European Adventure: Bonjour Paris!

The next leg of our European Adventure took us to the city of love or is it lights or is it both?  I can’t remember, but up next we went to Paris!  
I was really excited to see Paris, because it was the first place we were going that I had never been before.  And we were getting there via the EuroStar.  The first of 3 train rides we would take on the trip.  
Our train left Kings Cross Station (I’m a little giddy just typing that. Thank you Harry Potter) at around 10:25am and we arrived in Paris at around 2:35pm.  
Travel note: If you’re ever going to be taking the EuroStar make sure you get to the train station at least 2 our before your scheduled departure time because since your going to another country you have to go through security and customs again.  (Which I loved because it meant I got another stamp in my passport).  But sometimes those lines can be long.  
One we arrived in Paris we were told a few things.  First keep our carry ones and purses close because the train station was packed with pickpockets (or gypsies as our tour director called them) and two don’t sign any of the “petition” that women and children are trying to get you to sign.  It’s a scam.  So packed with those two warnings we made our way of the train to wait for out luggage.  We waited for the luggage and the bus that would take us to our hotel for about 35-40 minutes and then we were on our way!  
We got to our hotel at around 3:30 and after a minor lost luggage scare (thankfully not mine, Jenny’s, which she handled with amazing calm.  I would have been panicking) we were on our way to the Metro to pick up our tickets to our first stop in Paris……the Louvre!  
Our hotel was called the Pullman Montparnasse.  In the Montparnasse area of Paris.  
This is where our time in Paris starts to take a slightly negative turn.  At least for me for about 15 minutes.  So we walked to the Metro, where we purchased 20 tickets for the 3 of us.  Thankfully the 20 tickets would be the perfect amount of tickets to buy for all 3 of us to get around Paris the 2 days we were there.  Total it came to about 30 Euro, so we spent about 10 Euro each on Metro tickets.
The rest of the people in our group was heading straight to the Louvre.  We on the other hand had to find the tourist shop where we could pick up the tickets I had purchased for us in advance.  Now everything I read said to buy tickets to the Louvre in advance otherwise you’d be waiting in the longest line in the world.  So I did.  What I did not realize is that we would not get to start exploring Paris until 4:00.  
SO…to make a long story short, by the time we got to the place we needed to pick up our tickets it was already 5:00pm.  And guess what time the Louvre stops letting people in.  Yep, that’s right 5:00. (Correction, they close at 5:30 but stop letting guests in at 5:00) So we missed the Louvre.  I did not take the news lightly.  I got very upset while we were in the shop and as soon as we stepped out of the shop immediately started crying.  It was just so frustrating!  I thought I had been doing the right thing by getting our tickets in advance but that wasn’t the case and I felt bad because not only were we NOT going to get to see the Mona Lisa but we were out 15 bucks! 
I was in no position to make any decisions by that point (I trying to pull myself together and failing miserably) so the others decided we should stop for some lunch and make a game plane there.  This was our restaurant.  I seriously couldn’t seem to get it together when we sat down.  I ordered some wine and just sat there moodily.  Tears kept filling my eyes every time I thought about it.  Until finally my friend Katie said I just needed to let it out and cry.  I put on my sunglasses let myself have a good cry and then I was able to pull myself together and help make a game plan.
After that minor crisis, we ultimately decided we would still make our way over to the Louvre to see the pyramid and the Louvre itself and then just see where the afternoon took us from there.   The walk to the Louvre turned out to be absolutely delightful and the even just getting to see the outside buildings was a treat.  I mean look at these buildings!!

The Louvre itself was originally built as a fortress in the 12th century.  Then it was turned into the gorgeous structure we see today and used as Royal Palace for The Sun King, Louis XIV in the mid 1600s.  Eventually the Sun King would abandoned the palace (and all the work he put into it) for his new palace and permanent residence just a couple miles from the city in Versailles.  During the French Revolution the Louvre was almost torn down but was eventually turned into a museum by the Convention Nationale.  
And that is your history lesson for the day! 🙂

We then began to just wander and take pictures. We walked through the Jardin de Tuileries, we walked through the Place de la Concorde (sight of the guillotine during the Revolution, our guide said the streets would be covered in blood for days), and made our way to the Champs-Élysées.

