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Our Magnificent Journey
Chapter 2
Europe 2001
London, Paris, Amsterdam


05.09.01 - 05.10.01
Wednesday / Thursday
Days 1 and 2
The Journey Begins
[Most photos are originals; where credit is known, credit is given to source]
Déjà vu, all over again. Shuttle to Tucson International Airport half an hour late (see 1999.) Sad farewells to Cody. Twenty minute uneventful America West flight to Phoenix, short layover, then a two hour Continental flight to Houston. Met and chatted with Sharyn all the way. Sharyn is a professional conference planner (bsi@kool.org) and a breast cancer survivor. A lovely, dynamic and vivacious woman, she and her husband are suing their builder over toxic mold that forced them to evacuate their home. We exchanged cards and will stay in touch.
Continental 777
Arrived in Houston in such good time that we were able to board a Continental flight to London leaving immediately, three hours ahead of our originally scheduled flight. Sat next to Bert from Lafayette, Louisiana, who spoke with a charming Cajun accent and was on his way to Dubais where he works for an oil company. One of the stewardesses, Vicky, was very sweet and helpful and sat and spoke with us when she wasn't busy. She gave us tickets for the Gatwick Express, which saved us around 25 pounds. The flight was 8 hours, smooth, good food, the usually great Continental service, recent movies (Miss Congeniality and Chocolat.) My only complaint was that we had no window this time - since we got on at the last minute, we sat with Bert near an emergency exit. But we can't complain. Continental allowed us to board this flight, which got us to London three hours ahead of schedule.
Thanks to Vicky's generous Gatwick Express tickets, we were on the express train to London's busy Victoria Station just as Thursday morning's rush hour traffic began. We took the Tube amongst thousands of Brits each jostling for coveted space on the fast, easy-to-navigate trains. It is our opinion that the London Underground is the best example of mass transit on the planet. Carol has the amazing knack of being able to immediately understand the Tube/Metro/tram systems as we arrive at new destinations.
The Tube at Leicester Square
The Morgan Hotel, Bloomsbury
We took the Blue Line (Victoria) to Oxford Circus, then changed to the Central Line and got off at bustling Tottenham Square. Quickly got our bearings and walked several blocks north to the Bloomsbury area and found the Morgan Hotel, our first "home" on this Magnificent Journey.
Since we had arrived so early (around 8:30 AM) our room was not yet ready. John, the young concierge, suggested we leave our bags in the hotel lobby and return at "11 half or noon." So we left our belongings, took our daypacks, and walked around the corner to the magnificent British Museum, which was just opening its doors for the day. We toured the Egyptian, Greek, Roman and other ancient exhibits. Saw the Rosetta Stone, Winged Venus, many priceless artifacts and art. Browsed the King's Library and enjoyed first class people watching until we were too exhausted to think. By now we had been up for 36 hours, so we walked back around the corner to the Morgan and up two flights of stairs to our room (#9,) where we fell into bed and slept for three hours.
British Museum  Big Head at the British Museum
Two Cleopatras at the British Museum
Woke, showered and unpacked. The loo (toilet) and shower were so typically English and small, but clean and tidy. Refreshed by the shower, we dressed and walked out into the cool, sunny London afternoon. We walked north, back past the British Museum, to Southhampton Row; in 1999 we stayed at the Bloomsbury Hotel here. We walked around the corner from our old hotel to the Swan, an ancient pub, in search of our friend Darshana but alas she was not to be found. Good luck, Darshana, wherever you are.
Strolled east down Southhampton Row for a few blocks, then south to Covent Garden, one of our favorite London areas. Went straight to the marvelous Covent Garden Market, which we discovered in '99. Found the tiny Segar and Snuff Tobacconists tucked away in the corner, where I bought a box of Cuban Montecristo mini cigars. This box would last until the final day of our journey. Then we found Lush, the fabulously aromatic soap and toiletries shop that blew us away two years ago. Why aren't they in the US? It would be hugely successful there… Carol had to literally pull me out of Lush. We were hungry, so we found a café called Ponti Restaurant and had San Miguel beer (dml,) Valpocella Bolla red wine (cjl,) delicious mozzarella, avocado and tomato salad, homemade pasta with parmesan cheese (cjl,) and a Parma ham sandwich (dml - to remind me of Italy '99.) Delicious respite and the first of many cigars.
