Chelsea's Travel Journal
Friday, March 24th
Tomorrow, I leave for Europe. You know the excitement? The knee shaking, jumping up and down bit? You know how sometimes, you don't get it until the day before you leave, or on the plane? Well, it has not hit me yet. There is no knowing when I will realize I'm actually in Europe. We packed my clothes last weekend, so I've been living off of the dredges of my wardrobe all week.
Saturday, March 25th
It is 2:10 PM in Seattle and 4:10 PM in Minneapolis, our current destination. I'm still waiting for the excitement. All I can think about is the sorry state of my rear end after sitting on our Sea-Tac to Minneapolis plane for 2 hours. We are currently over some snowy farm fields. The roads are a reddish color from here, like dirt, so we are probably not near any big cities. We are on a Northwest Airlines flight. The trail mix is very nasty I'm afraid, I think the M & M's are some sort of chocolate flavored wax. There is another long, painful hour of sitting ahead. I can see frozen-over ponds below us now. Imagine, having an Ice-Rink in your back yard.
Sunday, March 26th
Here we are in the hotel. After our 8 hour connection from Minneapolis it took another 2-3 hours of backbreaking, subway hopping, and luggage hauling to get here. I swear, my pack has to be the weight of a large pit-bull. We got here and crashed. It's between 5:30 and 6:00 PM here, and we are going downtown.
The area we are staying in is called Paddington (like the Bear! :-D), filled with what everyone thinks English houses should look like. Every house is of a standard size with near identical plaster facades covering unsightly brick boxes. They are stacked right next to one another, like sardines.
Paddington has few things in the way of restaurants, but we found a café to eat lunch at earlier. It was called the Chelsea Diner (Lots of things are named after me here) and I ate the corner off a beastly Vegetable Samosa. However, it was better than the blowsy Egg McMuffin the Airline served for brekkers.
I did not sleep a wink on our flight. The guy next to me did though, and he slept with his mouth wide open. I could have examined his tonsils if I cared to. Needless to say, he drooled and snored.
After we got off the plane, we took a train into the City. The countryside was charming, but as we got closer to the City it was increasingly dappled with shabby brick housing developments. EVERY house had a chimney.
By the time we reached an outer part of the city called Clapham, the houses became townhouses, in three parts. They would be painted whacky colors, and have three different types of shingles on 1 house.
My Grandma is using "Europe through the Back Door" as her Bible, and Rick Steves is her Jesus, her all knowing idol. Whenever she is in a pickle she thinks "WWRD?" (What Would Rick Do?)
We had dinner in a Hotel Restaurant, the London Elizabeth. They had the best "French style Fried Potatoes" and the worst décor. It was FAR too pink. It made me want to gag.
London is a very diverse City; there are more people here who speak foreign languages than people who speak English! It's not a very dangerous area of town, and the houses look pretty at night, all lit up with colored accent lights. However, it's not the Savoy either. London is not quite what I imagined. Not better or worse, just different.
I just noticed my feet are resting on the ugliest carpets I have ever had the misfortune to see. It's sort of a squiggly brown-tan pinstripe design, and it's like a dizzying optical illusion. Blech.
Monday, March 27th
Today was a full day. Firstly, we woke up. There was no hot water to shower, icky. Next we took "the Tube" to the British Museum. It was very VERY big. The Rosetta stone was smaller than I thought it would be... oh well. We skipped through it really, and tried to see everything. Not possible. I'm very interested in the Enlightenment, but sadly that gallery was closed. I looked through the Mesopotamian and Medieval sections though. Next we took a hop-on hop-off tour of London, getting off at the Tower of London. We passed by the London dungeon, the line was colossal. We decided to pass it by for awhile.
The Tower was less Prison-y than I thought it would be. It was a collection of walls, towers and cheery town house like homes for the yeomen. All of it was built around White Tower, more of a fortress than a tower.
The Crown Jewels, stored in a building adjacent to White Tower, were overdone to the point of being disgusting. The profits from selling one or two could stop global warming or feed a small country. And there were 20 or so crowns. Also, there was a display of gold dishes including a gilt punch tureen you could baptize a toddler in and a ladle it took two men to lift. Queen Elizabeth II probably had to go through Heavy weight training to be able to lift the orb of power. In the White Tower there was an armory, museum of the Tower's History, and heavy artillery section. (Finally, things that go BOOM!)