We walked and walked and walked and I wore the WRONG SHOES!!  I knew I was wearing the shittiest shoes in the world that day, but hey they went with my outfit. So I didn’t complain once that my feet were really hurting.  At least I didn’t until Jenny noticed that I was walking like a little old man and basically hobbling my way down the street.  And I wouldn’t have complained at all but Jenny kept looking at me with such…sympathy and saying things like, “Oh my god, you look like you’re in SO much pain.”  
The plan had been to walk all the way down to the Arch de Triomphe, but we had paused outside of Louis Vuitton and I suggested we skip the rest of the walk and just jump on the Metro and head to the Eiffel Tower.  Thankfully the girls agreed with me, so off we went. 
Here’s the evidence of my stupidity. (Don’t worry, I didn’t wear the shoes the rest of the trip.  I learned my lesson)

We spent the rest of the evening at the Eiffel Tower.  We briefly stood in line to go up to the top.  But it was already 9:30pm by this time and they stopped selling tickets to go up to the top at 10:30 and the line was at least an hour long.  Instead, we wandered around the structure, grabbed ourselves a VERY tasty nutella crepe and parked ourselves just in front of it on the riverbank and watched it come to life at night.  

The following morning we began day 2 with a guided bus tour of all of Paris. We went from arrondissement to arrondissement taking in all the famous sights of city.  Our local tour guide was SO incredibly knowledgeable about the entire city that we had a very nice little overview of the history of Paris.  For example did you know that Paris was originally settled on an island?  There are bridges just like this one connecting the originally island to the rest of the city.  So neat!

We drove past the Palais Garnier (the opera house The Phantom of the Opera is based on), down the Champs-Élysées ( the French flags are lining the way in preparation for the end of the Tour de France), and over to Les Invalides, the military museum and home of the tomb of Napoleon.  After a quick stop and photo op in front of Les Invalides, we headed to the Eiffel Tower for a day time photo op!

I think out of the 2,000 pictures I took on this trip, out ones in front of the Eiffel Tower are some of my favorites.  We had so much fun posing in front of the tower and it was a gorgeous day.  Which made for GORGEOUS pictures! 🙂

After the photo shoot in front of the Eiffel Tower the group that had signed up for the excursion to Versailles jumped back on the bus and headed out to the sumptuous palace.

I absolutely ADORED our afternoon at Versailles.  I could easily have spent the entire day out at the palace.  After a tasty lunch at a restaurant close to the palace (where I was stung by a bee for the first time in my entire life) we met our guide for a private tour of the palace.  Thank goodness we had signed up for the excursion because just like every other major attraction the line to simply buy tickets at Versailles was at least a 4 hour wait.

Travel Tip: If you’re not traveling with a tour group, BUY ALL TICKETS IN ADVANCE!

The palace chateau was built by the Sun King, Louis XIV in 1682.  It became the official residence of the royal family until 1789 when they were forced back to Paris at the start of the Revolution.  The last royal couple to live in at Versailles were the famous Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  Sadly since most of the tour was of the palace itself we did not get the opportunity to explore any of the gardens of the palace.  That’s why I say you really need a full day to get the most out of your trip to Versailles.

We got to see all the major highlights of the palace.  Both the King and Queen’s private apartments (I was most excited to see the Queen’s apartments) and of course the Hall of Mirrors.

After Versailles we were dropped over by Notre Dame Cathedral, sadly I did not see Quisemodo, nor did I get to go up to the bell tower and sing The Bells of Notre Dame.  It doesn’t cost anything to actually go inside the cathedral, but once again the line was crazy long so we took a few photos and moved on.  The cathedral was stunning though and the next time in Paris I may make the time to go inside.

