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London – glad to be in a town I know! by Ann Treacy
June 25, 2011, 8:51 pm
Filed under: London

After our ups and downs (mostly ups) it was great to land in London. People speak English, which is a boon when you speak English. I lived in London for years, so I kind of know it. And as soon as we got out in the train station I saw a big ol’ sign for free wi-fi. Nothing could have made me happier.

I called Patrick (via Skype) and learned that he had secured the apartment I had tried to book. That too was good news since a search earlier in the week indicated that there were no hotels rooms in London for less than £600 per night. Apparently there was a big tennis match in town – and that may have hurt my chances for accommodation. But as I said, in the end, despite my utter lack of responsible planning we got a nice place in Hammersmith. Actually it was a good size bedsit, which means everything was in one room (shower right next to the stove) and the toilet was outside the front door (luckily right outside the door for us). I’ve included pictures.

We took it easy in London. We had visited before and we had 2 full days so we didn’t feel like we had to see anything so we could just do what we wanted. Aine wanted to go to Hamley’s, the big toy story. Lily wanted to go to the Times Square of London and the street where Austin Powers went shopping. Kate was up for anything.

So we started by taking the Tube to Leicester Square, a quick jaunt to Piccadilly Circus, en route we popped into M&M World. It was a big highlight for the girls; me not so much. We walked by Ripley’s Believe it or Not, which also drew great interest from everyone but me. This time I pulled the meanest mom ever card and we didn’t go in. But we enjoyed the ambience of Piccadilly.

Then up Regent Street to Hamley’s and Carnaby Street. We bought some things and made plans to return the next day for others. Then we walked down Oxford Street to Marble Arch. I made my usual side trip to find the Banksy picture in the Tube station but realized that the girls didn’t share my passion for a graffiti boondoggle. We walked through Hyde Park – just hours before Kings of Leon were slated to play an outdoor concert.

Then we scooted to Chiswick to meet an old friend of mine – Alison. It had been nearly 20 years since we last met. It was great to meet her, her gorgeous daughter Millie and partner Matthew. We had a fun night. Years ago Alison and I used to go on big hikes in London. We’d stop to get Wotsits (a detail I had forgotten) and then pooled our pennies for a pint. My favorite thing was how often people asked if we were sisters. As the pictures probably indicate we don’t look much alike – except that we both have always had long hair.

It was a great, easy day!

Quickest Trip to Paris Ever by Ann Treacy
June 25, 2011, 1:16 pm
Filed under: Paris

So we had our plan for Paris in 8 hours. We mapped it out. We read about French history so that we’d be in the know. Unfortunately the train wasn’t in on our plan. The Train was 3 hours late. How does a train that leaves on time arrive three hours late? I have no idea – but it does.

So we did Paris in 5 hours.

And I wanted it noted that we saw just about everything on our list. We left the train station on foot and we travelled on foot the whole day. We did see a musical bus – which I’m sure what part of the Faites de la Musique. We walked through a sculpture gardens along the Seine on the way to Notre Dame – and had very delicious pain au chocolate.

We saw Notre Dame – from the outside. In fact everything we saw, we saw only from the outside. Going indoors was just not going to work for us. The lines were too long and our time was too tight. We loved the gargoyles and the gruesome statues. We took pictures of the lower ones. We loved the devil and John the Baptist. And of course the flying buttresses – which really is just something I like to say.

Crossing the bridge over to the Ille de la Cite (where Notre Dame is) we saw a gate with lots of locks on it – apparently it’s good luck or inspiration to lock your love by putting your name on a lock and leaving it there.

So after that we hightailed it to the Louvre. We passed Pont Neuf (a bridge) on the way. Again, the devil was literally in the detail. There are faces sculpted along the bridge are all different and so expressive. We tried to capture a few. From there to the Louvre. We saw the big glass pyramids, which were very cool. (Also we saw how they clean it – I included a picture.) I was sort of sad that we didn’t get to go in. In my original plan, I had hoped we’d get in but the late train made it impossible. So we marched towards the Eiffel Tower…

We marched by the Orsay Museum (Impressionist Artists), some fancy government buildings, through Les Invalides, all getting a good taste of the Left Bank and then the more businessy, upscale area right near the Tower to the Tower itself.