We took a ferry ride down to Embankment Pier and ate dinner on "The Strand" in a Thai restaurant. At home, I had been experimenting with increasing degrees of spice in green curry, and felt ready to try "Extra-Spicy." Apparently, on this side of the Atlantic "Extra-Spicy means "Omigod, Call the Fire Department!"
Five glasses of water later, my eyes stopped watering long enough for me to write. Here they go again; I suppose those special memories brought tears to my eyes.
Tuesday, March 28th
We are currently leaving London on a train to Paris, from Waterloo Station to Gare du Nord. Leaving London, my impression of it is of a Cosmopolitan Beehive of people trying to go everywhere at once. The buildings in many parts of London look like they are very eager to be haunted, sort of grand and dark at the same time. The Chandeliers are asking to crash down, the Ballrooms ready to welcome guests who never checked out... I mean, they don't look run down, just foreboding and fascinating at once. I hope and fear we will stay in a building like that when we return.
Well, here in Paris we are, a block away from the border of the red light district, the Pigalle. It's sort of scary some of the desperation I've seen here. If anyone asks you if you can speak English here, say NO. This evening, we went to a small dinner than came back. The food was not weird or extraordinary; in fact it was more or less like London's cuisine. We saw little today, so I suppose I shall write little today.
Wednesday, March 29th
Today we slept in until noon, having gotten little sleep last night. We were kept up by honking horns accompanied some colorful words I dare not repeat in French or English. We then went to the Louvre, and walked down the Renaissance wing. We glanced at the Mona Lisa, not wanting to battle the surrounding crowds. Then we went to see the Venus de Milo. Neither of these things impressed me, I was more impressed by works by artists I had never seen before. We saw only the Renaissance gallery, and that was enough to have me panting. A quick lunch at a café and onto another tour bus. About la Pyramide: Ugly in front of the Louvre, artistic in front of a modern art museum. The lobby under it was completely out of place with the Baroque style of the museum. Like Marie Antoinette wearing a baseball cap.
This Evening, we waited for 30 minutes for Eiffel Tower tickets. Then we waited another 20 minutes to get on the first elevator. Then we waited for another 40-60 minutes (in the blasting, cold wind) to get on the second elevator. The view from the top was ice, but the real joy was being on firm ground after shakily viewing the city from hundreds of feet above the earth.
We got back around Midnight, and now here I am writing. Bonsoir!
Thursday, March 30th
Another Late start today. I woke up around 11:00 AM today. First stop was Notre Dame. It was so dark inside, I felt kind of claustrophobic, even in such a big space. It was more than a little foreboding. I was in a hurry to leave. Then, onto the Conciergerie, where the Widow Queen was kept until her final hours. I think the creepiness the prison had in "those days" left when they painted all the interior walls white...Next we visited Sainte Chapelle a building commissioned to house the crown of thorns worn by Jesus, found by some old dead guy.
It was beautiful inside, painted in vivid colors and filled with gold inlay. There was a large "Rose Window" of colored glass and tall stained-glass windows stretched to the ceiling. With all the light pouring in, I felt none of the fear Notre Dame had left me with.
After that, we went to "la Musee d'Orsay". I actually did not know many of the paintings there, and was as unimpressed with all this as I was with "La Jiaconde" or what the French call Miz Giaconda. Tomorrow we leave this "City of Light" and lap-dancers. I liked seeing the Old Gel, that was a lot of fun. (The French call their tower the Lady, but Old Gel sounds a lot cooler.) Here is my "Everything you need to Know in French" Lesson.
"Chocolat" Well, duh.
"Glace" Ice, or more commonly, Ice Cream.
Friday, March 31st
After my Grandparents thoroughly befuddled directions to the car rental, I sorted things out and we were on our way. We drove through Luxembourg into Germany, and now we are in the city of Koblenz. This is the nicest hotel we have stayed in so far, with pillow chocolates and everything. We ate dinner out, and I learned something in German. "Flammkuchen" is a sort of pizza with a thin crust. There is Breakfast Flammkuchen, Dinner Flammkuchen, dessert Flammkuchen; it just depends on the topping. Aufweidersen!
Saturday, April 1st
We are still in Koblenz; we decided to view a few local castles. We only had time for 1 today, called Burg Eltz. It was a medieval castle a little outside of Koblenz. Part of it is still living quarters, but we took a (German) tour of the old part. I liked it, it was very fun.