Tired Carol at Covent Garden pub
We had perfect weather for our first day - sunny, slight breeze and around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. We had been told by the tobacconist that it had been cold and raining and that there was a terrible thunderstorm the previous night. Here we sit at a street-side café sipping beer and wine, enjoying a Cubano, in the cool evening air. It has become cool enough to put on our Italian leather jackets, but it is absolutely delightful. We are so thrilled to be back.
After dinner we strolled through Covent Garden towards the Theatre District. We may decide to take in a show while we're here. Along the way we passed the packed Roundhouse Pub at the corner of King Street, Bedford Street, Garrick Street and New Row. You can tell which pubs are the popular ones by the large crowds standing about outside with pints in their hands, engaged in lively conversation. We often saw large groups of fifty to a hundred, even at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Many of the men and women are in business suits, perhaps enjoying a Guinness break instead of a coffee break. Late one evening, as we strolled toward our hotel, we came across a fellow in a suit vomiting against a wall. Perhaps his Guinness break had been too long…
A typical crowd scene at a typical pub
Interesting sign at a pub called the Hand and Racquet Pub, once an ancient tennis court, near Covent Garden: Orbes Orbem Semper Spectant (Keep Your Eye On The Ball…) Stopped in at the famous old Salisbury pub (we loved it in '99) for a pint and a pee. The old Salisbury hasn't changed a bit. Headed south from the pub and found ourselves at historic St. Martin-in-the-Fields, near Trafalgar Square. We noticed that there is a candlelight concert on Saturday evening featuring Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Pachelbel's Canon in D, Bach's Air on a G String and Double Violin Concerto and Mozart's Salzburg Symphony #3. We purchased two tickets and walked via the underground pedestrian passage into Trafalgar Square where we sat and took several photos, then journeyed south again along Whitehall Street past Great Scotland Yard, MI5, and Number 10 Downing Street. I asked the Bobby sentry at Number 10 if Mr. Blair was at home and was told "yes."
Further along Whitehall Street we found ourselves at the base of Big Ben and in the vicinity of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. We saw from Westminster Bridge the "London Eye" - the huge Ferris wheel-like structure built by British Airways for the Millenium, so we crossed the murky Thames, paid our 9 pounds each and spent the next 30 minutes suspended in space, towering above London, as dusk descended upon the ancient city. From the high vantage point we watched as various historic landmarks lit up in a multi-colored light show across the city.
London Eye at dusk
Parliament, Big Ben and dml seen from Westminster Bridge
We then strolled back up Whitehall Street, past the Theatre District and Covent Garden until we saw the now-familiar British Museum and knew we were almost home. We found Ristorante Giotto on New Oxford Street and had delicious spaghetti alla vongole (dml,) tagliatelli with spinach and cream sauce (cjl) and a tiny half bottle of Stracelli Chianti Classico, all of which cost a reasonable 24 pounds 20 pence (around $33.00.) We ordered the "starter" sized dinners and were surprised at how large and delicious they were.
As we were eating we noticed a double-decker bus that had been hired for a rowdy private party. We had seen this same bus earlier down on Whitehall Street, and a young reveler on the bus and I had exchanged smiles and "thumbs-ups." It was funny to see the same bus later in whole different section of large London.
Our dinner was quite delicious, and I savored another Montecristo mini with tiramisu and the remaining wine as we watched Londoners enjoying a pleasant Spring Thursday evening.
A short walk around the corner to our hotel and we fell into bed. I fell asleep reading a chapter from Victor Hugo's "The Toilers of the Sea," written during his self-imposed exile on picturesque Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands.
Does life get any better than this? Not bad for our first day…

Next Day


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