Friday, June 6, 2014

Quickie in London

note: texts in bold are clickable

Get your mind out of the gutter! That's not what I meant :P.

I have mentioned here   that we went to London to watch Miss Saigon. Miss Saigon had been gone for a while but now they're back but they're only shown in London and I really want to see that show.

I have always wanted to try taking the Eurostar (or any European train) to see the countryside and just to experience it. It doesn't matter where it would take me, I just want to try it (i love trains). The hubby, on the other hand, had always wanted to try the French trains (they make good and fast trains) and he wants to experience taking a train into the English Channel Tunnel, so there you go, a perfect excuse.

the eurostar

The hubby booked the Standard Premier. it's between Economy and Business Class. I'm OK with just Standard (Economy) because it will just be a short ride anyway, but the hubby wants the comfy seat and better  food and better service.

not the eurostar but the inside of one of paris' metro trains

So on our 3rd day in Paris we took the Metro to Gare Du Nord  and took the 11:43 AM Eurostar train from Paris Nord to London St-Pancras.

Gare Du Nord International Train Station
The hubby was reading about it and based on what he have read so far, the Eurostar runs 186 miles per hour, but slows down to 100 miles per hour when going through the English Channel Tunnel. It's almost 300 miles from Paris to London which is almost the same distance from Philadelphia to Boston (or almost the same distance from Manila to Ilocos Norte). Which means, if you drive, it would take you at least 5 hours but in the case of Eurostar, it only took 2 hours and 15 minutes! Isn't that impressive?!

a video while inside the eurostar

When we got to the Gare Du Nord station, the first thing we did is look for our train, then we checked-in and went through immigration. Yes, it's pretty much like at the airport. When we got inside the train the first thing I noticed is racks of magazine, I did grab a couple to take to my seat.

inside the eurostar & ignoring my nook because the sceneries outside is better

The hubby chose the seat. Like on planes, you can also choose your seats on Eurostar. The hubby chose the 2 seats facing each other so there won't be anyone else sitting right next to us.

i got the cheese platter and a small bottle of rosé and the hubby had
some sort of couscous and small bottle of red wine...
It was a very enjoyable trip coming to London and back in Paris. I want to do this European train thing again, maybe  somewhere farther, and maybe book a bunk bed, mmm, dream, dream...

Anyway, back to the London trip story. This was our second time in London, the first one was back in December 2010. We stayed there for 3 days prior our 16 days first European tour. It was raining in London when we got there but our hotel is just walking distance from the train station (Picadilly)  so it wasn't that bad. We stayed at the theatre district, very close to where Miss Saigon is showing (Prince Edward Theatre, about 3-5 minutes walk). When we got to our hotel, it was almost 2 PM already and we got lucky and got upgraded. They gave us their most deluxe room. Too bad we're only staying for a night so we only got to enjoy the room for 2 days and 1 night but we're still thankful.

After we checked in we hopped on a tube to go to the London Tower. We weren't able to see it the first time we were there plus I really want to have a picture of me at the London Tower bridge.

The rain was still on and off but we were indoors anyway so it really didn't bother us a lot. We went to different rooms/buildings inside the Tower of London but the highlight for me is the "Crown Jewels". If you are in a hurry and you're in Tower of London. I suggest you at least see the Crown Jewels, it's very mesmerizing specially if you're a girly girl like me. Be warned though that the line could get very long but it moves fast.

getting in line for the "Crown Jewels" at the Tower of London
i laughed at these signs on street crossings...but
it's very helpful though... i remember  how I almost always
got run over at Macau because I was looking
at the wrong side when crossing, lol

We also went to see the Big Ben again because I don't remember having my photo taken next to it (or infront of it) during our first trip in London. It was still raining though, so the pictures I have aren't worth sharing.

The Miss Saigon starts at 7:30 PM so we made sure we get back to our hotel in time to change and to find the place. It was  pouring when we got out of our hotel and we got lost but thanks to the Waze app we found the Prince Edward Theatre but we got there a mere 5 minutes before it starts.