Sunday, April 2nd
We drove all day today, to end up in Rothenburg, a cute medieval town surrounded by a wall. Since it was Sunday, very little was open. Koblenz, where we left from this morning, is situated along the Reine River. Due to perpetual rain, it was very flooded. It was quite interesting to watch people row out to where their houseboats are tied to submerged docks. We saw other castles as well, but did not go in.
Tuesday, April 4th
I did not write yesterday due to the fact that we went on an evening tour. More about that later. Yesterday, I woke up and had breakfast at our hotel. It appears I like soft boiled eggs. Next we walked the wall around Rothenburg, and climbed a tall tower before going to the Crime and Punishment Museum. I learned hundreds of creative ways to inflict pain.
Next we visited the Rothenburg Christmas museum. The museum was just the lead-up to the really BIG Christmas store. It was done up like an inside village, and in each of the houses a different themed ornament display. In the middle of it was a 25 foot-high pink aluminum Christmas tree. We then wandered to a Doll and Toy museum, It was very fun, especially all the miniatures. There was a miniature carnival, butcher shop, grocery etc.
After that, we took the Night Watchman's Tour of Rothenburg. It started at 8:00 p.m. The Tour guide was dressed up as a night watchman from medieval times. My favorite part was a building with foundations from 980 AD, the oldest building in Rothenburg. It's now a pub with really good food, called Hell. So when someone in Rothenburg tells you to "GO TO HELL!" It's actually a good idea.
Tuesday, April 5th
We drove. We stopped. We drove. We found a place to stay. We ate bad Italian food. The end.
Wednesday, April 6th
Today we drove from our hotel on the continent into Venice. We took a really crowded Water bus along the Grand Canal to San Marco's Piazza. On the boat, I talked to Ludivica, a girl my age. The Italian people are very friendly. San Marco's Piazza was packed with pilfering pigeons that swarmed anyone with food. We did not go into the Basilica today but we did go into the Doge's Palazzo. It was big and extravagant. I decided that if I lived there I would fill it with orphans or risk going mad in all that big, empty space. After that, we wandered through the side streets of Venice, through countless stalls. We quickly stopped by a few shops and made a couple purchases. I love Venice; it's so busy and lively. We dropped by San Salvador, a church made in the 7th century and remodeled in the 16th. We ate dinner in a little restaurant with good food, yet bad music. You can't have your cake and eat it. Well, you can. What's the point of even getting a cake if are not going to eat it? Never mind.
Thursday, April 7th
Today was so windy and rainy, my frail umbrella quickly became a battered mess of aluminum and cloth to be thereafter deposited in an inviting pile of umbrellas who shared the same fate.
We waited in a line to get into San Marco's Basilica. The inside was filled with Byzantine mosaics detailed with gold. It gave the place a golden aura, like the picture. The foundations for the building were laid in 700 AD. So people built things like this while the rest of the world twiddled with stone tools.
After that, we wandered again. Venice is the best city for that sort of thing. We stayed in a new hotel called Locanda Novo. It has only nine rooms, and they bring breakfast to you. The beds have canopies and the high ceilings have chandeliers. The rooms have names, ours is named after Caterina Cornaro, some queen of somewhere. I like this hotel a lot.
Friday, April 8th
We stayed in Venice today, having fun. We wandered for a bit, took a gondola ride (100 Euros for 20 minutes. what a rip-off!) and wandered a little more. Very fun.
Saturday, April 9th
Today we drove to La Spezia, the first and largest town in the Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre are 5 towns settled on the cliffs over the Mediterranean. They terraced the land to grow grapes and ended up building here.
This evening, I found a surprise in my shrimp scampi: The shrimp still had their eyes! Urgh. We took it to go and left it for some stray cats.
Sunday, April 10th
Right now I am sitting in a boat cruising along the coast of the Cinque Terre. It's very pretty, and the sea is aquamarine blue. Darn, the romance of the moment was ruined by more tasteless music coming from speakers onboard. Here, they listen to English music and sing the words, but hardly even understand what they are singing.
The day was spent village hopping. I was so hungry I ate a whole pizza. The villages are charming and afford great views, but after the third one they all begin to look the same. The Cinque Terre is worth visiting, but I'm ready to go. One day was all it took.
Monday, April 11th
We drove. Fun. We're in Switzerland now. Yay. Yes, I sung "Sound of Music" as we crossed the Alps. Right on.
Tuesday, April 12th
We drove. Fun. We stopped and saw a castle. Yay. We drove some more. Right on.
