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Showing posts from October, 2009

London & Paris - arrival home

Well, we made it home - and arrived at Logan airport to see snow in the air and on the ground. We were not expecting this!

What a great trip we all had. There were so many highlights. During our trip home we chatted about everyone's best part of the trip and the answers varied: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the theatres in London, Windsor Castle, Versailles....

We ceratinly had a jam-packed vacation and got to see so many of the wonderful things both these great cities have to offer.

Everyone has made plans to share photos and remain in touch. Rumors of a traveler-Reunion are also abound! Thanks to everyone for such an enjoyable time, and to our readers for following along with us!

Paris - Farewell Dinner & Cruise

For our final evening together we gathered at a downtown restaurant (La Fermette Marbeuf), for a terrific French dinner.
Following dinner we headed toward the docks near the Eiffel tower and boarded a barge to set sail on a night cruise down the Seine River.
With music playing over the sound system or a handheld speaker to listen to the guided tour, we all enjoyed seeing Paris by night. If we weren't impressed by the city by then - this cruise certainly put us over the top! Under the bridges, past the Louvre and Notre Dame, the lights were brilliant and there couldn't have been a better conclusion to our journey.
On the way back to the hotel, our driver took us on a loop to see all the sites we had seen by day in their evening splendor. Most of us gathered in the hotel bar for a nightcap, to reminisce about all the things we've enjoyed on the trip and enjoy each other's company (and singing talents!) some more.

Paris - Montmartre

We had free time for our final afternoon in Paris and many of us headed to the Montmartre section. This is the last village of Paris and home to the famous basilica Sacre Coeur.
This artsy village is situated on a high and was home to many artists, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The market area of the village is lined with local artists working and selling in the open air.
There were many shops in the area as well - which helped us get some more of our souvenir shopping done!

Paris - Giverny

Givery - home of Claude Monet, and inspiration for so many of his masterpieces - is where we headed for our final morning of touring.

Our guide, Chris, shared lots of information about the town, Monet and the impressionist movement before dropping us off to tour the grounds on our own.
The water garden (featured in "Water Lilies") was terrific. Many of us said that we'd never look at the painting the same way after being there, standing on the bridge and looking across the pond.
The gardens were breathtaking! While we visited during the off-season and some of the blooms had wilted, the scope of the gardens was nearly overwhelming. Lots of photo-taking, as we roamed the grounds and noted the variety of flowers, trees, and bushes.
Monet's home was also open for touring. Clearly an artist's home, with brightly colored walls and lots of windows for light. Interestingly, the home was decorated with hundreds of Japanese art - which apparently served as inspiration for Mone…

Paris - Louvre

After Notre Dame we had some free time in Paris!!

While we split into groups everyone visited the Louvre. A ENORMOUS museum featuring more than 35,000 pieces in its collection - including the Mona Lisa! This painting was a gift to Louis XIV from da Vinci upon his death and was housed at Versailles for years and is now part of the Louvre's permanent collection. The crowds here were the biggest!

Another highlight was seeing the Venus de Milo! There's no way we could have seen everything - but everything we saw was beautiful!

Other free time activities included stopping by the Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop, shopping on the Champs Elysees, and some great dinners.

We even saw some of Paris by night!! Another great day!

Paris - City Bus Tour

Valerie again escorted us out of Versailles and back into Paris. We drove by many historic places and stopped at a few.

We stopped at the Eiffel Tower and almost left Isabelle out of the photo, as she was already off shopping. However, she made it in time for the group photo, which was breathtaking regardless of the chilly and cloudy day. After, we drove by the Concorde de la Place, Arc de Triomphe, and the Champs Elysees (the 2nd most expensive street in the world - 2nd to 5th Avenue in New York) - all the women were smiling at their husbands!

We also stopped by the residence of the French President and stopped for pictures at the site where Napoleon is buried - it is an entire military museum dedicated to him. We also drove by "The Thinker".

At the end of the trip, we got off at the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was another amazing sight. Many of us travelled in and lit candles, but the mere presence was breathtaking.

-Submitted by Guest Blogger Jenn

Paris - Versailles

After a "petit" breakfast, we boarded on the bus for Versailles, with many tired faces. Our tour guide, Valerie led us out of the city and into the town Versailles, which is the oldest section of Paris. The town is mostly residential, with a 30 minute train commute to Paris.

We got to the palace and were simply amazed by the size. Valerie "whispered" in our ears as she gave a tour of the palace.

Just three kings lived in the palace - Louis XIV (Sun King), Louis XV (his grandson) and Louis XVI (great-grandson of the Sun King who was married to Marie Antoinette).

The palace was lavish and ornate. Clearly the Sun King was trying to impress the other rulers across the world (and his palace has been copied many times over).

Most impressive was the Hall of Mirrors - extraordinary!!!!

We also saw the Private and Public bedrooms of the king and the queen.

