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Travel 2017: Strolling Through Paris: Day Eight

One day.

If you had only one day to explore one of the world’s most famous cities– how would you approach it? Would you try to see all the important landmarks? Take a tour? Explore on you own?

There’s obviously no real right or wrong way to do it. You just have to go with your gut instincts.

Today was our one full day to discover Paris. Actually, we only had eight hours before a champagne river cruise on the Seine– the kick off for our Playbill Broadway cruise which officially launches tomorrow from Avignon. We had dinner reservations booked immediately following, so we had to make the most of the day.

I had ideas of where I wanted to go– but was determined I wasn’t going to get bogged down (and in a rush) with a packed itinerary. I just wanted to experience Paris and with few strings– let it happen organically.

At breakfast, we FINALLY got to see our friends, George and Mary. They are the easiest couple to travel with– and so much fun!

Michael was feeling a little under the weather, so when Mary and George said they’d accompany me on the first leg of the journey– he chose to stay at the hotel and rest.

So we headed out, uphill, in the direction of four places I’d included on the master list of places I’d like to see.

 

Holy Trinity Church in the 9th Arrondissement.

 

Montmartre. Montmarte was the trendy neighborhood of days gone by. Writers and artists such as Hemmingway, Piccaso, and Van Gogh once spent their days here. Though considered touristy today, I found the area quite charming and peaceful. Corner parks, tree-lined streets, cafes, street vendors– all culminate in a rather exciting, yet tranquil experience. I wanted to see the iconic windmill of Moulin Rouge, the I Love You Wall, and Sacre Coeur— in addition to just soaking in the atmosphere of Montmartre.

 

The world famous, Moulin Rouge.

 

Moulin Rouge in Montmartre.

 

One of the many charming, city squares in Montmartre.

 

The I Love You Wall is the new Love Locks (more on this later) of Paris. Le mur des je t’aime is where love comes together in every language. Artist Frédéric Baron with the help of  Claire Kito (oriental calligrapher) created the 612 tile mural described as “a link, a place of reconciliation, a mirror which reflects an image of love and peace.”

The phrase “I love you” is written 311 times in 250 languages with splashes of red representing parts of a broken heart.

You can visit the wall (free) at Butte Montmartre, Place des Abbesses, in the Square Jehan Rictus, Paris.

 

Full view of the I Love You Wall by Frédéric Baron.

 

I Love You Wall- Frédéric Baron. In Square Jehan Rickes, Paris.

 

Me at the wall.

 

Near that square is Eglise Saint John de Montmartre. So many churches in Europe (unlike the U.S.) are open for prayer and visitation, all day, 7 days a week. We couldn’t resist stopping and admiring its architecture.

 

Eglise Saint John de Montmartre.

 

Inside Saint John de Montmartre Church.

 

Stain glass windows in Eglise Saint John de Montmartre.

 

 

“The Three Little Pig”- a street view in Montmartre.

 

As we strolled through the streets, I thought we might view the Basilica of Sacre Coeur. We were already too close to it to find an unobstructed view. We came across a steep staircase– and with only a little convincing, George and Mary agreed to make the climb. This led to two more steep climbs that took us directly to the base of Sacre Coeur. There is an incredible overlook here with an expansive park below.

 

The Basilica of the Sacret Heart of Paris, most commonly known as Sacre Coeur.

 

One of several talented buskers in front of Sacre Coeur, providing entertainment for visitors.

 

In front of Sacre Coeur is this beautiful park and overlook with gorgeous views of Paris.

 

The overlook was the most crowded spot we visited in Montmartre, but that wasn’t a drawback– there was a carnival like atmosphere in the air.

George and Mary had been there before but it had been 30 years ago. Both agreed that it was worth the climb to experience it again. I was just happy to be there with them. Michael would have loved this spot too– but not the climb!

 

Mary and George at Sacre Coeur.

 

We then began the steep descent, heading back in the direction of our hotel, taking different streets, continuing to explore as we went. It was the perfect way to spent part of a day in Paris.

 

There were three sets of steep stairs we had to travel to get to and from Sacre Coeur.

 

One of many cozy little cafes frequented by locals.

 

A fresh fruit market in Montmartre.

 

Notre Dame de Lorette is a neoclassical church. Built beginning in 1823.