Actually, the castle we saw was pretty cool. It was big, stone, and had secret doors and coves like all castles should. It was called Chateau Chillon. I enjoyed it, and it was worth the stop. Now we are staying in Chartres, near Versailles.
Wednesday, April 13th
Versailles was HUGE! BIG! COLOSSAL! GINORMOUS! (You know, Gigantic and enormous?) The castle was all we saw, and that was only a teeny wee bit! And we only saw a teeny wee bit of the castle itself, and that took an hour! The castle was so extravagant; you could not take it all in so you just gave up entirely. It was overwhelming. The gardens contained two more palaces and a little village built to look like what Marie Antoinette thought the rest of the world looked like. Filled with cottages that looked like they came from fairy stories and perfumed sheep, the existence of this village sowed the queen's down to earth nature (or what was possible for a queen) and her naivety. She was not allowed to know these bad things were going on, and for her to show interest in the life of common folk was abnormal.
We did little in the afternoon, though we did visit the Cathedral in Chartres, with the famous labyrinth on the floor.
Thursday, April 14th
Today, we rode the train back to London. Do you remember how I said I wanted to stay in a creepy old mansion? Well, we are staying in the ultra-modern Ramada Inn Encore. It has a nice restaurant though...
Friday, April 15th
Today, we took a bus tour of London, just to see things. Fun things I learned:
- A guy was paid by the government to destroy the statue of the recently overthrown monarch, Charles I. The guy instead took it to his garden and sold bits of it as souvenirs. When Charles II came into power, he paid to get the statue back.
- 2 "James Bonds" live in one housing development. Their houses are joined by 1 "pad" which is currently selling for 22 million pounds.
- The Oxo Company makes shortening, and bought property to build along the Thames. You cannot advertise along the river, so the Oxo people craftily built the letters O-X-O in glass, facing the Thames.
- Charles III was thought to be crazy because he suffered from hallucinations. He would often be seen talking to a tree as if it were a person. But everyone here thinks the PM, Tony Blair, is crazy because he's talking to a Bush...
Saturday, April 16th
Today we saw the Globe Theater and Piccadilly. The Globe was constructed true to the original, with thatched roof and all. Our guide, a small, feminine guy, told us that the next production is going to be an all-male Anthony and Cleopatra. "And who," he said, "will play the Diva Queen? Well, ME, of course!"
Piccadilly was a lot like NYC. Cars Honking, lights flashing and buskers, erm, busking!
Naturally, the climax of the trip was The Phantom of the Opera.
The theater's exterior was appropriately foreboding for the play inside. The inside was itty, bitty! It was a very small theater. We had good seats though. The casting was less than favorable and some revisions to the script that were only in the movie were missed. Though, in the graveyard scene, the Phantom had a flamethrower instead of a sword and Raoul had nothing. All the great pansy could do was squeal and wet himself! Heh heh heh, I love it when he does that. But the chandelier originally goes down in the middle of the play, not the end, it appears. This was anti-climatic, and the chandelier crashed reeeeaaalllly sloooowwwwlllllyyyyy.
Sunday, April 17th
Today was Easter, so less stuff was open. Though, Madame Tussaud's was crowded. I enjoyed it anyway. The first room was a club atmosphere, filled with wax models of the stars. Brad, Angelina, Jude, Britney, Julia, Will... It goes on and on. Next, there was a Hollywood room with Michael Jackson, Pierce Brosnan, Elvis, Marilyn, John Wayne, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Indiana Jones, Whoopee, Charlie Chaplain, Robin Williams and the Incredible Hulk. After that there was a room filled with famous figures in history. I've seen Shakespeare, Marie Antoinette, Gandhi, Pope John-Paul II, Napoleon, dearest William, and Martin Luther King Jr. There were many, many more that I can't even think of. Oh, but George Bush was there, making one of his famous monkey faces.
After that, we skipped the Chamber of Horrors and went on a cheesy ride about London's history called "the Spirit of London." Before long, we were out of the crush of people and on our way to "The Clink Prison, that gave it's name to all others" It was a prison museum, pretty stupid. We could have gone to The London Dungeon if we had wanted to, as the usual crowd that made up the long lines was in church. But it looked stupid so we passed it by. Afterwards, we took a ride on the London Eye. Worthwhile, but not the highlight of my trip, shall we say.
Tomorrow I'm leaving this continent and going home. It's been a long trip, and I can't say I'm loathed to depart. But it's a lifestyle I will leave behind, and I hope some day I can come back and pick it up again.