Once we left the palace we toured the grounds which were equally impressive! The fountains were not working (out of season) b…

Paris - first day

Everyone headed to the Eiffel Tower via the Metro and got spectacular views. Whether you stayed on the ground and took in the tower or rode the elevators to the middle or top landing - the sights were amazing!
Everyone also got to visit the Musee d'Orsay. Absolutely incredible what pieces of art were on display... original Rembrandts, Van Goghs, Monets, Manets, Pissaros were all on the same floor of the museum!!!! And the building itself is an old train station that was beautiful in its own right.
We split up and had dinner on our own - hopefully everyone enjoyed some French desserts!
Tomorrow morning we head to Versailles!

London & Paris

This morning we checked out of our London hotel and headed to the train station where we boarded the Eurostar and headed to Paris.

Seems simple enough. Not quite. We piled our bags right at the entrance to the platform our train was assigned to. Not only did our platform get reassigned and we needed to hussle to the next escalator; but they boarded 10 minutes early - at least they tried to...
Cars 2 and 3 had some electronic problems and needed to be closed, and yes, we had seats in car 2. They did not reissue tickets with new seats - instead it was a free-for-all. We all worked together with our director Chris and got the luggage on board and stowed. Then half of us found seats. The rest of us waited to be seated after the train was moving...

BUT, once everyone had seats it was a great ride. Fairly smooth and really quick. Just over 2 hours London to Paris. Lots of scenery along the countryside and we went under the water in the Chunnel!

We arrived in Paris on time and checked into our g…

London - Inherit the Wind

Tonight several of us took in another performance at a London theatre. This time around it was "Inherit the Wind" at the Old Vic.

One of the stars was none other than Kevin Spacey - who was great as the defense attorney - who serves as artistic director at the theatre.

We marveled at how deep the stage was, how many cast members were in this production, the amount of humor brought into the script, and the wonderful acting.

On the Tube ride back to the hotel a few mentioned how interesting it was that the Stonehill group saw this production - a show grappling with finding balance between science and religion...

Tomorrow its off to the Eurostar for our departure to Paris. While we have had so many great times in London, we look forward to the next leg of our journey!

London - Leeds Castle

Our afternoon was a visit to Leeds Castle - which is NOT in Leeds.

This medieval castle was formerly a private home and was left by its last owner as a trust to be open to visitors. Interestingly, the widow of the owning family was American and she made huge improvements and modernizations to the castle before deeding it to the trust.

While the inside was interesting - so many artifacts and pieces of art - the outside gorunds were spectacular!

Acres of land with ponds, streams, varieties of trees, plants and flowers and lots of animal life (dozens of peacocks, black swan, sheep, etc). The grounds also host a golf course which some were playing as we roamed about.

On a beautiful spring or summer day many of us agreed we'd love to grab a good book and pull up a blanket somewhere here and simply enjoy the serenity and beauty.

London - Canterbury

Most of us headed out for our optional excursion today - Canterbury and Leeds Castle. Others took in the sites of downtown London - like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace!

The 2 hour drive to Canterbury was very scenic once we hit the country. The town itself is a marvel.

A highlight is the cathedral; site of Thomas Becket's (St. Thomas of Canterbury) murder, as well as his crypt (until it was destroyed). The gothic architecture is awesome at this cathedral - one of the few in England in this style and it features the infamous flying buttresses.

The cathedral was huge - if you sat in the main seating area for Mass you'd never see (or hear) the celebrant. Everything was very elaborate.

There was a side door with a courtyard and a beautiful garden. Sheila, Maureen and Susan all discovered it first and then tried directing everyone else there. A favorite of their's was the yellow rose (I forget the exact name - but they'll remember!).

The town itself was terrific …

London - dinner with students

Tonight we were joined at dinner by several current Stonehill students spending the semester in England.

As we have had a few very busy days (nearly running on empty), their energy and enthusiasm was contagious and we found ourselves re-energized!

The students are studying at several colleges in England or are interning in London for the semester. Everyone enjoyed hearing their stories. We are impressed with their experiences!

They, in turn, were thrilled for a meal that they did not have to prepare themselves (a few noted how much they miss the Caf food!).

They were also willing to share some tips for what to do with free time, etc.

Also joining us were Shannon, Shelby and Rion - all graduated in May and have moved to London! Their experiences are equally impressive - and they got to offer tips to the current students as well. A great day all around!

Tomorrow our bus departs at 8:00 for Canterbury - so we need to get some sleep.....

London - Stonehenge

From Bath we departed to visit the ancient Stonehenge.

On the drive Katie offered a mini-lecture of sorts about Jane Austin. The information was terrific - informative and fun. She talked about Austin's life and also some of her works. She also answered our questions - what a treat!! Thanks Katie!

Everyone has seen photos and heard legends (some new legends mentioned for their construction: Merlin or the devil) of Stonehenge.

While we could not go up to the stones themselves, we did get a self-guided tour again and were able to take some great photos. One shot we took was of Ted and Isabel in their Stonehill gear!!

London - Bath

We left this morning for the town of Bath.

What a lovely (British use this word often) town!!!! Could have spent many more hours there....

The highlight was the Roman Baths with the hot springs, which we learned about from our director Chris and from the self guided tour of the baths. Very very cool!

