Monday, May 9, 2011

April 8th: And They're Off!

After days of rambling around London, seeing the sights by myself. This day started things off in a whole other direction.

And it was amazing!

We were up and in the courtyard of the hotel at 6:00 am for check-in and loading our things on the coach. (Myself and 43 others.) Not that I had really had all that much sleep the night before...and not just because of excitement/nerves... The hotel I was staying at plays host to what seems like millions of school kids on tours. There was a decent sized group of them the previous night out in the interior courtyard and they were dancing and singing and shouting....until about 3 am. Lovely!

Side note: The vast majority of these photos are unedited. And there will be some that I've taken out the window of the bus, so please excuse the glare of the glass that appears in some of them. :)

Sooo...the cliffs of Dover. And part of the town there. We were taking the ferry from Dover to Calais in France.

While we didn't have to wait long to get on the ferry, we did have time to run into this bunch....

Yup, we met the Smurfs.

Costumed, wigged and face-painted. Oh what a sight! (I wonder if the French customs officers gave them any trouble? I'm sure they're not really looking like their passport photos at this point....) Much laughter ensued. A bunch of our tour group hopped off the bus to check them out. Apparently Smurfette, in his/her fetching blond wig and white dress, was being thrown a Smurf style bachelor party, and they were headed across the Channel for a little fun.

And yes, the police stopped to check them out too!

The ferry ride was about 1.5 hours, and we motored into the port in Calais.

I was amazed at how flat the countryside was at this point. Miles and miles of fields growing crops, many of them brilliant yellow with what I think was canola.

And windmills...lots and lots of windmills. I don't think I quite realized how big they were before this.

Now the next picture, its really terrible, I realize. There was a bit of a competition as we whipped past on the highway to try and get a good picture...and I'm not sure that anyone was actually successful. :)

If you look closely between the two groups of trees, you'll maybe see a white thing next to the lefthand group of trees. That, in all its fuzziness, is the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. It would have been really interesting to see, but we were well on our way to our destination....Paris!

We arrived in Paris in time to get settled into our rooms and then head out for dinner. We had a really tasty dinner at a Turkish (I think) restaurant and then hopped on the bus for an evening tour of the city.

Below is our very first daysheet, every time we moved cities we would get a new one explaining when/where/what we would be up to for the next couple days.

Here's Jude, our tour manager (she was absolutely amazing!), with the bus driver's mascot monkey. We tried to name him Prince Edward III at one point...but it didn't stick and he went back to just 'Monkey.'

I had prime view in the front seat of the bus for the drive...scariest seat in the house actually....I thought traffic was bad when I first arrived in London, but that was probably because the cars kept coming from the wrong direction. :) Paris was so much worse!

Road lines? Who cares. Signalling? Meh. Four people trying to turn left in the intersection at the same time? Sure why not. Apparently it's not a drive to work without three brushes with death. :)

There were people on scooters wiggling in and out of stopped traffic, and others on bicycles doing the same (helmet-less of course). I think the scariest thing were the two guys I saw, on rollerblades, in the middle of traffic on a busy street.

Continuing on, driving up towards the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc is in a massive roundabout (Place Charles de Gaulle) at the west end of the Champs Elysees. There are 12 roads  which empty into the roundabout, which is about 6 lanes wide, and there are no rules! Apparently, on average, there is a traffic accident there every 12 minutes...although luckily we weren't involved in one. :)

The sun was setting as we continued on our drive and the glow on the light coloured stone buildings was really lovely. Not to mention the pretty balconies with the wrought iron railings.

And the sun shining off the golden statues on top of the opera building isn't so shabby either. :)

And a better view of the full building...

Another test of our coach driver's ability was this entrance arch into the Louvre courtyard. Seriously about 8 inches on either side of the bus to spare. Lots of scratch marks and paint along those walls for sure!

The Louvre with the setting sun shining on the windows...

Part way through our city driving tour we stopped at little cafe and had our evening treat. Champagne and snails! Yay?

I'm not usually one for trying weird things to eat but when in Paris, well, you have to try escargot. Not too bad to tell the truth as they come covered in garlic in butter. Texture like a chewy mushroom. They didn't taste too bad...but they really weren't something I would order again. I think the worst part of them was the tray the waiter brought out with the whole shells sitting on it. That part was actually a little nauseating. :)

After that excitement, we continued onwards. To be honest, I can't remember what this building is but it sure looks lovely. :)

Aaaaand, no Paris city tour would be complete without the Eiffel Tower!

And of course, me in front of the Eiffel Tower.

After the end of the driving tour, we had some free time. Most of us chose to be head up the Eiffel Tower. One, because we figured the view at night would be amazing with the lights (it was!) and two, we figured that the lineup would be shorter (and it was!).

I think it was at this point that I had a real feeling of being in Europe. Standing at the base of the Eiffel Tower staring upwards with those steel beams soaring above was a 'wow' moment. That's when it really sunk in.

It didn't take us too long to get up to the first level. We had the option of the elevator or the stairs. Unsurprisingly we took the elevator up. We then had to wait for another elevator to take us up to the top of the tower, and at this point we had to wait. And then the wind picked up. Brrr!

It took the group of us about 45 minutes in line to get on the elevator up to the top. While we were waiting, we were lucky enough to have a close up view of the light show. After dark, at the beginning of each hour, the lights on the tower flicker on and off. From a distance it looks like the Eiffel Tower is sparkling, and it's not bad from close up either. So beautiful at night!

I used the fireworks setting on my camera for the shot above, which left the shutter open long enough to capture more of the lights. Somehow I managed to keep it still enough during that time for the picture to still come out fairly focused!

The picture below is taken from the top of the Eiffel Tower and you can see the lights of the city and the river.

To wrap this up, a little video. The Eiffel Tower at night, it was beautiful!



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