It’s huge and looming as you might expect. The girls seemed to like it a lot – I suppose, especially for Aine it was one thing she recognized. And it’s always fun to see things you recognize. So after walking around a bit towards Napoleon’s Tomb Kate pointed out that maybe we should be worried about getting to the train station, which was on the other side of town. Luckily she spoke up.

It took a while to find a taxi. I knew that they didn’t love take 4 people but of course what could I do. When a taxi finally stopped, I think he thought there were 2 of us – until the others jumped out from the bushes. I mustered up my French and asked nicely if he could take us to the Gare du Nord. (We did drive by the Arc de Triomphe – which was the final item on our list.) The traffic was terrible – and once we got into the station, the traffic was worse! We got a lot of hassle getting into the UK (immigration comes before the train.). They asked tons of questions and of course I had almost nothing in terms of birth certificate or tickets back to the US but eventually we got onto the train with about 7 minutes to spare. Unfortuantely we got on the train starving and now quite sure where we’d be spending the night in London. I had hoped to talk to Patrick at the station.

On the up side – the chunnel train is kind of cool. You really only spent about 20 minutes of the 2 hours journey going under the see and it mostly feels like a tunnel.

Paris Plans by Ann Treacy
June 22, 2011, 8:12 am
Filed under: Paris | Tags:

I know this won’t get posted in advance – but I wanted to put our plan into writing – just in case we succeed you can all congratulate us. We’re ambitious. We will be getting to Paris at 11 am and leaving at 7 pm. We have one suitcase on rollers, my very heavy computer bag, and each of the big girls has a purse type bag.

So out of the train station (Bercy) we will be going to the Notre Dame, then crossing the Pont Neuf to the Louvre. We may go into the Lourve; we’re going to see what the lines are like. If we go in I think we’ll be focused on one painting. I don’t want to give it away but it rhymes with Pona Pisa. From the Lourve we’ll be walking through the Left Bank and Les Invalides to get the Tour Eiffel. At least two of us would not enjoy the heights – so we will probably not go up. We’ll take a quick glance at Napoleon’s Tomb as we make our way to Arc de Triomphe. If we have time we’ll try to see Sacre Coeur on the way to Gard du Nord.

PS We are there on the Faites de la Musique, which means there should be buskers and music wherever we go.

Midnight Train To Paris by Ann Treacy
June 22, 2011, 8:08 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

Monday morning Michael took off for Australia. Then Patrick and Irish Grandma headed to Dublin. The girls and I went on a boondoggle walk. It took us to a part of Italy that really was all Italian. There was a food market where the girls got lollypops. Eventually we got tired and hot and headed up to the train station.

We had a nice lunch of parma ham and melon, pizza and carbonara. Tasty! After another, quicker boondoggle walk to hang out at the station for a long time. I have to say the kids were really good.

Eventually we got on the train and promptly sat in the wrong couchette, which meant as soon as the train started we had to walk through the train to the penultimate car to our couchette – so that seemed very exciting.

Our couchette is really two long seats facing each other with 2 bunks for sleeping above. There’s a big window on one side and a sliding door to the walkway on the other. In the couchette next to ours was an American family who apparently had something much posher in mind. But we liked it. Aine climbed up immediately; Kate soon followed. We all played on computers (or wrote blog posts) until we fell asleep and once we did fall asleep we each had our own bed.

We went right through the Swiss Alps, which was beautiful. I woke up the big girls to at least see it. I took some pictures – but know from experience that those sort of shots never do justice to the real thing.

Now we’re just sitting on the train – two asleep, two awake – waiting to get to Paris.

Villa Borghese by Ann Treacy
June 22, 2011, 7:59 am
Filed under: Rome

Our final full day in Rome started with Patrick and Michael heading back to the O’Neill church in Trastevere, while the girls and I headed to a market in the same area. The market was fun – just wished we had more time to spend. It appeared again as if we were in the minority not speaking Italian. The market was the kind where they empty bins of clothes onto a table and sell them very cheaply. We loved it!

Next we met up with the brothers and Irish Grandma and went to church. Despite rumors, the church did not crumble as I darkened the door and I did remember when to sit and stand.