 

Académie Nationale de Musique.

 

Another view of the beautiful architecture of the Académie Nationale de Musique.

 

Returning from our beautiful morning stroll, approaching our hotel, Hotel Scribe.

 

When we got back to the hotel, I only had time to freshen up, get Michael and then we headed back out in the direction of the River Seine and the Île de la Cité. One of two remaining natural islands within the city of Paris.

 

 

A Paris cozy park.

 

Many news, art and souvenir vendors line sidewalks overlooking the the River Seine.

 

The Louvre.

 

We passed the Louvre and reached Île de la Cité and spent some time at Notre Dame de Paris. Featuring French Gothic architecture, it was completed by 1345, survived damage during the French Revolution, and received its first major restoration in 1845.

It’s a beautiful cathedral. Even though there are usually long lines of visitors waiting to get in, they move very quickly. Visiting is free, although there is a charge if you want to climb the narrow stairs to the bell tower. (Which we didn’t do.)

My one regret– in our effort to keep moving, was that I forgot to find Paris Point Zero. It is the marker that supposedly designates the exact center of Paris and France. It is the point from which all distances in France (from Paris) are measured.

 

 

Notre Dame Cathedral.

 

The iconic window of Notre Dame.

 

Inside the the glorious cathedral.

 

Sanctuary lamps inside Notre Dame.

 

 

Looking up at just a small sample of the many beautiful stained glass windows in Notre Dame.

 

From there, we walked along the River Seine until we reached the Square du Vert-Galant and Pont Neuf bridge. The square is a park honoring Henry IV of France. The Pont Neuf bridge is the oldest surviving bridge across the Seine.

 

Statue of King Henry IV located behind the Place Dauphine.

 

River Seine from Pont Neuf.

 

You may have heard of Love Locks on the Pont des Arts bridge. The affixing the locks to the bridge was used to symbolize love. In just five years the bridge was covered in locks. Officials feared for the weight and damage they were causing the bridge.  They were removed– an estimated million padlocks, in 2015. Well, they are reappearing on other bridges, including Pont Neuf.

 

Love Locks on the Pont Neuf overlooking the Seine.

 

Thousands of locks of love can still be found on bridges in Paris.

 

Reaching the bridge quicker than we expected, we had some time before the rest of the group would arrive for the Playbill Champagne River Cruise. We walked around the point of the island and enjoyed the views from Pont Neuf– just soaking up the atmosphere.

We met our friends at the boat launch and prepared for a lovely cruise on the river. The private event was organized by Playbill Travel.

Janet and Ken arrived, having been delayed a day by a flight cancellation, and we were all thrilled to be reunited.

 

Beautiful afternoon for a boat ride on the River Seine.

 

Institut de France and the Pont des Arts Bridge.

 

Palais de Justice from the River Seine.

 

Michael and I as we pass the Eiffel Tower on the River Seine.

 

Our very dear friend Janet, happy to start her birthday celebration.

 

Musée d’Orsay.

 

The incredible view of the backside of Notre Dame Cathedral.

 

After we got off the boat, we had a little time before our dinner reservations to wander Pont Neuf. We also had a birthday surprise for Janet. There was a quaint little vintage jewelry store (Jeanne Danjou et Rousselet) on the island where we had a gift– wrapped and waiting for her. Janet loved the surprise.

We had found the store online (back at home) and picked out a vintage necklace, as a gift from all of us– that they graciously agreed to hold for us to pick up in person. Michael and Mary went in the store with Janet while George, Ken and I watched from outside the shop window. They even resized it for her on the spot.

Our restaurant was just around the corner, on a square where a number of people were playing Boules (Bocce in Italy).  We arrived promptly at 7 pm at the charming and historic, Restaurant Paul for dinner. The food and the service was great– a perfect birthday celebration for Janet.

 

Our wonderful dinner location- the historic Restaurant Paul.

 

After dinner, we caught the sun setting on the Seine. A stunning combination of color and light playing off the water and bridges as day turned to night.

 

Sunset in Paris over the River Seine and the Pont Neuf Bridge.

 

We got back to the hotel and packed so we’d be ready for our early morning transport to the train to Avignon.

I added at least another 9 miles walking today. A pretty fulfilling experience. My own unique introduction to Paris, the City of Lights.