The show is fantastic! I cried a few times while watching it. It was a sad story but it was very good and I am so proud of the Filipino actors on stage (ie: The Engineer, Kim, Gigi). If they show this in New York, I will watch this again.

the casts

my travel gnome and the playbill

The next day we checked-out early because I wanted to go to Harrods to find the luggage that is only sold in the UK. Unfortunately, I didn't find the luggage but we did have enough time to go to King's Cross so I could line up for my Platform 9 3/4 photo. Yes, Harry Potter fans, it's true, they have it at King's Cross. Being the Harry Potter fan that I am, of course I won't skip that opportunity.

It's nice that they actually embraced this Harry Potter scene in London and made a tourist (and harry potter fans) spot out of it. I would love to see 221B Baker Street  (fictional detective Sherlock Holmes address) next when we get the chance to visit London again .

i'm late for my hogwarts train!
(they make you choose the scarf  for the photo...
i chose gryffindor's, the hubby has slytherin's)

After the photo opp, we went to see the Harry Potter store right next to it. It was nothing spectacular. If you've been to "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" in Orlando, Florida, you wouldn't appreciate this store. So after that very quick tour of the very tiny Harry Potter store (appropriately named, platform 9 3/4), we back tracked our steps to the St. Pancras station (it's under the same roof) to catch our 13:31 PM London to Paris train. We got back in Paris around 17:00 PM. Please note that London time is 1 hour behind Paris time.

We hope to visit London again soon and watch the Wimbledon (crosses fingers, toes, eyes!).

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Does the moonlight shine on Paris?

Does the moonlight shine on Paris
After the sun goes down
If the London Bridge is falling
Will anybody hear a sound
If you follow the sunset will it ever end
Does the moonlight shine on Paris

*note: texts in bold are clickable.

That song kept repeating on my head whenever I look at the majestic Eiffel Tower.

I may sound like a broken record but if something wonderful happened in your life you just want to talk about it again and again. Paris has a special place in my heart because my life turned 180 degrees in this place. It redirected my life to a different path. It's amazing how a  "yes" could just change your life in an instant. Yes, I got proposed at in Paris, and the Eiffel Tower was our witness (and maybe a few other people celebrating New Years Eve). If you're curious about the proposal story, click me.

Anyway, enough melodrama. We went back to Paris for 7 days to celebrate our 2nd year wedding anniversary. It was a late celebration as our wedding anniversary was 2 weeks ago prior our departure to Paris but we wanted to take advantage of the holiday long weekend (US Memorial Day) that's why we pushed the trip 2 weeks later.

Day 1.

We booked a Premium Economy flight from British Airways. There's nothing special about it. It's still coach class with wider chairs, more leg room, more amenities/features and better food than regular Economy class. The hubby's tall and he hates flying so he always insists that we do at least Premium Economy when flying. We left Philadelphia on a Saturday at 6:45 PM. We arrive in Paris Orly airport on Sunday at 8:40 AM (or 3:40 AM EST) but by the time we're done getting off the plane, going through immigration and getting our luggage it was already almost 10 AM. The good thing is the super shuttle we booked was already waiting for us holding a tablet with the hubby's name on it. Unfortunately, we had to wait for four other passengers coming from Spain and won't be arriving until around 10:45am so we waited a little bit more. I didn't mind that though, I just took a nap. We paid 78 euros for 2 pax round trip (airport - hotel / hotel - airport) for the  super shuttle.

orly west

The super shuttle dropped us off first since we had to wait for the other passengers and by the time we got to our hotel it's almost noon. Our room was almost ready as the couple who previously occupied it had already checked-out but they still need to clean it. So we deposited our bags, had lunch and came back after an hour.

our favorite hotel in Paris....this is the 2nd time
we stayed here, 2010 and now....
We were hoping to get some touristy stuff done on our first day but jet lag got the best of us and if it weren't for our dinner reservation we could have slept thru the whole afternoon and into the night. At 6 PM we dragged our butts off the bed, changed clothes and started heading out to the river Seine for our cruise dinner reservation from Bateaux-Mouches - Point de l'Alma. It was a lovely way to start our Paris trip. We did this Seine river cruise before (year 2010) but there wasn't any dinner and it was just part of the Eiffel Tower dinner package. This one from  Bateaux-Mouches - Point de l'Alma ,on the other hand is just fantastic. The live music, good food, and the ambience, ah the ambiance! Cruising on the River Seine, while passing by famous Paris landmarks (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc) is just hard to beat! I did some crappy video to somehow capture the moment (see below).

