London Diary – Summer in Cold Climate

Aug 9, 2016

Summer this year has been vastly different from other places I had lived. Except a few days in the 80s and one day in the low 90s, London has been breezy and a cool 70 on average. Things otherwise have been bustling, lots coming and going. Among others, we’ve vacationed in June in the north to west Yorkshire and Lake District, more on that later, my sister and one of my nieces visited, and my son finally finished his summer schools and made his way to London more than a week ago.

With him we’ve gone to Paris last week, via Eurostar through the Channels, an easy train ride under 2.5 hours from London’s St Pancras to Paris’ Gare de Nord, and unexpectedly only about .5 hour in the Channel.

They say 3 times is a charm, it was true, albeit a few hiccups. Staying, and being in Latin Quarter for the first time, we were close to many interesting spots, on the next block to Pantheon, Church of Saint Etienne du Mont and Saborne University, minutes to Luxembourg Garden, Church of Saint Sulpice, Church of Saint Severin, River Seine, Notre Dame, and although further St Invalide and Eiffel Tower are also within walking distance. A block away, the old, narrow streets in Latin Quarter around Rue de la Huchette are bustling with touristy souvenir shops and restaurants where you easily find variety of options for meals. Just west of Latin Quarter is a quieter neighborhood St Germain des Pres, where you find interesting boutique shops. I’ve got jewelry and accessory in mind and quickly fell in love with the chic and elegant French design. I see future shopping trips coming up :o)

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I found myself comparing ‘Pari’ with London. Roads in Paris are wider in general and there are a great number of broad boulevards throughout the city. There even greater number of grand buildings gracing well planned and neatly organized city blocks, which appeal to the methodical side of my brain.  I especially enjoyed the river front, lined with beautiful buildings, decorated by bridges and monuments, it is picturesque and lovely. To name a few, check out Pont de Invalides, its golden statues and the lofty esplanade leading up to Les Invalides with its tremendous golden dome. The area around Pont de la Concorde is another vast, open promenade where the vista stretches from National assembly on the south of the river, Place de la Concorde on the north to a beautiful Greek temple north east of the square.

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It took this one more visit to fully appreciate the clever line up of these attractions, The Louvre, Jardin Tuileries, Place de Concorde, (where dominating its center is an obelisk which I learnt to be called Cleopatra’s Needle by some), Champs Elysees, Arch of Triumph that is the center of a star shaped block and Grande Arche in La Defense that is a resplendent modern district far west of the river.

Another highlight is Basilica of Sacred Heart on the hill of Montmartre. It is a stunning building and site with great panoramic views of London. Greater views await if you climb the 300 steps to its soaring dome. After a visit to the basilica, go to the market nearby, grab a meal or have a portrait or caricature made by one of the many artists there, about 30 minutes and €20 each person.

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Previously I had traveled mostly by Metro, but I enjoyed it much better going around in buses this time. We bought packs of 10 single ticket that works for both the metro and bus. Many people went around on bikes. You find these bikes conveniently located throughout the neighborhoods and you rent them with a credit card from the machines. So we gave that a try. Weather was fine mostly, at mid-80s, it was hot in the sun. I got my wish, I liked the feel of the summer sun burning on my skin, but interestingly I was also quite relieved when I returned to cooler and breezy London.

Overall, it was the most enjoyable of the three visits. But I can’t pretend that all was the same. There were a few incidents.

#1, At Notre Dame, first time we went on Aug 3rd, it was cordoned off by a number of police and machine gun toting soldiers. Few minutes later, a loud bang shot through the air. My husband’s theory, police blew up a suspicious package. We could not find any report about it on internet.

#2, At Eiffel Tower. After going through security to enter the fenced area, waiting in long line for tickets and going through security a second time before entering the elevator to go up, we got to the second level where the views are rewarding. More waiting however at second level to get up to the summit, an hour later we were finally close to getting our turn with only a dozen or so people before us, when the line suddenly stopped moving and people in front of us were turning around instead. Puzzled, we gathered from other tourists that the elevators to go up had been stopped due to ‘security reason’. A staff member subsequently came over and in raw English told tourists to get down to the ground. Momentary chaos ensued and tourists thronged around the elevator to go down. Announcement was made minutes later in multiple languages that the tower is closed due to security concern and tourists were directed to use the stairs instead. Once on the ground, everyone had to queue up again to have their bags checked before being allowed to exit. We later found out from a couple on the bus that there was another similar evacuation earlier that day.

#3, Pick pockets. I had read about it on the paper before. This time we were given warnings at least three times, by a French man we talked to on a bus, concierge at the hotel and another French man we talked to at the bike stop. As if to illustrate their points, I had a close encounter with a thief on the Metro train. Luckily, I unknowingly foiled his plot and although my small shoulder bag, which I usually wear in front of me, was unzipped, nothing was removed from it.

It is unfortunate that bad things happened. But I am glad to see tourism in Paris thriving as ever. Don’t hold yourself back. But being mindful and prepared helps.

A tip about shopping. Most shops close on Sundays, including big department stores such as Printemps and Gallery Lafayette. Many stores on Champs Elysees open on Sundays but some don’t. 4 Temps, a shopping mall at La Defense, and La Valle, an outlet shopping mall south east of Paris, each 45 to 60 minutes away from central Paris, do however remain open.


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