 

Travel Date: May 20, 2017 Saturday (Day 8)

Travel 2017: More Images of Versailles

Here are some additional photographs from our day in Versailles:

The statue of Louis XIV outside of Versailles.

 

Outside the gates of Versailles.

 

Louis XIV emblem ‘the Sun God’ on the gates of Versailles.

 

Inside the chapel of Versailles.

 

Walking through one of the corridors of Versailles.

 

Versailles exhibits magnificent architecture.

 

I loved this detailed window latch, looking out at the gardens of Versailles.

 

Beautiful detailed moldings in the Palace of Versailles.

 

Absolute elegance.

 

The finest museum-quality decor in every room.

 

The Louis XIV Bed Chamber.

 

Finest design.

 

The entrance to the Hall of Mirrors.

 

Spectacular finishings in the Hall of Mirrors.

 

Busts of War Heroes in the Battles Gallery.

 

Ceilings in the Battles Gallery of Versailles.

 

The Orangerie welcomes guests of the Palace to the gardens of Versailles.

 

Statues are found at every turn as you wallk through the gardens of Versailles.

 

Approaching the Grand Trianon.

 

Travel Date: May 19, 2017 (Day 7)

Travel 2017: Getting Lost in Versailles- Figuratively and Literally: Day Seven

We were really looking forward to visiting Versailles. We got our tickets in advance and had made plans with our friends, Laura and Cass to spend at least half the day there. Most days the gardens of Versailles are free– except when they have the Musical Fountains Show or Musical Gardens  as it is called. Today was one of those days.

Our tickets included the Palace, Grand Trianon, Petite Trianon and Marie Antoinette Estate, in addition to the the special garden show. There are a variety of ticketing options, including special tours (only a few are in English) of portions of the Palace that general ticket holders don’t get to see. We did not add any additional tours and I can assure you that there is plenty to overwhelm your senses without them.

The grounds of Versailles covers over two thousand acres of which 213 acres are formal gardens. What you see when you visit, particularly in the Palace itself, is pretty astounding. Especially when you consider it began as a hunting lodge! Louis XIV,  also known as the Sun King, had an unwavering determination and vision to create what Versailles was to become. He chose the sun as his emblem because of its association to Apollo– and it was the symbol of peace and art.

The Château de Versailles and the gardens were designated as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1979.

 

Our first view of Versailles.

 

Putting this post together was a little difficult with so much to cover: which photographs to use, how much history/facts to include, and of course, the experience itself. (I’ll be posting more photos of Versailles in a separate blog post, immediately following this one.)

If you are interested in the history of Versailles and Louis XIV, and I promise you, it is really fascinating — I encourage you to explore the subjects online. I’ll try and keep my inclusions here- brief; and focus more on our experience.

 

The morning sun brings out the brilliance in the exterior of the Palace of Versailles.

 

The four of us took a taxi to Versailles, arriving about a half hour before the Palace opened. This gave us plenty of time for pictures of the magnificent exterior.  Then, while Michael and Laura waited in line, Cass and I took turns running back to take a few pictures in the gardens (The Orangerie) before it had a chance to get crowded.

 

Inside the massive courtyard at the Palace of Versailles.

 

The Palace. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the beauty and grandeur of the Palace. Versailles, rightfully, is on most top ten lists of the most beautiful palaces in the world.

The effort made to maintain and restore the Palace is some of the best I’ve seen in our travels. In so many places we’ve visited, you find faux finishing used to repair, restore or represent what had been there originally.  I didn’t notice any of that here.

Every room is dripping in its uniquely-styled opulence. Ceiling mural, elaborate moldings, wall and ceiling medallions, gold leaf everywhere– it doesn’t stop. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

 

Inside the interior apartments of Versailles.

 

One of the many magnificent rooms and ceilings in the royal apartments of Versailles.

 

The Louis XIV Bedroom at Versailles.

 

The Hall of Mirrors.

 

A marble staircase at Versailles.

 

The Battles Gallery at Versailles.

 

The palace is absolutely stunning! I stepped outside to wait for the others to finish in the Battles Gallery and saw the crowds of people lining up to enter. It made me really glad we arrived early.

While waiting, I noticed the military presence outside the Palace. Actually, it was the most visible of our entire trip.