Our last stop of the evening before we headed back to the hotel was of course another nutella crepe.  It was still extremely tasty but not as tasty as the crepe we had at the Eiffel Tower the night before.

Our last night in Paris we met up with a high school friend of Jenny’s who has been living in Paris the last few years.  It was great getting to see Paris at night by a someone who actually lives there.  She even showed us her apartment, tiniest thing apartment I’ve ever been in by the way and we got to see how the locals do things which was amazing.  The place we had dinner was over by Les Invalides.  It was a huge park directly in front of it and there were tons of people lounging on blankets with bottles of wine and food just enjoying the night with friends.

I really wish we had more parks in Texas like this.  Parisian (and all Europeans for that matter) really take the time to enjoy each other and the cities they live in.  Life is more fast paced in the States and in Europe it’s much more leisurely, I guess is the word.

If I’m honest though, I didn’t fall in love with Paris.  I really enjoyed my time there but it didn’t strike me the way I know it strikes some people.  I will most definitely go back to the city of love or light (still not sure which it is or if it’s both) because I need to see the Louvre and the gardens at Versailles and Disneyland Paris of course.  But it’s not at the top of my “return to” list.

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And that my friends was Paris.  Tune in next week to find our all about Amsterdam!  My personal favorite from the trip! 🙂
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Tea Time: The Orangery at Kensington Palace

One thing I knew I did not want to miss out on, while in London was going to afternoon tea at one of London’s many tea rooms.  As you may know, if you read this post, one of my favorite things in the whole world is going to afternoon with my girlfriends.  There is just something so special, old fashion and ladylike about sitting with a group of ladies enjoying a pot of tea and some savories and sweets.  
Once it was decided we would spend our free afternoon having tea, we just needed to figure out which reputable tea room we would go to.  
One of my favorite bloggers, Lauren from Aspiring Kennedy, has a series that she calls To A Tea.  Basically she visits tons of different tea rooms in London and then reviews them on her blog.  Lauren is a fellow Texan, has the cutest little family ever, and is living life in Notting Hill.  Plus she is a fabulous writer, so I knew her series would be the perfect search engine for where we wanted to have tea.  
After a little research we settled on The Orangery at Kensington Palace.  And it did NOT disappoint! 
Why The Orangery?  Well first and foremost Kensington Palace is the home of Will and Kate. So obviously that was a major draw, second in all of the pictures Lauren has posted about it it the food looked amazing, and third WILL AND KATE LIVE THERE isn’t that reason enough?!  It is also where Princess Diana lived before she passed and where Queen Victoria lived when she was still Princess Victoria the heir to the British throne. 
Now I do have to say that the actual tea room is in a building all it’s own right next to Kensington Palace, which was a slight disappointment because I thought it was literally inside of the palace.  Nonetheless it was an absolute dream inside.  But I’ll let pictures speak for themselves.
(Sorry about the weird quality of the pictures.  I got better with my camera as we went on)

I had made us reservations in advance so we didn’t have to wait at all.  You can make reservations at their website.

We each ordered the basic afternoon tea and had our own pot of tea.  The china is absolutely gorgeous and you can even purchase it in the Palace gift shop.  It is unique to the palace itself.

The actual tea service consisted of:  A delicious array of tea sandwiches, including a very tasty chicken curry wrap.  Two different scones: white raisen and plain with clotted cream and strawberry jam.  And deserts of lemon and chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, and a small piece of traditional Victoria sponge cake.  It was Queen Victoria’s favorite cake for tea and since she lived in Kensington Palace before she became Queen it’s only fitting that we be served a piece!

It really was an absolutely perfect afternoon.  I would recommend afternoon tea at The Orangery to anyone who wanted to experience a tradition English tea while in London.  You will love it! 🙂
I cannot wait to go back to England and try more tea rooms around the city! 

What’s Ha-Pinning?

When I heard that Jenn from Going the Distance was going to be hosting a new weekly link up involving Pinterest I knew I had to partake.  I LOVE browsing Pinterest, especially when I have something specific I need help with or when I’m bored.  More so it’s the latter.  But Pinterest really is the best when you have something specific you need help with or are looking for.