Finally we made our way to the Villa Borghese – a large park. Unfortunately we took two taxis and that was a big mistake. Patrick and the girls took one; Irish Grandma, Michael and I took another. Then we spent more than an hour looking for them. Apparently their taxi driver had dropped them off someplace very different within the park. The park is the size of Phoenix Park in Dublin or maybe Como in St Paul.

Eventually we decided to have lunch. There was one very nice restaurant in the park and we knew that was the one Irish Grandma would choose and we were very OK with it. It was very nice. Our eyes popped a little at the prices but we forged ahead. We ate outside partially to keep a lookout and mostly because that was the only option. Luckily I spied Patrick and AIne looking for us!

Aine told Patrick he has to look at the restaurant once she saw it and she knew Irish Grandma would want to be there. But still it was lucky that we connected even when we were so close.

Oh – I had tomato risotto with raw tuna. It was delish!

After the lunch we walked around the gardens. There was a lot of modern art, as you can see from the pictures. We loved the sculpture. The park again was as full of Italians on a Sunday as tourists so that was fun. The girls played on a bouncy castle and the merry-go-round. We watched some amazing skaters and rollerbladers practice/show off their moves. There was one guy who had to be north of 70 in shiny stretch pants and a tight yellow top. He could do the splits on rollerblades.

After a while we wandered home – down the Spanish steps, around the Pantheon and through the Piazza Navarona.

We capped off the night with some gelato!

Father Eugene Boyle by Ann Treacy
June 22, 2011, 7:16 am
Filed under: Rome

Patrick’s uncle (Father Eugene Boyle) was the Vatican librarian until he died about 10 years ago. He’s kind of an adopted uncle. Apparently when Father Eugene was young his parents died and Patrick’s grandmother took him in.

So on Saturday afternoon we went looking for where he was buried. Here’s the kind of funny thing – he’s buried in a catacomb. You don’t really think about people being buried in catacombs these days.

Father Eugene is buried in San Clemente. Under the church there is a layer of catacomb and a layer of ancient ties. Apparently it is where the ancient cult of Mithras held ceremonies. It was cool and damp but didn’t feel super creepy. In the very depths there was a back room with an underground spring. That was kind of cool to see.

Father Eugene is buried a little closer to the service. I tried to get a picture – although the space is pretty dark. (He gets a very nice plaque!)

To cap off the night we went for a walk down by the Tiber River. For summer they have set up sort of a festival with tents of food, drinks, game and trinkets set up. Actually the food and drink weren’t promote pups and beer; they were full on restaurants with tables.

We were definitely in the minority not speaking English, which was rare for our week. It was super crowded with everyone having a good time. And although we were there from about 11 pm to midnight, our kids were not the youngest there. So it was a nice blend of families and younger folks having a good time.

Walking down the river gave us an opportunity to spend a few minutes on Isolta, which is a island in the middle of the river. They had a big drive-in type movie screen set up for a big show – but nothing was showing as we walked past.

Pantheon and more by Ann Treacy
June 22, 2011, 6:30 am
Filed under: Rome

After the creepy but cool skeleton art, we went on a hike. We hiked up to Villa Borghese, which is posh park in a posh area – but we also went there the next day so I’ll save the details. Mostly we spent our time making our way back to the apartment from the Pantheon.

One thing about Rome is that there are surprises around every corner. It’s funny to think that the people who live there probably don’t even notice them anymore. (Except that so many cool things means about a billion tourists.) On our walk we went through the Piazza Colona, Piazza Rontonda, Piazza Navona – and purposefully we went to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon kind of rises above a regular neighborhood suddenly. A quick lesson on the Pantheon – it was built in the 120s AD, it’s larger than the dome of the Basilica at the Vatican and it still seems perfect. It’s perfectly round, there’s a perfectly round window cut out of the top and it’s so solid it looks like it will stand forever. It was very impressive in a sturdy kind of way!

Best Creepy But Cool in a long time by Ann Treacy
June 22, 2011, 5:53 am
Filed under: Rome

On Saturday we went to the Crypt of the Capuchins. It is a small church that is decorated with the bones of Capuchin Friars. They have used recognizable bones (skulls, joints, hip bones) to create mosaics (for lack of a better word) on the walls. They are very ornate – kind of Baroque.