When the others came outside, we decided to head out to the gardens. Cass suggested we establish a time and meeting place in case we split up but the consensus was it wasn’t necessary at this point.

 

The incredible sculpted gardens of Versailles. The Orangerie.

 

The Gardens. There are more than 50 fountains and water features in Versailles. My biggest disappointment was the fountains aren’t continuously working. Being that is was a Musical Fountains Show or Musical Gardens day, I expected to see more flowing water. We never did see any of the larger, world-renowned fountains working.

We were told different fountains come on briefly, at different times, throughout the day. You either had to wait by a fountain, or hope to pass one that was working. Since they charge more money for this, I would have thought there would be a schedule and/or a map assisting you in enjoying them. This wasn’t the case. There are maps of Versailles but no indication when the individual fountains would be running.

 

The enormous Bassin de Latone- the Latona Fountain.

 

As we wound our way through the garden maze, we heard music ahead. Tucked in a secluded section, we found a modern water show in progress. This was nice, but I would have rather seen the many older fountains working.

 

One of the water features in the gardens of Versailles.

 

The views of the garden are breathtaking. There is something new to see around every turn– statues, alcoves, private garden enclaves– they never end. There are large map boards strategically placed throughout, to help you find your way around.

After  some wandering, we made our way to the Grand Canal and the Apollo Fountain.

Walking from the Palace to the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette Estate covers about two miles- one way. There is a tram (for a fee) that can transport you as well. We didn’t discover the tram until we were halfway through the gardens, along the canal– and decided we’d walk the rest of the way to the Grand Trianon– knowing we’d probably take the tram back to the palace after we’d seen the other features of Versailles.

 

Bassin d’Apollon – the Apollo Fountain.

 

Grand Trianon. We reached the Grand Trianon, divided in two sections by a peristyle (breezeway). Louis XIV had this built as a retreat. His getaway from the nearby palace.

 

Garden side of the Grand Trianon.

 

In the Grand Trianon, the Salon des Glaces.

 

Inside one of the many rooms in the Grand Trianon. The Salon de Famille de Louis-Philippe.

 

The peristyle (breezeway) that divides the two parts of the Grand Trianon.

 

Getting Lost. Taking my last picture, I exited the final room of the Grand Trianon, to look for Michael who had been ahead of me. Cass and Laura were just a room or two behind us in the chateau. I got outside– no Michael. I went back in, getting stopped by a guard– and was told I had to wait there. I saw Cass and Laura coming though – but no Michael.

We got outside and just waited.  Where was he?

WWMD? What would Michael DO?

Not disappear. But he had.

To make a long story short(er)… we waited… worried… went ahead… backtracked– about three hours went by before we found his whereabouts. We wouldn’t see him again until we got back to the hotel.

Going on through the park, we passed several small buildings and more sculpted gardens before reaching the Petit Trianon.

 

The French Pavilion built in 1750.

 

The Petit Trianon completed in 1768.

 

The Salon de Compagnie in the Petit Trianon.

 

A guide pointed us in the direction of the Marie Antoinette Estate, more like its own little village. He neglected to tell us that the main house was under renovation. It was completely covered up, in fact.

We looked at a few of the small cottages and then decided to backtrack, hoping to find Michael along the way.

 

One of the many cottages on the Marie Antoinette Estate.

 

At the Marie Antoinette Estate.

 

When we got back to the Grand Trianon, we discovered the tram stop and decided to take it back to the Palace. Just as we got on, there was a brief downpour– with some hail. Luckily, it had stopped by the time we reached the main entrance. Laura had cell service, so we called the hotel and left messages, hoping to find Michael, or at least to let him know we were on the way back.

Just as we were getting in a taxi, Michael responded. He had just gotten back to the hotel. (It turns out he had been waiting by an exit at the Grand Trianon that we didn’t even know existed. Then he went on his own adventure, searching for us as we were searching for him.) He was safe, we were safe. A sigh of relief.

On the way back to the hotel, we had some terrific views of the Eiffel Tower. If we’d been any closer, it would have been hard to get all of it in a picture.

 

The Eiffel Tower.

 

Back at the hotel, Laura and Cass went up to their room and Michael came down and met me out front. We recounted our search efforts, vowed to never let that happen again– and then Michael informed me that the day’s drama wasn’t over yet.

