This post (and the one to follow) have been sitting in my drafts for a while—and I'm realizing that it's because I don't want to admit that it's over. My family and my partner came to London for the holidays and we had an incredible time.
Having all the people that I love here has made this experience feel very real in a good way, and now having them be gone is...hard. But—it is reminding me to make the most of the remains of my brief adventure here and to have lots of fun planning future travels. While my parents and sister and her partner were here we had Christmas dinner at a gorgeous little pub in Primrose Hill called the Princess of Wales.
I took them to see school, and we did some fun touristy things, like the Tower of London and the London Eye. It was fun to go to parts of London with them that I normally don't see all that much—we walked along the Thames as the sun was setting and got to look up at Big Ben and the houses of Parliament and it all just seemed like a big dream.
Big Ben at night. You can see the tops of Westminster Abbey peeking out from behind it too!
We visited Kew gardens for the nighttime Christmas light show. It was lovely to see the gardens in the winter time and the greenhouses were a gorgeous warm reprieve from the frosty fields and bare trees—which were beautiful in their own barren way. We spent evenings playing speed scrabble and putting together a puzzle—the puzzle was especially exciting because it was a stylized, illustrated map of London, so we got to see all the landmark spots that we had visited laid out for us to see in relation to one another and in a fun way.We also did a day trip to Bletchley Park, which was so much fun for computer/history nerds like us.
My family's visit was all too brief and I was terribly sad to see them go, but my partner got to stay a little bit longer. We had a day in London that we spent walking around the city, taking London transport, and visiting the Imperial War Museum. We then went alllll they way to Greenwich to visit the Prime Meridian and the Maritime Museum, which was gorgeous and misty and mysterious, with fog hanging over the Thames and evoking a very historical feel. We then hit up the British Museum, which was an absolutely incredible treasure trove—we felt like we needed a whole lifetime to see all the wealth of knowledge and artifacts in that building. I can't wait to go back and dig even deeper into the collection.
On New Year's Eve we got on a train to Paris. We stayed in a gorgeous Air BnB on the top floor of a historic apartment building, in an arrondissement that was just the absolute epitome of Paris (and I got to use my French to ask for directions!)
We saw New Year's fireworks from our apartment window and brought in 2017 together—I couldn't have asked for a better start to the year. Right away on January 1st, we walked about 12 miles in a huge loop around Paris, hitting all the major landmarks. It was an incredible day. We stopped at Sacré-Couer first and enjoyed the gorgeous views of all of Paris. Only after we got home did we realize that the hill in Montmartre upon which the basilica sits is the highest point in the city! We encountered gorgeous doors and facades and architecture throughout our whole walk, and neither of us had ever seen anything like it before.
This was the little church that was on the way to Montmartre. We could see its spires from our apartment windows
Next on our list was the Le Moulin Rouge, and Michael indulged my love of the movie Amélie and took a picture of me in front of the Cafe Des Deux Moulin. Then we moved on to the Arche de Triomphe, and continued to enjoy the 'Paris-ness' of it all. Seeing the whole city on foot was the best way to do it—we got to absorb all the sights and sounds and smells, and being on the move all day was invigorating and challenging and kept us warm!
We took a little break to rest our feet and warmed up our fingers and toes in the Shangri-La hotel, which was not a part of the plan—we simply happened to be passing by the door and did a little double take as we saw how fancy the hotel looked. We went in—mostly just to see if we could—and then decided to use the facilities, eat our snacks that we had brought with us, and stayed for half an hour to absorb the glory of this five-star hotel (see lobby Christmas tree).
Night fell early, and the light on the swoops and arches and balustrades of the elegant buildings was incredibly picturesque. We visited the Eiffel Tower (which is supremely sparkly at night) and passed by the Grand Palais and Petit Palais on our way to our next stops. We dipped down to walk along the Seine under bridges and next to houseboats and sailboats and old-timey ships before popping back up to walk over more bridges on our way to find L'Île de la Cité.
The Eiffel Tower is bedecked with flashing lights for five minutes every hour, and we were very glad to have caught one of it's fantastical displays.
We happened upon a Christmas Village on our walk and got 'Christmas-villaged' (that is to say, cheerily carried along) by throngs of people enjoying the holiday tunes over loudspeaker, scents of fried food and mulled wine, and twinkly lights all around. Encountering the Christmas village made it feel like the holidays weren't really over!
We did a little nighttime reconnaissance around the Louvre—it felt like one of those young adult novels where they go on adventures and live in a museum after dark.
The last stop of the night was Notre-Dame. Michael practiced his excellent Spanish and a very obliging Spaniard took our picture in front of the beautiful cathedral.
It was a magical, lovely, and exhausting whirlwind of a day—and the next day we got to explore a few things in more detail. We went back to the Louvre in the daytime and enjoyed the art and the architecture—that much art and culture can be a little overwhelming all at once but it was also awe-inspiring to experience it in person. Even though you can see everything online, you can actually feel its presence and the presence of the people who made the art when you see it, standing in front of it and breathing the same air. Even the building itself and the views from the building are works of art, and it's beautiful just to be there.
Taking a break to rest our feet and our eyes at the Louvre.
After the Louvre we went back to Notre Dame and actually went in this time. There was so much space and elegance...it's like they brought the feeling of the sky inside, and in the form of architecture. It was gorgeous, AND we got to witness a Catholic mass and communion, in French, complete with singing and standing and chanting...IN NOTRE DAME! Pretty cool.
Loading up with snacks before getting on the train at Gare du Nord.
We had a lovely last evening in our cozy apartment, and got ready to leave the next day. We stopped in a classic Parisian bakery for some delicious french baguette sandwiches and headed to the train station (which was also beautiful—everything was so beautiful in Paris!). We were sad to leave the city of lights and love, but really enjoyed our adventure there and were excited to go on to explore Amsterdam! Check out my next post for details and photos.
Where's your favorite holiday destination? is it cold and cozy and festive or sunny and tropical?