So that is exactly what I plan to share for the very first, What’s Ha-Pinning!

Tips for Packing for Europe:

I used these three pins several times when I was planning my outfits for Europe.  I was the most organized I’ve EVER been for a trip, on this trip.  And I loved it.  I think I’ll use the same packing method I used for Europe for all my future trips.



                                      (via)                                                                               (via)

Photography Tips

As soon as I bought my DLSR camera. (BEST PURCHASE EVER by the way). Pinterest was the first place I went to for tips.  I knew I wanted to really learn how to use the camera so I would have amazing pictures for my trip.  I practiced a ton before going on the trip but to be honest it wasn’t until I was actually there and using the camera all day for 14 days that I really got into the swing of using it and all it’s settings.  In fact you’ll notice that while my pictures in London are good, they get better and better as the trip goes on.  And I have Pinterest to thank for all I learned!

Here are some of the pins I used:

                                             (via)                                                                        (via)

                                    (via)                                                                          (via)

And here’s some of the funny Somecards (these things usually have me laughing for at least 10 minutes after I read them) just because.

(via) 

Haha. Hilarious.
Alrighty friends, that’s all she wrote for now.  Have a great Wednesday! 🙂

The Start of Our Epic European Adventure

We started our epic European Adventure on July 17th.  We had a late afternoon flight that left Houston at around 3:15pm.  The overnight flight was long and uninteresting, save for the very attractive British man that sat in the row next to me.  Sleep was attempted but didn’t happen.  I think I was way to excited to sleep!

The plane arrived at London Heathrow at around 7:00am.  And after getting through customs, getting our baggage, having a slight freakout because the wifi at the airport wasn’t working and our shuttle not being there right when we arrived as we were led to believe it would be.  We were on out way to our hotel by about 9:00am.
The drive through London was fantastic.  I was so excited to be back in one of my favorite cities.  I cannot tell you how much I wish we would have had more time there.  We were luckier then others in our group in that we got to London first thing in the morning and had pretty much then entire day to explore, whereas the others didn’t arrive in London until noon or later.  So yay us!
Our hotel, the H-10 Waterloo was in a fantastic location.  Just a few minutes walk from the Waterloo tube and train station and with a fantastic view of The London Eye.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that the hotel was very nice.  It had a very contemporary feel to it and the room was spacious enough for all three of us.  We didn’t feel like we were on top of each other.  And it had great air conditioning which compared to some of our other hotels was a blessing.
So, after getting settled in, meeting our Tour Director John, and making a game plan we set out to explore the city.
London Day 1
We started out by filling up an Oyster card.  Which we used the entire two days we were in London. The Oyster card is what Londoners use to get on and off the tube and buses around the city.  We filled it up with the maximum amount and actually ended up having to refill it on day two.  The tube is so user friendly, at least we thought it was anyway.  And once you get the hang of it it will literally take you anywhere you want to go in the city.  Loved it.
Our first stop was the Westminster area of London.  We wanted to see those iconic postcard pictures. Plus it was close to the London Eye, which we had reservations for at 1:00pm.  We explored the areas for about an hour and half.  Snapped a ton of pictures and just generally enjoyed being in hustle and bustle of the city.  We decided we would come back to wander through Westminster Abbey after the London Eye.  

Next up we walked up to the Trafalgar Square area to grab a bite to eat.  Sadly the first few pubs we walked into were reservations only at that time in the day.  (We found out later that one of the pubs we walked into is frequented by members of Parliament and is where they give their “off the record” quotes to reporters.)  We eventually found ourselves in a restaurant that turned out to be an Italian restaurant and not a very good one.  I was pretty disappointed in us.  I mean it was our first night in London and I had mediocre pizza.  Nuh-uh not cool.  
After lunch we wandered over on of London’s many bridges (sorry no idea which one) and made our to the London Eye.  We had 1 o’clock reservations.  I cannot stress this enough, BUY YOUR TICKETS IN ADVANCE!  The stand-by line was ridiculously long and my guess about a 2-3 hour wait.  But with our “fast passes” we waited probably about 25 minutes.  So yeah, buy them in advance it will save you a ton of time and energy!  
The ride took about 30 minutes total and gave some breathtaking views of the city.  Jenny was exceptionally tired by this point so she spent most of her time sitting on the benches looking slightly miserable.  It was pretty entertaining to watch.  I spent the entire time snapping picture after picture after picture.  