Our friend Janet had emailed Michael to let us know that her flight from the U.S. had been cancelled. She and her son, Ken wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. We’d already prepaid for dinner and a show so we had to find someone to take their place.

We found our friends, Marilyn and Rita, who had experienced their own misadventure that day– and were thrilled to join us.

Paradis Latin. All of us met in the lobby (including Laura and Cass) and then got a car to Paradis Latin. Like Moulin Rouge, this was one of several venues catering primarily to tourists. We all had a really nice time. Dinner was very good and the show was pretty much what we expected. Topless showgirls and shirtless men, a comedian, an aerialist– song and dance — including the Can-Can. An enjoyable evening, though by our standards, a bit overpriced.

 

Paradis Latin.

 

Michael and I at the Paradis Latin.

 

We’d had quite a day and walked over ten miles! In spite of the drama, it had been a pretty fulfilling adventure.

AND— we had another great travel story to tell. Let’s just hope it’s the last one of its kind.

 

Travel Date: May 19, 2017 (Day 7)

Travel 2017: A Train To Paris: Day Six

Our five days in London had flown by. Still feeling the exhilaration from yesterday’s incredible adventure– we got up, packed, and prepared for the next leg of our journey. We had coffee outside the lobby of St. Pancras, as had become our morning routine, enjoying the bright morning sun and going over our schedule.

After breakfast, I walked the grand staircase, one last time– just relishing the beauty of it. I love St. Pancras. It’s hard to fathom that it barely escaped demolition and is now fully restored.

 

Sunlight flooding the grand stairs at St. Pancras.

 

As guests in the historic part of the hotel, we were entitled to VIP service for the Eurostar to Paris at the adjoining St. Pancras International Railway Station. We were met in the lobby and escorted to the station, through customs/immigration– all the way to boarding and stowing our luggage on the train. It couldn’t have been easier.

 

All aboard! Preparing to leave London on the Eurostar.

 

Traveling Europe by high speed train is a fast, convenient and inexpensive alternative to air travel. From London to Paris took us two hours and twenty-two minutes. From St. Pancras International, the Eurostar took us through the Channel Tunnel and across the French countryside before arriving at Paris Gare du Nord. The distance is nearly 3oo miles. (By car the trip takes over six hours.)

I’d like to give you a highly romanticized version — riding the rails. Truthfully, from the scenery outside my window, it could have been a train ride anywhere in the world.

The one thing I did notice was for a good portion of the trip, we’d pass a church steeple seeming to stick up out of the fields every few miles. I saw dozens of these and they all looked similar.

Don’t get me wrong– some of the scenery was beautiful– it’s just not unique. I say this for anyone considering the train option purely in hopes of seeing a different world of small villages, farms and sights unique to France.

None of that really mattered to us though– because we were on our way to a new city. We’d be experiencing Paris for the first time.

 

A view of the French countryside from the train.

 

We arrived at Paris Gare du Nord and found our driver waiting for us at the end of the track. He escorted us out of the station and drove us to our hotel. Our stay at Hotel Scribe had been arranged through Judy Perl Worldwide Travel that handles the bookings for Playbill Travel. We arrived a day earlier than many of the people going on the Broadway on the Rhone cruise, who were also doing the pre-cruise stay in Paris.

 

Hotel Scribe, Paris.

 

After checking with the desk, we had a little time before our room would be ready, so we went for a walk through the neighborhood– part of the 9th arrondissement. Just down the block from our hotel was the Palais Garnier. It’s consider one of, if not the most famous opera house in the world.

The Palais Garnier is the setting and inspiration for Gaston Leroux’s novel, The Phantom of the Opera, adapted into many movies and of course,  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s  popular stage musical.

 

The Palais Garnier, the 1979-seat Opera House completed in 1875.

 

After a pleasant walk, we returned to the hotel and got settled in. We checked the weather and were trying to decide if we should chance the threat of rain. A storm was rolling in and decided not to risk it.

We heard from our friends, Laura and Cass and met them down in the lobby. After a little catching up, we decided to go to dinner at a cafe/brasserie recommended by the front desk. They got us a reservation and we headed there, just across the street. It was pouring rain!

The restaurant was packed. Capucine Cafe is a lovely little place with great food and plenty of atmosphere. We were seated by the window on the second floor–with a nice view, as the rain continued to flood the street below.