Day 2.

Day 2 was our post nup/trash-the-wedding-dress photoshoot with a local photographer. I brought my church wedding gown with me and the hubby brought his wedding coat barong and his regular barong for this. We booked  2 and 2. Which means 2 hours early morning (so there won't be much people) and another 2 hours in the evening (ofcourse! Paris lits up nicely at night).

Our call time was 7:45 AM but I had to wake up 3 hours earlier to do my hair and make-up. J, our photographer was right on time. He picked us up at our hotel and our first location was at the Trocadero and the rest of the locations were just around the Eiffel Tower and some cafes and streets.

our early morning photoshoot at Trocadero
We got done around 10:30 AM and we agreed to meet again at 9:15 PM. We had an early lunch and hunted for my Ille Flottante (my favorite French dessert) and decided to take a nap before we head out to do some tourist stuff. Once again that didn't happen. We were still so jet lagged and tired from waking up too early that we slept the whole afternoon. We got up around 7pm to prepare for the second photoshoot and at 9:15 PM on the dot J came to pick us up at the hotel.

Our first location for that second half of the photoshoot was the Louvre, then we went back to Trocadero for night time Eiffel Tower shot and lastly by the River Seine.

Night time at the Louvre

Day 3.

Day 3 would be a separate post because it's a whole different story worthy of posting on a separate blog but to give you a short gist, we left for London in the morning on Eurostar to watch Miss Saigon, stayed in London for the night and took the Eurostar again the next day to go back to Paris.

Here's a short video of the train ride:

Day 4.

Day 4 was half London half Paris. We got back in Paris at almost 5 PM, went back to our hotel to change and went to Moulin Rouge for our dinner/show reservation. We met two amazing Australian couple while having dinner and watching the show. It's always nice to hear travel stories from fellow travelers. They even gave us their names and email and told us to email them if we need tickets for the Australian Open, weee! The Moulin Rouge show was one of the best shows I've ever seen. I have seen Christmas Show at Radio City in New York and that just blows the door away but this Moulin Rouge show can be placed in the same category as the Christmas show. The costume, the acts, it's just fabulous. When you go to Paris, do not watch those cheap Can-Can shows, book the real deal, it's just so worth it (the hubby booked the Belle Époque which has better menu and better seats - we were 2 tables from the stage). Oh, and did I mention the food is fantastic? Oh yeah! It's a gastronomical delight!

after the hearty dinner and great show
we're not allowed to take photos inside so this is the only photo i have during the dinner/show...stage is to your left

Day 5.

We went to pick up our Museum Pass at the Paris Tourism office near the Louvre,  had a quick breakfast (at Mc Donalds) and went to the Lourve. I've been to the Louvre already but we were in a hurry the first time we were there that I only caught a glimpse of my favorite sculpture. This time I wanted to make sure I'll have my photo taken right next to it. Problem is, it was out for restoration! Agh, the frustration. I was ready to just leave but we decided to see the Roman, Greek, Egyptian collections, which by the way are amazing! I love sculptures more than paintings. I've seen Mona Lisa already during my first visit so we didn't bother to go see her.