After the Eye we made our way back to the Westminster area via the Westminster Bridge.  Where we encountered about 12 different groups playing this really weird gambling game.  The men were basically trying to get people to “guess where the ball was” under three little cups.  Jenny couldn’t figure out why everyone was so stupid and not guessing the right cup.  I had to pull her away several times and explain that the “game” was just one big scam.  And that the people who were actually participating were part of said scam.  (We saw them in Paris too).
We headed back to Westminster Abbey and purchased tickets to go inside.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  I’m a rule follower so I didn’t take any pictures on the inside, and I have to say it was nice to just wander through the Abbey and really look at everything rather than look at it from behind a lens.  I saw the tombs of some of my favorite royals, namely the Tudors and we marveled at the Coronation Chair and the fact that this was the place where Will and Kate were married and Princess Diana had her funeral.   About half way through though the day started to catch up with us and we realized it was probably time to head back to the hotel and rest a bit before we had to head to our welcome dinner and meet the rest of our group.  

We napped for about 2 hours (it was much needed) and then headed to the hotel restaurant to meet the  rest of our group.   There were 20 of us total and we were pleasantly surprised to find out that 3 of the couples were our age and around our age.  The others ranged from my parents age, late 50s to late 60s.  We had the best mix of people and we all ended up getting along fabulously!  It was perfect!
After dinner were pretty exhausted and headed to bed to get ready for day 2!
London Day 2
We started day number 2 with a delicious breakfast at the hotel.  Seriously, SO GOOD.  Then headed off for our guided sightseeing tour of London.  Our local tour guide, John was hilarious and so incredibly knowledgeable about the city.  Most of the tour was a bus tour but we did stop several times for some great photo ops.  We stopped at a great place to see the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, then we stopped at St. Paul’s Cathedral (sadly since it was Sunday the church wasn’t open for tourists), and we ended at Buckingham Palace to see the beginnings of the Changing of Guard.  

After snapping a few pictures at Buckingham Palace, we headed to the Victoria Station to catch the tube over to Hyde Park and Kensington Palace.  We ended up right at once of the entrances to the park (which happened to be the tube station I used 11 years ago to get to my hotel!) and headed in to the park.  It was the best day weather wise, y’all.  The temperature was perfect and it was slightly overcast.  We wandered through Hyde Park and ended up at the Peter Pan statue and then finally at the Princess Diana Memorial fountain.  Which was something that was at the top of my to-see list.  I slipped off my shoes and wadded into the fountain along with tons of others.  People were everywhere just lounging and little kids were swimming and splashing in the water.  Such a fun atmosphere.  

After that, we made our way over to Kensington Palace where I had made us reservations to have afternoon tea at The Orangery.  I’m not going to go into details now because afternoon tea at Kensington Palace deserves a post all on it’s own! 🙂  Needless to say it was perfect! 🙂

By this time is was around 4 o’clock and we realized we probably needed to book it over to the Tower of London.  Unfortunately however, I ‘m sad to report that we did not make it in time to go into the Tower.  We got there right at 5 and they close at 5:30.  And apparently it’s not one of those, “well we close at 5:30 but still allow everyone who was in by 5 to see everything.” No it was, “Everyone MUST be out by 5:30 sharp.”  So we just go to see the outside.  This would turn out to be the first of several missed opportunities on the trip.
Following that we decided to head over to King’s Cross to see the famous Platform 9 3/4 which was AH-MAZING! It was so fun standing between platforms 9 and 10 (not the actual platforms obviously but still) and pretending we were off to Hogwarts.  