 

Capucine Café across the street from our hotel.

 

We had a great time catching up, with our conversation bouncing from topic to topic. Then before heading back to the hotel, we planned our big day ahead. Tomorrow the four of us were heading to Versailles.

Little did we know– it would be a much bigger adventure than we were expecting!

 

Travel Date: May 18, 2017 (Day Six)

Travel 2017: A Rainy Day in London Town Still Sizzles: Day Five

Our last full day in London was to be a very wet one, start to finish. We’d actually been pretty lucky with the weather– mostly sunny days and temperatures slightly above the norm for this time of year. There was no way we were going to let a little rain dampen our spirits. We grabbed an umbrella and headed out for another busy day.

At The Monument.

The Monument to the Great Fire of London is the world’s tallest isolated stone column. It is most commonly referred to as The Monument. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, it stands to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666. It’s hard to get a perspective of its size in a picture– so consider that there are 311 steps that go up to a viewing platform at the top.

 

The Monument to the Great Fire of London.

 

One of the interesting things we found online before our trip was the Sky Garden in the Walkie Talkie building, 20 Fenchurch Street.

Looking up from the base of 20 Fenchurch Street, nicknamed the Walkie Talkie building.

The building itself, nicknamed for its unusual shape, is considered by many as “the worst building” in the U.K. Completed in 2014, it has 34 floors, the top three made up of the Sky Garden, bars and restaurants.

The Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden and it offers an uninterrupted, 360 degree view of London. It’s free to visit but tickets are required. It’s highly recommended you reserve them in advance because it is frequently filled.

 

The Sky Garden has tiered levels for enjoying the spectacular 360 degree views.

 

Looking out over the Sky Garden.

 

In spite of the cloudy skies and rain-spattered windows, the views were spectacular. There is an open air observation deck on one side, with rest of the views through large panes of glass.

 

London from the Sky Garden, 20 Fenchurch Street.

 

The Gherkin (right) from the Sky Garden.

 

The River Thames and the 95-story Shard Building on the right.

 

Looking out at the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.

 

It started raining again so we took the Tube as close as we could, to our matinee performance of Les Miserables. Why Les Miz? Yes, we’ve seen many professional productions– in NYC and on tour. Maybe even a dozen. BUT we’d never seen it in London– where it all began. AND it’s Michael’s favorite musical.

 

Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre.

 

Les Miserables has been running continuously in London for nearly 32 years!  One fact you may not know, is that the events in the show, occur around the June Rebellion (or The Paris Uprising of 1832) NOT the French Revolution (1789-1799) as many people believe.

At intermission, we both commented that we thought is was way to fast! Now, when Michael agrees that something is too fast– it’s too fast. When we see shows, he’s always saying they could pick up the tempo. Sure, a performance differs from one to the next– but this, apparently, wasn’t a fluke. A friend who saw it two years ago asked if they were still speeding though it.

I found the differences in staging from the original Broadway production interesting. (I’m assuming this is still the original staging.) Some things worked better than others and I could also see why some were changed. All in all, in spite of the pace, we still enjoyed it.

 

Inside the Queen’s Theatre before the performance of Les Miserables.

 

It was pouring rain after the show. We headed over to the Savoy Theatre and picked up our tickets, hoping to find a place for dinner nearby. While we were there, we went in the Savoy (Hotel) to check out the lobby.

 

In the lobby of the Savoy, looking in to the dining room.

 

We found a place across the street for dinner– appropriately called Eat. We did.

And, yes, still raining.

Our last show this visit– and another one of the reasons we came to London: the musical Dreamgirls.

 

Last show this trip: Dreamgirls!

 

A little backstory is necessary. We saw Amber Riley (Glee) was starring in the London production and really wanted to see it. I went to order tickets, front and center, and I had the option of getting the same seats with something called ‘blue box’ for the same price. This said it included a drink and snack. Okay… same price… why not? The tickets were about 80 pounds or $102 USD. At New York ticket prices, it would have been a minimum of $149– probably over $200 because these would be considered ‘premium seats’ — without a ‘blue box’.

