 - an unexpected day in London

We managed some sightseeing while trapped in London. If you're there, you might as well look around . . .

Double-decker London bus at the Bank of England Museum

Double-decker London bus at the Bank of England Museum

Day 3 — April 16, 2010 (Friday)

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This morning at our British Airways (BA)-provided breakfast there was a sign posted that they would pay for another night at the Thistle Hotel. Knowing that, we decided to see London for free. The concierge gave us a map and we set off on foot.

*****

We walked to and across Southwark Bridge, meeting a trio from Canada in the same ash-cloud dilemma walking downtown. Later we met a lost Aussie businessman who needed a look at our map. Looking for the Globe Theater we asked a young Londoner for directions. He was interrupted by an elderly Londoner and they contradicted each other. We opted for the younger fellow since he seemed more willing to check directions on our map. Later the older man came racing over to tell us that the younger fellow had been correct.

*****

*****

Bank Station at The Royal Exchange

Bank Station at The Royal Exchange

Whittington Gardens-Saint Michael Paternoster Royal

Whittington Gardens-Saint Michael Paternoster Royal

View of the train bridge from Southwark Bridge

View of the train bridge from Southwark Bridge

Dome and Spires of Saint Paul's Cathedral from Southwark Bridge

Dome and Spires of Saint Paul's Cathedral from Southwark Bridge

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London


We found the Globe Theater and checked the gift shop and the outside. Next we walked under the Millennium Bridge and into the Tate Modern Art Museum. London is odd in that museums are free but you pay to visit the churches. Having no British money, we chose museums!

I’m not terribly excited by modern art but a lot of it, while not inspiring, is often lots of fun. The museum is very well done with explanations, movies and interactive exhibits that were wildly popular with young people. It was fun to watch and the works were interesting (or curious). We went to the top floor restaurant for lunch overlooking the Thames River, Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s. They took credit cards so we had the crab lunch and it was good.

*****

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

The Tate Modern - London

Lunchtime view of St. Paul's from the Tate Modern

Lunchtime view of St. Paul's from the Tate Modern

We left the museum and walked over the Millennium Bridge and up to St. Paul’s, then back to the hotel without getting lost.

St. Paul's Cathedral from the Millenium Bridge

St. Paul's Cathedral from the Millenium Bridge


St. Paul's Cathedral walking up Peter's Hill, London

St. Paul's Cathedral walking up Peter's Hill, London

Back in the room, Ed tried to make a phone call and had to go down to the desk to make phone arrangements. He came back and it still didn’t work. Back down; back up; it worked. We saw on tv that BA canceled all flights up to 10:00 AM Saturday. That was our rebooked flight! Ed called the BA number they gave us and it didn’t work. He called Customer Service and got a robot who said to rebook on ba.com.

Next I had a fight with the computer trying to purchase Internet access. I got as far as the credit card and it was refused. Ed had used it a few times here in London and had no trouble. So . . . he called MasterCard to see what happened. We had called and told them we’d be in France but were using the card in London so they decided it was suspicious. He got it all straightened out (hadn’t they heard the news?!) and I signed on to see verification of our second flight cancellation. Sigh . . .

I e-mailed the kids who had already discovered we were in London. Jean & Peg checked the BA website! Next I went to the BA web site to re-rebook and it told us to telephone. I checked phone numbers and Ed called again. The phone says to rebook on the web site; the web site says to rebook on the phone. Catch 22 . . . I logged off.

I e-mailed Andrew (NiceLife on Virtual Tourist) and asked him how to get out of London because he lives here and will hopefully know. I’ll check VT later. There must be boats . . .

We went to the BA buffet dinner and to hear our update at 8:00 PM. Nice buffet–no update. Came back to our room to discover on tv that all BA flights tomorrow are canceled. Sigh . . . back to the web.

Posted by Beausoleil 13:47 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged museums london volcano uk tate_modern globe_theatre saint-paul's Comments (3)

Thursday - April 15, 2010 - The Volcano

Oops, they closed European air space while we were in London. Now how do we get to Toulouse? A volcano blew its top in Iceland and the world is dealing with it. An adventure . . .

Train from Sacramento to San Francisco followed by a flight that was supposed to go to Toulouse, France but didn't quite get there.

Train from Sacramento to San Francisco followed by a flight that was supposed to go to Toulouse, France but didn't quite get there.

This morning we woke on the plane, ate most of a mediocre breakfast and then the pilot made a long drawn-out announcement about arriving a “wee bit late” due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland and a very brief understated mention that the London airport would be closing at noon. Our connecting flight to Toulouse was scheduled at 2:20 PM. What was happening?!

(Here I’ll add the e-mail I wrote to the kids that I still haven’t sent because we have no British money and our hotel charges for Internet. Here it is.)
Hi. We’re vacationing in London. Don’t know if you’ve heard but there was a volcanic eruption in Iceland. We arrived in London at 10:20 AM (London time) and at noon they closed the entire airport. You cannot believe the mess. No one knew what anyone else was doing and workers kept contradicting each other. They all meant well but it was a huge mess. We stood in lines for over 6 hours and Dad’s suitcase has disappeared. Fortunately I have mine with toothbrushes and toothpaste.

We stood in line to rebook and have a flight out SATURDAY morning at 7:30 AM so we should be able to get our leased car in Toulouse. However, we lose two nights in Toulouse. The hotel was pretty reasonable about it. Dad couldn't call until after 6 o'clock PM but they said if they could rent the room, they would not charge us. Don't know if that will happen since no one else can travel either. We will probably lose the first night. They did cancel tomorrow night and we have a day in London . . . for which I am absolutely not prepared. Perhaps we'll look for Harry Potter!

Still in the airport but after we rebooked, we moved to another longer line to get a hotel voucher. This line was a nightmare (worse nightmare) and we hadn't been able to get our luggage so I stayed in line and Dad went down two floors to look for luggage. He didn't appear for hours and I was getting worried. As I entered the last rope of the line, he appeared with my suitcase and said they couldn't find his. They suggested we check again on Saturday. I was concerned because you need to file a lost luggage report before you leave the airport, but it is checked through to Toulouse so if it doesn't show up in Toulouse, we can file a report there. Hopefully, it will show up in Toulouse. He does have his backpack with jammies and undies so it's not a complete disaster.

At any rate, we are (courtesy of British Airways) staying at Thistle Hotel (Barbican City) in downtown London. We don't know about tomorrow night because they are booked full. She said to check at 9:00 AM and see if anyone left so we could get that room. Everyone has been very nice except BA will not pay for the second night. Most other airlines didn't even provide minimal support or rooms so we fared better than most. I'm hoping we can stay here another night. If not, we'll start looking in the morning but sightseeing would be more fun. If we find Harry Potter, we will take photos. LOL

The down side is that we have no maps, no English money, no guide books and no plan for London . . . just complete plans and walks in Toulouse that we will not see on this trip. The volcano is still erupting so we're not entirely positive the Saturday flight will happen, but that is the current plan. Belgium has canceled flights but we haven't heard any other news. At least we're stranded in a country where we speak the language.

It's been exciting . . . and we all know how much I like excitement. ; )

Posted by Beausoleil 14:03 Archived in France Tagged france volcano uk lhr Comments (6)

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