just too happy to be back here, lol

The sun finally came out  that day (it was drizzling and cloudy since we left for London) and we've been wanting to have a picnic by the Champs de Mars and so right after we got out from the Louvre we went back to our hotel to get the picnic blanket and picnic bag that we packed with us. Our picnic bag is just a small bag that carries: napkin, wine glass and a bottle of wine. I used the space for bottle of wine to store the utensils and some plates (which is really just a couple of sushi mats wrapped on cling-wrap and rolled). There's a supermarket a few steps from our hotel and that's where we bought our picnic items: red wine, coke, different cheeses, french bread, a couple of different meats and some dessert. It was around past 3 PM and it was a lovely day just to sit, eat, people-watch and watch the French Open (they have a big TV up ahead).

the one on your right is not's cheese
with different toppings..
just chilling after finishing the wine

pa-kyut lang ang peg, lol

i took a quick snapshot of the approx spot
where the hubby proposed on january 1, 2011
(new year's eve)

We could have stayed a little bit more but we have a dinner reservation at Les Ombres at 7 PM and it's still a good 20-minute walk back to our hotel and we still need to change to dinner clothes.

view at Les Ombres
The food is OK. I still like the food from Moulin Rouge better or the food from the river Seine cruise. We didn't stay there long enough to see the Eiffel Tower lit up because we still have places to go, so it was a good quick dinner.

I have been reading about this famous bookstore in Paris that have been frequented by famous writers called Shakespeare and Company and being a bookworm that I am, I just have to go see it. Problem is it was closed. I didn't know it was a holiday  that  day and they close early (8 PM), otherwise they're open until 10 PM. I did manage to take some photos of the store front and promised to go back  the next day (which I did, scroll below).

they close early on holidays

We went to the Love Lock bridge next because we brought a lock with us. I know, I know, so "jologs" (or corny, or cheesy, or juvenile, whatever) but we thought it would be fun and so we did it. It was hard getting a space to put our lock in but the hubby was able to find one. The lock we brought didn't have a key with it so we had nothing to throw on the River Seine, but it's alright, it's the gesture that counts, lol. We then went to a souvenir shop to browse around when we saw a sign: "engraved locks". It's 10 euros for the lock that we want (it looks like an overlapping double heart) and additional 5 euros to engrave. I wasn't happy about the price so I walked away and said no to the sales guy who has the engraver tool turned on already and anxious to start our lock. But he chased me and offered to give us the lock with engraving for 10 euros. The hubby wants to do it so I said yes, which means, we now we have 2 locks on the Love Lock bridge, lol.

first lock:  pink, second lock: engraved

We're aware that they cut off those locks every 5 years or something, and that's fine. We're in it for the experience. I do remember not seeing these much locks on the bridge the first time we were in Paris in 2010 so I guess they do clean up the Love Lock bridge from time to time.

i took this photo of the Love Lock bridge on December of 2010... 

and this is what it looks like now, May 2014

We then hailed a cab to take us back to our hotel so I could get my tripod and camera remote. I wanted to take night shots of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero. When we got to Trocadero it was already past 10 pm but there were still a lot of people there. I tried to get some shots but gave up after a few long exposure shots and decided to go for a drink/bite at the Cafe Trocadero to pass time.

The food there is OK. The view, well, we can see the base of the Eiffel Tower from where we're sitting but trees are blocking our view. I wasn't really hungry so I just ordered French Onion soup and a soda. The hubby ordered some beef dish and red wine. I like my onion soup but the hubby claims his beef is so-so.
After a couple of hours we went back to the spot where I was taking photos and although the number of people at that plaza had significantly diminished there were still some people hanging around but I might not have a chance again so I took that opportunity. Below are some of my shots taken that night.

Day 6.

We wanted to start early but we didn't get to sleep the other night until around 3 in the morning so we ended up waking late and start touring late.

We started Day 6 at Sacré-Cœur. I figured we should go to the farthest first lest will get lazy once we got too tired. We got lost looking for the funicular which wasted a good 20 minutes of our time but we found it, and that's what's important. The view from up there at the Sacré-Cœur is gorgeous and the gentleman playing the harp added more to the already pretty ambiance.
steps at Sacré-Cœur

Our next stop was the Musée des Arts et Métiers. This is like our Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It consists of some geeky collections such as scientific instruments, mechanics, communication equipments, transportation collections, different old computing devices, etc. This is also where you will see the original model of the Statue of Liberty by Auguste Bartholdi. I personally like seeing Blaise Pascal's Pascaline, the first mechanical calculator.