I purchase the tickets. Done. Then get a message (after they were paid for, no refunds) that Amber Riley doesn’t perform all the Wednesday night shows! Not happy. Then the show opened in London, won a number of Oliver Awards, including Best Actress (Riley) — so we just kept our fingers crossed. Maybe we’d get lucky.

We get back to the theatre for the show… soaking wet from the rain and they held us at the door. No, clue what was going on. Then the usher tells us we’ve been upgraded to ‘red box’. Huh? We waited until they escorted us to a private lounge where we were given drinks and snacks until we would be escorted to our seats just before the lights went down.

 

Phone pic inside the Ambassador Lounge.

 

At the busiest point, there were only eleven people in the lounge and we had two servers. They also held our wet things in a private coat check until after the show.

So why the VIP treatment? No clue! We just kept our fingers crossed that the good luck would continue and Amber Riley would walk out on that stage. Our hostess told us they’d meet us at the interval and bring us back to the Ambassador Lounge for drinks– this was just way too cool.

We took our seats– and I think we both held our breath until Effie walked out on that stage. Exhale. Amber Riley was performing!

All I can say is WOW! Everything about the show was perfect. It was beautiful to look at, full of power and emotion– and every single cast member was amazing. Problems we’ve seen in past productions with pace and flow were nonexistent. Riley stopped the show with And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going and Listen (added to this production from the movie) with her costar during the later.

It was magic.

This Dreamgirls will definitely never leave me.

Sometimes the stars align and everything is right.

Tonight was simply beyond wonderful.

 

Travel Date: May 17, 2017  (Day Five) Wednesday

Travel 2017: A Day on the Thames-Nature, Art and Angels : Day Four

We started the day at the Tate Modern. This was the one day we’d pretty much scheduled out ahead of time, start to finish, knowing that later, we’d be spending eight and a half hours at the National Theatre. We chose to visit the Tate Modern this morning because of its close proximity to the theatre and we hadn’t explored the South Bank.

Looking up at the former Bankside Power Station, now the home of the Tate Modern.

 

The Tate Modern hosts a large collection of international modern and contemporary art from 1900 to the present. I didn’t know until after our visit that the building itself was the former Bankside Power Station. This explains its unusual, cavernous design.

It was built by the architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, coincidentally, the grandson of  architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, who built the hotel we were staying in– St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott also designed the Waterloo bridge and the famous red telephone boxes.

 

Inside the cavernous entrance of the Tate Modern, the former Bankside Power Station.

 

The wide variety of artistic styles here, span from late Impressionism to modern sculpture and art in advertising. Overall, I found the museum quite stimulating and well conceived.  Even though I find a lot of modern art not to my taste, there were many works and artists represented here for whom I have a great fondness.

 

Lightning with Stag in its Glare by Joseph Beuys.

 

Weeping Woman (1937) by Pablo Picasso.

 

Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937) by Salvador Dali.

 

One of the gallery spaces inside the Tate Modern.

 

We left the museum with plenty of time for an enjoyable walk along the Thames. There are many restaurants and shops along the South Bank and quiet little parks as well. This area of the embankment is known as The Queen’s Walk.

 

A beautiful view of London from the South Bank of the Thames.

 

The rest of the day was spent at National Theatre’s production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Angels In America. The opportunity to see it was the catalyst that brought us to London (prior to our cruise) instead of NYC.

 

The National Theatre complex.

 

Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia on National Theme is Tony Kushner’s 1993 play in two parts, entitled Millennium Approaches and Perestroika. It’s an epic journey that explores AIDS and Homosexuality in 1980’s America.

 

Angels In America.

 

The National Theatre’s production features impressive performances by Andrew Garfield, Russell Tovey and Nathan Lane, among many others.

We were lucky enough to purchase excellent seats, in a combined event ticket, that included both parts presented in one day. The entire run of the production quickly sold out after going on sale.

Each part also had two intermissions. We had about a two hour break between parts one and part two for dinner, that we spent at a nice restaurant between the theatre and the London Eye. The actual run time, including intermissions (but not the dinner break), was just over eight and a half hours.

The production is incredible. The time flew by. Honestly, the experience is nearly impossible to describe. The revealing (or realization) of the Angel at the end of the first part was pretty ingenious — as frightening as it was beautiful.

