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Europe 2010

Jerry turned 50 in March of 2010 and we took a 2-1/2 week trip to England and Paris to celebrate his birthday and our 20th anniversary. We booked our flights and hotel reservations well in advance of the trip, and the weeks immediately prior to leaving should have been spent in happy anticipation, but alas, it was not to be. British Airways flight attendants were in the midst of a strike and we didn’t know for certain whether our flight would be cancelled until we were actually on the plane and rolling down the runway.

Jerry and Julie spent the first few days in London visiting parts of the city they hadn’t seen on several previous trips, including the Camden Lock Market and the Portobello Road antiques market. During the England part of our trip, Nick continued to attend school, and spent his first week alone in the house. We had tested the waters with a day or weekend here or there, with him alone, but never while he had school, and not for such an extended period. The house was still standing after the trip, and we don’t know of any police reports, so we are assuming that things went well. Jerry’s mom called him very often just to make sure he didn’t think life without mom bugging him was like heaven on earth. Nick got to stay at his grandparent’s house for the first few days of spring vacation, once school let out.

Westminster Palace (Houses of Parliament)

Houses of Parliament

After London, we headed north by train to Manchester where we rented a car and headed to a small town called Buxton in the Peak District in Derbyshire. We stayed at a bed and breakfast for five days while exploring the countryside and several historic estates dating back to Henry VIII’s time.  Most of the roads in this part of the country are barely wide enough for two cars to squeeze by each other, and Jerry got in a lot of practice navigating roundabouts while driving on the “wrong” side of the road. He enjoyed it greatly. Julie loved the scenery, but was not fond of the idea that at any time we might have to back out of the little road to allow someone else to pass. Luckily, we had the roads to ourselves all the times that we might have come nose-to-nose with another vehicle.

Buxton is the highest town in England and gets snow (unlike London) every winter. It started snowing the afternoon of our last full day in Buxton and continued all night, leaving the roads and countryside covered with a few inches of the white stuff. Most of it had melted by the time we started our drive back to Manchester to catch a train back to London. After getting lost looking for the rental car office, we made it to the station with less than a minute to spare just as our train was getting ready to pull out. The amazing thing was that we recovered quickly, and didn’t end our marriage during our 20th anniversary celebration. We are accustomed to getting places very early so we don’t have to worry, but between underestimating the driving time, driving carefully on possibly icy roads, and having a GPS that had an attraction to the smallest, most congested roads, we only made the train because a very nice person in the car rental place drove us the block or two to the station, through parking lots, squeezing through places that we didn’t think were wide enough for the car, and we ran to the platform. Somehow, we survived it, and managed not to lose anything along the way. Julie gets stressed just thinking about it.

We headed back to London for six more days of sightseeing. We stayed at a different hotel close to The City on High Holburn in an area near the Inns of Court. We visited Kew Gardens (one of Julie's favorites) and made an Easter visit to Hampton Court Palace, former home of Henry VIII. Jerry spent one day at the Science Museum while Julie shopped along Oxford Street.

London Eye

London Eye

On our last day in London we met Nick at St. Pancras station for our trip to Paris via the Chunnel on the Eurostar. Nick got a limo all to himself on the way from his grandparent’s house to the San Francisco airport, then he enjoyed a night on the airplane, playing video games, watching movies, and reading, all the while eating all the candy he pleased. We were originally going to have him meet us in Paris, but decided it would be easier for him to maneuver to the meeting point if he could speak the language, so we met him in London and took the train through the Chunnel together.

Statue and Versailles

Statue and Versailles

Our hotel in Paris was not quite up to the standards we enjoyed in London, where our hotels were luxurious and excellent, but it was conveniently located close to the Louvre. Julie wanted to find another hotel, and considered it to be barely a step above camping, even before the water from a room above us overflowed through ours, and dripped ugly sludge into our bathroom, ending its dripping just short of the exit door from the hotel. It was like Russian Roulette getting out the door without getting slimed. The staff spoke English very well when we arrived, but somehow, they forgot that they could speak English whenever we tried to figure out what they were doing about the sludge.

On our first day in Paris, we spent a few hours in the Louvre (before the crowds increased to sardine can proportions) before heading to the Eiffel Tower, where we decided to climb the stairs to the top rather than wait four hours in line for the elevator. The panoramic views from the top are incredible. One of our favorite sections of Paris is the Latin Quarter, and we spent a lot of time walking the streets there and trying the various restaurants. We particularly enjoyed chatting with a waiter and another American couple in a fondue restaurant, and the waiter was very excited to share his knowledge of the San Francisco Bay Area, and his English skills. He had a friend in Palo Alto, which is part of the greater Bay Area. The following day we took a half day bus tour to the Palace of Versailles, the home of Louis XIV and 20,000 of his nobles. Versailles makes the mansions in Newport Rhode Island look like doll houses. We spent much of the rest of the time getting a tour from a hop-on-hop-off bus, and for part of a day, Jerry and Nick went to a computer museum while Julie went on search of gardens and a chocolate store that she had read was the absolute best. Amazingly, we reconvened by running into each other based on just general knowledge of each other’s plans.