We ate lunch on our own and then spent a little time roaming the town (some shopping was done). We drove by Jane Austin's home and had a photo stop at the Royal Crescent (now apartments; one resident is Nick Cage). A great morning!!

London - an evening in London

After the Globe Theatre we had free time to explore the city.
Some of us went to the Tate Modern Museum for viewing, others went to Harrods for shopping, others circled back and revisited some of the places we had seen by bus on the sightseeing tour the other day, for learning. All of us certainly took lots of pictures for capturing the moments!

A number of us met up at Gordon's Wine Bar (a recommendation of Katie's, as she has known this establishment for years and it is close to the National Theatre). Great wine, some food and terrific story-telling wrapped up a terrific day in London.

But we weren't done yet - 12 of us moved on tho the National Theatre to catch a performance of "Our Class". We made it to the theatre and headed to the Cottlesloe stage, which is a black box theater (new to some of us). The actors were so close!!

The performance was fantastic! Gripping story and wonderful acting all the way through. And while terrific, it was certainly a drama - very…

London - Costume Demo

While at the Globe Theatre, we had the chance t go through its museum and also to see a costume demonstration.

Not only was this entertaining and very informative - but our very own Jenn got to be the "actress"!

The costumers dressed Jenn in the costume of Ophelia. From tunic and corset to hat and shoes the costumers dressed Jenn as they would dress the actress playing Ophelia. In doing so, they also explained what the garments were and why they were important to the costume and the character.

Thanks to Jenn for being such a good sport - and a great Ophelia!!!

London - Globe Theatre

We had the chance to tour the Globe Theatre - modeled after the original which had burned on the exact site. How exciting to see the replicated stage where Shakespeare's works were performed. Although we learned that there were 4 theatres which hosted Shakespeare's plays in London - the Rose (just two plays), the Swan, the Globe, and the Hope (which was so unsuccessful at theatre performances it was converted into a bear fighting ring).

The Globe was simple; but impressive at the same time. We even wanted to hop up on the stage itself! Our tour guide, David, was terrific. Many of us thought he was an actor with the theatre - but he indicated that he prefers to direct... He answered our questions and he shared some of the worst questions the guides at the Globe have gotten: who painted the sky on the ceiling? (there is no ceiling, it is an open-air theatre), is the theatre air conditioned? (again - open air!) and more than once, they've been asked if Shakespeare attends the …

London - Windsor

We enjoyed a breakfast buffet in the hotel and boarded the bus to drive just 20 miles west of London to Windsor for our morning tour of Windsor Castle.

Along the drive our guide Barry (a surprise replacement who we enjoyed yesterday!) shared more stories of British history and provided an overview of the Castle.

The grounds of the castle are beautiful. Barry coaxed our driver to avoid the rules and drop us off just a short walk from the entrance. On our way in Barry showed us a view of Eton College and shared some background on this historic place. We also noticed that the Queen's flag was flying over the castle - indicating that she, in fact, was in residence today!

Once inside we received self-guided headsets (of sorts) and we were able to enjoy the castle at our own pace. Spectacular can't even describe it!

From the Art Gallery to the China Gallery, up the Grand Staircase and into the Grand Vestibule... we made our way through all the the now-public areas of the Castle. Some hi…

London - City Tour

Chris introduced us to our local guide for the day, Barry (from Bristol) and driver, Alan, and we headed out for a tour of London.
Throughout the afternoon Barry shared laughs, history, political commentary and his affinity for London. We learned that London is the smallest major city in the world - just one square mile - and that Trafalgar Square is right in its center.
We stopped at St. Paul's (the people's church), crossed over the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge with spectacular views of Parliament and Big Ben, heard about the London Dungeon, the Crown Jewels housed in the Tower of London, passed Lloyd's of London, the Bank of England, new Scotland Yard, Somerset House, the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Palace (home of Princess Diana while she was married to Charles and also after their divorce).
We saw two different protest groups - one opposing the war in Iraq an…

London - Charles Dickens Museum

Chris led us to the local Tube station and showed us the ropes so we will feel comfortable using the system on our own later in the week and we arrived in the area near the Charles Dickens House Museum.

We arrived at what had been Dickens' home and took self-guided tours throughout. Some of us caught the introductory movie (others were afraid sitting in the dark room on little sleep would cause snoring!).

The museum was great - a very impressive library housing the National Dickens Collection, lots of photographs, sketches, hand-written notes, mini-biographies and even playbills were showcased.

We then had some free time to get some lunch and roam the area, which was very nice even though a number of shops and restaurants were closed for Sunday. We met back up at the Museum and boarded our shuttle for a tour of the city.

London - we made it

Hello to everyone back home! We all made the journey to London and while most of us did not catch much sleep on the overnight flight, we arrived ahead of schedule! We went through customs, got our bags, waited for the dot2dot bus (with the grumpy desk clerk!) and headed to our hotel.

We drove into the Kensington section of London and arrived at the Kensington Close Hotel - which is in a terrific location and seems to be top notch so far. We left our bags with the porters and joined our local tour director, Chris, for coffee and tea at an overview meeting. Chris highlighted a very busy first day for us and then we headed out on foot to the local Tube station.