I have to say that I cannot imagine seeing Millennium Approaches and Perestroika separately. They are so closely woven and dependent on each other in the scope of the entire piece. This is a historic work– it not only captures a  dark moment in history– it is ground-breaking in its structure and form.

When we left the theatre, we entered the misty night air and walked across the Waterloo Bridge to the Tube. We couldn’t help stopping on the bridge and enjoy the wonderful night view of London.

 

London at night from the Waterloo Bridge.

 

Travel Date: May 16, 2017 (Day Four)

Travel 2017: London Museums and an American Classic: Day Three

It’s our third day in London and Michael decided he wanted to spend the morning relaxing at St. Pancras. I decided to head over to the British Museum by myself. Michael’s not a huge fan of museums so I was on my own.

 

The British Museum.

 

Masterpiece Clock, around 1650, at the British Museum.

British Museum. I arrived at the museum shortly after it opened and the line to get in moved quickly.

Like all the national museums in the U.K., there is no admission fee to get in. Just one of the things I love about London.

There are many museums in this city– most with a particular focus. The British Museum is dedicated to human history, arts and culture or could otherwise be described as hosting antiques, artifacts and relics from different civilizations throughout history.

In grading a museum, I usually prefer a number of things: a balance of what is displayed, the layout of the exhibition space, the way a story is being told, and the ambience of the building itself.

Unfortunately, this was not my type of museum. The British Museum has more than 8 million pieces in its collection and tries to display too many of them at one time.

The galleries are overcrowded with relics in what feels like haphazardly-placed displays, causing each room to be a congested maze. Add the large number of visitors to that and it becomes too claustrophobic.

Compound that– though galleries are loosely sectioned by civilization,  types of work, etc. — there is no easy-to-follow story or way to simply navigate through the museum’s collection.

 

A child’s sarcophagus, probably from Rome, early 200 AD.

 

I made my way through most of the exhibitions but did so pretty quickly– searching for pieces that might catch my eye. Sadly, I found very little interest here and was more anxious to get out of the crowded spaces so I could breathe again.

I can’t help but make the comparison to searching for a special find at an overcrowded flea market. Michael made the right decision to pass on the opportunity. He would have hated this experience.

In the afternoon, we found ourselves exploring the area of Victoria Embankment. We were on a quest to acquaint ourselves with new areas of London we hadn’t yet explored. It was an enjoyable walk that led us over to Somerset House, one of the places we didn’t have a chance to visit before.

 

Victoria Embankment.

 

Courtauld Gallery. Friends of ours had recommended the Courtauld Gallery to us which is located at Somerset House on the Strand. It is a small gallery with an extraordinary collection of Impressionist work.

The Courtauld Gallery.

I absolutely loved it. The collections, the ambience and the display were all handled to perfection.

I think we spent more time here than I did at the mammoth British Museum this morning. Works by van Gogh, Seurat, Monet and Degas were all beautifully displayed.

My big surprise was finding Georges Seurat’s painting, Young Woman Powdering Herself (1888-1890). I have a reproduction at home and have always loved this piece.

 

Viewing Georges Seurat’s Young Woman Powdering Herself.

 

If we’d have had more time, I could have easily spent several more hours here. I can’t fully explain it. I found the art here thrilling to behold. I definitely hope to return here again.

 

Inside the beautifully displayed Courtauld Gallery.

 

Dancer Ready to Dance, Right Foot Forward by Edgar Degas.

 

Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait With A Bandaged Ear, 1889.

 

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? One of our most anticipated performances was tonight’s production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

 

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 

We couldn’t have been more pleased. Why is it that you have to travel to London to see a truly great performance of an American classic?

It starred Olivier and Bafta award-winning actress Imelda Staunton (Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance); Olivier award-winner Conleth Hill (Game Of Thrones, Stones In His Pockets, The Producers); Olivier award-winner Luke Treadaway (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Fortitude, The Hollow Crown) and Imogen Poots, in her West End debut (A Long Way Down, Jane Eyre and Me And Orson Wells).

Everything about this production is perfect! Director James Macdonald’s vision brings to life a fresh, contemporary production that is the best I’ve ever seen. He has guided the actors into new territory with their original, rich, deeply-layered performances– paying perhaps the greatest tribute to Albee’s dark and disturbing masterpiece.

 

What a day!

 

Travel Date: May 15, 2017 (Day Three)