The deal is that in 1631 the friars left their old friary for the new location and the remains of the deceased were transported with them. That’s when they started the “art to die for”. Then they started to do the same with friars as they died and even the bodies of the poor Romans.

They cover the walls of the old chapel, where the living friars would join the dead for mass each day. There is a paper plaque on the final wall that says something like:
Where you are we once were; where we are you someday will be.

Absolutely no pictures were allowed – so I’m hoping to grab one from their web site.

Red Hand of Ulster Found in Trastevere by Ann Treacy
June 22, 2011, 5:40 am
Filed under: Rome

This is one of those times when I should get Patrick to do a post – although it would be a very different story. Saturday afternoon we all headed to a church on a hill in Trastevere. It supposedly holds the remains of Hugh O’Neill, who fled to Spain during the Flight of the Earls.

Unfortunately, while this distance wasn’t necessarily great, the incline was! I should note that our group ages range from 6 to 79. I should also note that Patrick was a little map-challenged and didn’t believe his wife when she wisely spied a shortcut that would have turned a steep windy road into a staircase.

Plus it was about 110 degrees in the shade. Actually that’s not really true. One of the big lessons we’ve learned this week is that shade is really, really good. It was probably only 80 degrees in the shade – but 110 on the hill. I have a picture of us getting cooled down with the local fountain. There are fountains like that everywhere and they are very welcome! We were even filling our water bottles in the fountains. In retrospect that might not have been the smartest move – but I feel like if it were going to make us sick, we’d be sick by now.

Anyways, the good news was that this was the place. Patrick got pretty lucky when he asked at the Irish Pub if anyone knew where Hugh O’Neill was buried – and someone did.

There wasn’t a big plaque or anything – but there was a Red Hand of Ulster coat of arms thing on the church. And the view was pretty spectacular.

Our real reward however was a great meal. We ordered a ton of food at a very busy restaurant in Trastevere. It was the kind of place where they suggested more food and we were glad they did. We had caprese salad, calamari, pizza, risotto, gnocchi, carbonara.

The Vatican & Sistine Chapel by Ann Treacy
June 21, 2011, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Rome

On Friday we went to the Vatican. We started at 8 am. We went to the main church (St Peter’s Basilica), which I have to say is pure opulence. There was a line – but it went pretty quickly. The statues are amazing. Much like the Coliseum, everything is so big, you lose a little perspective. I started talking about the small statues – and then realized that they’re beyond life size – they four or five times life size. Lily thought the back windows were great. I tried to get a good picture – but I was competing with a lot of light.

The entrance to the Sistine Chapel is separate from the Basilica. In fact, you have to walk all around the Basilica to get there. There was a line – but it only took about 30 minutes to get through so that wasn’t too bad.

Everything was so ornate – the first room may have been the most over the top. The ceilings had been painted, although it wasn’t *that* ceiling. Aine loved the first room. Lots of reds, golds and other bold colors. (I took a picture of the ceiling – just mentioning again so that people don’t think it’s “that” ceiling.) We saw a lot of naked statues – big, little, headless, sitting standing and resting.

It’s huge maze of rooms – and naturally we got separated. Patrick and Lily went ahead – the rest of us took the wrong turn at the fork in the hall, thinking that was the route Patrick would take. That meant that Patrick, who would like to see every detail took the shortcut and the rest of us who are more OK with an overview saw everything. And actually everything was pretty cool. It started with Raphael. My favorite was the pictures of a broken Caesar-type statue lying at the feet of a golden cross. Kind of sums up the situation from the Christian perspective. Then there was a ton of modern art, including Francis Bacon. I like the modern stuff so that was good – but Aine and Kate were sort of crashing so we went through quickly.

Finally we came upon “that” ceiling. The room was packed. Apparently Lily and Patrick spent a lot of time there so Lily can do a great imitation of the guards clapping and shouting “no photo!” but don’t worry that didn’t stop me. Although it stopped me from getting a good shot.

We were so dog tired walking home after the Vatican – but we found that Coca Cola Light (for me), Espresso (for Michael) and gelato for the girls can work magic!

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