Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Eiffel in Love with Paris but I Sure Couldn't Hyde My Excitement in London

After 5 cities in 4 weeks, I still wasn't worn out yet. We had one last trip to take to hit up two of the biggest cities in Europe: Paris and London. This trip would complete the April extravaganza of 7 cities in 5 weeks. Our flight left Dublin Airport at about 6:30 am Tuesday May 3. When we arrived at Paris Beauvais, we had to take a bus into the city center of Paris which took about an hour. We then proceeded to walk from the bus station to an apartment that we had rented for the 3 days that we were going to be there. On the way there, we decided to stop at the Eiffel Tower and hang out for a bit since we were supposed to get the keys to our apartment until 3pm and it was only about 11am at the time. We hung out on a patch of grass right next to the Tower for some time, trying to process this surreal feeling that we were sitting next to one of the world's most popular monuments. Also, all of my friends back at Penn State were in the middle of their finals week and studying their butts off for exams so that made it all the more relaxing :).
A few days earlier, I had gone out for dinner and drinks with some girls that were studying abroad in another country who were friends with my friend. Out of sheer coincidence, they were also in Paris on this same day that we were. And out of pure unexplainable coincidence, as we were leaving the Eiffel Tower, I ran into them! After chatting with them for a bit, we caught the subway and took it up to close to where our apartment was. We got settled in and went to find a place to eat. After eating, we were and visited the Notre Dame Cathedral.

After the cathedral, we went a back to our apartment and cooked a great Italian meal and then stayed in for the night.
On Wednesday, we got up and took the subway to the Catacombs. One of the 4 other people on the trip I was with, Laurel, had wanted to explore the underground ossuaries and although we had heard reports that we would have to wait a long time in line, it'd be worth the wait. And it definitely was. It was incredible to try to wrap my head around the vast number of tunnels that exist under Paris, nearly covering the entire city. A fact that truly blew me away was that "although the Paris Catacombs are the largest underground necropolis in the world (with around 6 million skeletons), they cover no more than 1/800th of the area of the underground quarries of Paris. Quite the civilization back in the day it was indeed.
The Paris and London crew

Bones stacked on top of each other, some portions grouped based on the type of bone

A glimpse of what the tunnels looked like

After the Paris Catacombs, we ate lunch then traveled back across the city towards the Louvre.

Obligatory picture in front of the underwhelming Mona Lisa

That night, I convinced the crew to venture to the Eiffel Tower despite it being about 45 minuts away. We tried to take the subway but it was unfortunately closed at about 10:00pm and given how expensive taxis are in Paris, we decided to walk. It was quite a long walk but it was along a river that runs right through the city so it was still fun. We got there and seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up was beyond breath taking. Exactly like it looked from pictures and postcards, but now I was actually seeing it IN PERSON, a truly once in a life time experience. We all sat on the grass for a while, taking in it majestic qualities and at one point out of the blue, it even started flashing all over in bright white lights, a sight only to be witnessed in person.
We woke up the next morning and vacated the apartment by 10am per request of the owner. This time, compared to our failed effort to catch public transit the night before,  we took the subway back to the Eiffel Tower and hung out in the grass for a while. We then wanted to go to the one thing Erin had requested to see this trip- this world famous macaroon bakery. It was about a 20 minute walk from the Tower and along the way we took great pictures with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

It could be said that "Eiffel in love with this view"

The macaroons lived up to be as amazing as they were said to be- macaroons have been the dessert that I've come to love while abroad, trying them in every city I've gone to. These Paris ones were great but honestly they were all good and it's hard to tell one from the other. After this, we went back to the Eiffel Tower to pass more time before our train left at 7pm. But I mean come on, who would complain about "killing time" in front of the Eiffel Tower, especially when all of their stateside friends were drowning in final exams at Penn State. And after nearly missing the train from Paris to London, we had an hour to relax aboard the EuroRail which hit speeds of 150 mph and even goes under water between France and England through a tunnel!

We arrived in London at about 9:30pm.

After grabbing a bite to eat, we headed to our hostel. Luckily it was only about 20 minutes away from the train station. We arrived at the hostel and before we knew it we had all fallen sound asleep 
after a long day.

On Friday morning, we woke up around 9am and headed to the Harry Potter Platform 9 and 3/4 exhibit. Just as I had mentioned that Erin had really wanted to go to that macaroon place, Kelly was a Harry Potter super nerd at heart and had requested we go to this attraction. We waited in line for about an hour and then Kelly's dreams were fulfilled in the blink of an eye (with some great pictures of course; we all got individual pictures and then a group picture).

I got unbelievably close to making it entirely through the wall with this jump 
With this jump, welllll not so much
After this attraction and viewing the products in the gift shop at outrageous prices (also with the conversion rate of $1.50= 1 GBP didn't help us much). We grabbed sushi on our way to Hyde park and proceeded to eat in the grass on a beautiful day in one of the most famous parks in the world. We then walked around London for the day, viewing all of the majestic attractions it is known for such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye, and London Bridge.

 When it came time for dinner, we tried to infamous Nando's Chicken restaurant which was a fried and grilled chicken joint. It was quite tasty and I'd recommend it although the price was high for the quantity of food we order. After dinner, we bolted up to the neighborhood north of the River Thames to catch our spot on a "Jack the Ripper" tour. Laurel had heard great things about this experience and for only 10 Pounds a person, we were taken on a 2 hour tour to various places within the neighborhood in which Jack the Ripper lived during his terrible tenure. The tour guide was extremely informative and the tour was actually (in a weird way) very interesting. After the tour was over, we tried to take the subway home but had a rough time figuring it out so I suggested we walk. After looking at the map on my phone for a bit and mapping out a route, I told everyone that it only looked like it would be a 20 minute journey. And man could I have not been more wrong. Everyone was worn out from the 12 miles that we had already walked and just wanted to get home. I felt bad that it took longer than I had initially thought but once we finally made it home, it was incredibly relieving. A whole 45 minutes later....oops!

On Saturday, given that a few of us had exams in the next few days upon returning back to Dublin, we had planned to spend most of the day in Hyde park studying in a picnic setting. This seemed to offer the best combination of still enjoying the sights and sounds of a London afternoon but also studying some flash cards and notes to prepare for exam week. After a bit of studying, I ventured off on my own a bit toward the wealthy shopping district. I've been in some wealthy areas of America before but never have I seen such an abundance of wealthy super cars. Mercedes after Bentley after Lamborghini after Porsche....you name it, I probably saw it....many revving their engines as they cruised on by in this residential urban neighborhood. As a person who reads car magazines every month, I walked around with a mesmerizing expression on my face, trying it take it all in. It was everything I could have asked for out of an afternoon; great weather and even better cars.

After spending the afternoon in Hyde park, exploring the surrounding areas a bit, and eating food, we packed our bags up to head to the train station to catch a train to the airport. Our 5 day extravaganza of a trip was finally coming to close but we were all ready for it the short flight across the water to Dublin. It was incredible to visit two of the most well known cities in the world during such a good time of year when the weather is warm and tourist season isn't in full swing yet. Our bank accounts weren't wiped completely clean yet, but getting very close. In two short weeks we'd be back in our homeland after finishing finals. All of the traveling outside of Ireland had come to a close after the return from London and Paris totally 11 cities outside of Ireland. Quite an incredible feat in just 17 weeks, not including the traveling done on weekends in Ireland. It was the experience of a lifetime; an experience that will never be forgotten and cherished forever.