Pascaline : the first mechanical calculator

After geeking out at Musée des Arts et Métiers we went to Rodin Museum. I got very frustrated the first time I was in Paris because I got lost looking for the Rodin Museum that this time I made sure we actually will get there. We actually have a Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, but you know how it is, "proximity complex". You don't get to see stuff closer to home because of the mentality that it would be really easy to get to so there's no hurry and so you forever procrastinate. Anyway, it was almost closing time when we got there. We only have 45 minutes to tour the museum. I was able to tour the museum and the garden but when I got to the fountain the guards started gesturing us that it's time to leave. That's alright, seeing Rodin's sculptures is more than enough for me. Did I mention I love his works of art?! Very detailed, very meticulously made. Just awesome! Now I have to make sure I go see the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. I read somewhere that the first bronze cast of the Gates of Hell was there and the second one was the one in the Rodin Museum in Paris.

My 3rd "The Thinker" statue I have posed pictures with. It was still drizzling on Day 6, ergo the jacket.

We went back to Shakespeare and Company after the Rodin Museum and this time it's open, yey! It was just a small bookstore but it's refreshing to see a bookstore like that. It's cozy and unique and kinda old world. I was browsing thru the books inside when I saw stacks of Hemingway's Moveable Feast on a table at a corner. It's the one where the cover is Hemingway standing in front of Shakespeare and Company which I thought would be a pretty cool souvenir and so I  bought it and  I also have it stamped!

Shakespeare and Company
don't forget to have your book stamped!

how to find shakespeare and co.

Next stop was Berthillon. I have read lots of great reviews about Berthillon and I wasn't able to try their stuff on our first visit to Paris so this time around, even if we're already tired from all the walking, we made sure we get to try it. I ordered one scoop of mango and one scoop of peach sorbet (all in a single cone) and the hubby ordered one scoop of almond pralines and one scoop of chocolates cream. Both are very heavenly delicious. Next time we come back,  I want to sit at one of their tables and order there. We were supposed to order a slice of cake and something to drink while there but we were asked to leave because cones are not allowed inside. Hmpf!

It's already past 7 PM but we still have one stop before we head to yet another dinner reservation. That stop was Starbucks. Why? I collect Starbucks mug, ofcourse, I want my Paris Starbucks mug.

starbucks' paris mugs

Then finally after taking a quick rest and changing to a more decent dinner attire we walked to the Eiffel Tower (our hotel is just walking distance to the Eiffel Tower), located our elevator and had dinner at 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant. It's the hubby's idea to end our last day in Paris with a dinner at the Eiffel Tower and who am I to complain, it's a brilliant idea. This was the second time we had dinner here. The first time was back  in 2010 when he was planning to propose here (he didn't like where we're seated that time so he didn't propose there). We met another amazing Australian couple while having dinner there. Australians are just the most friendliest people, my husband always tell me he never met a snotty Australian and so far in my experience that is true. We exchange travel stories and tips and jokes. That's another thing that is fun with travelling, meeting new people, swapping stories with fellow travelers. It was an absolutely another amazing night.

58 tour eiffel menu

I wanted to take night shots of Arc de Triomphe so after dinner we went back to our hotel to grab my tripod and we went to Champs-Élysées. The problem is, like my favorite sculpture, Arc de Triomphe is also under restoration, as you can see from the photo below. So I just took a set of long exposure shots and gave up on that idea and we just went to get some drinks on one of the cafes along Champs-Élysées. After all, no Paris trip is complete without visiting Champs-Élysées, atleast for us that's the case.

Arc de Triomphe under restoration

at some random cafe at  Champs-Élysées

Day 7.

Last day was spent packing and waiting at the airport.

We love Paris and we'll never get tired of coming back.
We'll see you again in 2 years (because we have other plans for next year).