We were starting to get hungry so we hopped back on the tube to head to Piccadilly Circus to find ourselves a pub and have some traditional English fare.  We found just the right place, called The White Lion.  The restaurant was upstairs on top of the pub and had about 10 tables.  Jenny and I had traditional fish and chips and Katie had a traditional meat pie.  SO. DELICIOUS.
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Well that about wraps up our first two days!  I hope you made through all of that.  Hopefully the pictures helped!  Man, it’s hard putting this post together.  I have to shuffle through over 1800 pictures to find the right ones and then remember everything we did!  Luckily I took notes as we went to that is helping. 
If you have specific questions about the hotels we stayed in, places we ate, or things we did please feel free to ask!  I’m trying to be as detailed as possible in the posts and that’s making them kinda long. But I’m glad I’m writing down all our adventures for future reference! 🙂 
We really did have the best time ever and I’m so thankful to have gotten the opportunity to go on this trip!  
Tune in Thursday because we’re heading to PARIS!! 
Linking up with Travel Tuesday! 🙂

The Weekend: I’m Back!

Well….I’m back!  Back from two full weeks of romping around Europe.  And I have to say, it was the BEST.TRIP.EVER!!!

I plan to give each country a thorough breakdown throughout the next couple weeks.  I have well over 2,000 pictures I’m going to have to shuffle through for each post.  And I’m guessing that that is going to take a little bit of time.  I’m planning to post about Europe on Tuesdays and Thursdays of each week and throw in other posts on the other days.

Now it’s back to my everyday life.  Womp Womp.  Jenny and I both agreed that we could easily have kept traveling for another week if we could have.  Sadly we couldn’t.  But I plan to relive the trip through all you lovely readers so YAY!

Ok so my weekend.  Here were the highlights!

– Saturday was a full and complete travel day.  We were up by 6:30 am Rome time (which is 7 hours ahead of Houston time).  Boarded our flight 2 hours late in Rome, their airport sucks by the way and is completely inefficient, and left by 2 pm.  Then 9 hours later, at 5:00pm, we arrived in Toronto.  Where we had about 4 hours to kill.  We went through US Customs here, which was good because it meant we didn’t have to go through it when we got in to Houston at 11:00pm.  Overall we were traveling for about 24 hours, with the time difference.  Yeah we were exhausted by the time we got home.

– Watched 4 movies on the flight.  Air Canada has great in flight entertainment.  And I was able to watch 4 movies I had wanted to see in theaters.  They included: Whiplash, The Duff, The Longest Ride, and The Age of Adeline.

-Spent most of Sunday getting rid of my Jet-Lag.  (Which explains why I was up at 5:00 am this morning)

– Ordered my bridesmaids dress for my friend Kelly’s wedding.  We ordered them through the website, Weddingtonway.com.  I did a post about them a few months ago.  Which you can read here.  She’s getting married in December!

– Caught up on all the Real Housewives I missed.  Lots of drama in New York and the OC.

-Made a to-do list for Monday.  I have a ton to do to catch up on things I missed the last two weeks.  Including turning in my contract for my new school!  (Thank God, I still have two weeks off!)

Well that’s about it! When you spend a full 24 hours traveling it doesn’t leave room for much else on the weekend.

So now I’m gonna share a few more Instagram pictures from my trip!  I’ll be posting tons more throughout the next few weeks but here is just a taste of our time in Switzerland and Italy. 🙂

LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND

ITALY
LAKE COMO


VERONA

VENICE
ROME
This was our “We’re not ready to go home” face at the airport in Rome.  
I wouldn’t let myself have a single Starbucks in Europe.  But once we got back on the North American continent I decided it was ok.
Alrighty!  Hope everyone had a fabulous weekend!  Now I’m off to spend the day catching up on my real life.  Stay tuned for all my European Adventure posts!  🙂
Linking up with these lovelies!

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