Paris

On June 22, two days before our vacation ended, we took a short day trip to Paris via the Eurostar train. We arrived at 10 a.m. and were met at the station by a friend of Ben’s co-worker, Jennifer, who lives in Paris. She agreed to take us around for the afternoon.

I was grateful to have her as a guide. While many signs were in both French and English, some were not, and  navigating the city would have been difficult without her.

We first went to Notre Dame and then walked to the Louvre (below). We didn’t go inside since our time was limited (we had to catch our return train at 9 p.m.).

We walked down the Champs-Élysées, which was much wider than I anticipated and more modern, with stores like The Gap and H&M. We walked until we reached the  Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile.

We had lunch at Café du Trocadéro, which was thankfully air conditioned, since it was a 97-degree day. I had a cheese plate, which was excellent, but we’re still trying to remember the names of the cheeses so that we can buy them locally.

The restaurant was just a few blocks from the eiffel tower. I wasn’t expecting to be as impressed by it as I was – it would have been stunning to see it when it’s lit up at night.

At about 4 p.m., Ben and I were on our own. We took an Uber to the train station and asked if we could board an earlier train. Changing our tickets would have cost 300 euro each, so we opted to spend the next 4 hours visiting the local restaurants in the neighborhood instead. If the weather had been less intense, we might have explored more attractions, but neither of us was up for navigating the metro or walking more than we had to.

Someday we’d like to return to France, after we’ve taken French lessons. Jennifer recommended visiting Versailles, which she said is just 30 minutes from Paris.

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace was one of my favorite places that we visited on vacation (tied with the Tower of London). We were free to explore on our own, accompanied by an audio tour. You could easily spend an entire day here (or two!).

Hampton Court was one of Henry VIII’s palaces and was where his third wife, Jane Seymour, gave birth to their son.

The apartments of Henry and his wives overlooked the courtyard above.

The Great Hall (below) contained a carving of Henry and Anne Boleyn’s initials. Most of her initials had been removed following her death, but this one remained. It’s in the wood panel on the right side of this photo. Henry’s staff ate in the Great Hall and dances would be held here. The tapestries on the wall were commissioned by Henry himself.

The next room is the Great Watching Chamber, where guards were stationed to control access to the king. The ceiling includes Jane Seymour’s family emblem.

A second courtyard houses a fountain that flowed with wine (it’s a replica).

A room leading to the royal chapel is supposedly haunted by Katherine Howard, who ran through the hallway to try to reach the king and beg his forgiveness before her execution. I didn’t take a photo of that room, since it was fairly plain.

Random Thoughts

  • I’ve lost my sewing motivation ever since we got back from vacation. Today I subscribed to Colette’s online magazine Seamwork, in hopes it will inspire me to sew again. I really like the Veronica pattern in the latest edition. I’m wondering if I should abandon what I’m currently working on and sew the Veronica dress while I’m excited about it.
  • I found a new fabric store! It’s called Three Little Birds Sewing Co. and it’s in Hyattsville, MD (about 17 miles away, or a 30-minute drive).
  • In general, there’s few fabric stores in the area. There’s Stitch Sew Shop in Old Town (it has beautiful, modern fabrics), G Street Fabrics (not on G Street in DC but in Rockville, 45 minutes away), and JoAnn’s (I’ve been there twice and it’s horrendous). I’m hoping that Three Little Birds will give me some more options.

Tower of London

On Tuesday, June 20, we took a ferry to the Tower of London; this is a view of Big Ben from the ferry.

I’d imagined the Tower of London as a single structure but it’s more like a village, with many buildings surrounding a courtyard. In addition to being a prison, it had been the residence of the royal family and was (and still is) the keeper of the crown jewels.

We started our visit with an hour-long tour guided by a beefeater (below). He showed us Traitor’s Gate, where Henry VIII’s wife Anne Boleyn would have entered the tower for her imprisonment, and took us into the church where Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard are buried (no pictures were allowed inside).

Here is the site where both women were beheaded for infidelity to the king:

I just read a book about Henry VIII’s wives. Although it’s likely that Katherine Howard was unfaithful (she confessed), the charges against her cousin Anne Boleyn are dubious. Henry VIII wanted to get rid of Anne because she hadn’t yet given him an heir and he had fallen in love with Jane Seymour.

There’s also a section of the tower called the Medieval Palace, where the royal family would have stayed (usually for a specific purpose and not for very long). They were built by Henry III and his son Edward I.

This is a recreation of Edward I’s bedchamber (I believe the bed is mentioned in Lucy Worsley’s book, If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home).

Jane Austen’s House Museum

On Sunday, June 18, we visited Jane Austen’s Chawton home, where she wrote three novels and started one more.

I’d read that her Chawton home was modest, but I’d never understood why since it looked fairly large from the outside. But inside, the rooms were small and sparsely furnished.

The house tour was self-guided, and while the rooms could become cramped, they eventually emptied out and I had them to myself for a few moments.

Here were my favorite objects inside the home:

A bookcase from Jane’s childhood home in Steventon (the Steventon house no longer exists):

Her writing desk in the kitchen:

The bedroom that she shared with her sister Cassandra (the bed is not the original):

Jane Austen’s ring and bracelet:

A quilt top that she made with her mother and sister (this is just a small section):

After we toured the house, we browsed the gift shop and only one of us came away with something: Ben. He purchased a copy of Pride and Prejudice (without any prompting from me). He read it steadily throughout our vacation and is now more than halfway through.

From the house museum, we walked up the street to “the great house” owned by Jane’s brother Edward. He never lived there, preferring one of his other estates, but Jane and her family had free use of the manor. To be honest, it wasn’t worth the visit except to see how different it was from Chawton House. The interior wasn’t restored to what it was in Jane Austen’s time but contained an exhibit comparing Jane Austen to an author who I hadn’t heard of.

The one interesting object in the house was an exact replica of the wedding dress that Jennifer Ehle wore in A&E’s Pride & Prejudice.

This was easily one of the best days of the trip, since seeing Jane Austen’s home was one of the primary reasons I wanted to go to England.

 

London

England has been the best part of our trip (as I knew it would be).

Trafalgar Square (above) was about a block away from our hotel. You can see Big Ben in the distance (on the left).

On our first day, without knowing where we were going (we didn’t yet have a map or an adequate data plan for our phones), we walked through this archway to St. James Park and Buckingham Palace.

The guards at Buckingham Palace started marching back and forth from their posts (not sure why).

We also visited Selfridge’s on Oxford St. (I didn’t take any pictures there). I loved seeing the famous revolving doors that were featured on the TV show.

On our walk back to the hotel, we passed Seville Row, which was mentioned often on The Great British Sewing Bee. The neighborhood was full of designer stores, like Chanel and some others that I hadn’t heard of but I’m sure are equally fancy.

On our second day, we saw Westminster Abbey but didn’t have time to go in, as the line was long and I had plans for the afternoon. Also, they don’t allow photography inside, which kind of dampened my enthusiasm.

At 1 p.m., I met my friend Yasmin for tea at The Goring (she also lives in Virginia but happened to be in London at the same time as we were). Our waiters were French (a bit difficult to understand) and always on-hand to refill our tea cups. The scones were unlike any I’ve had before (they looked almost like rolls) and broke in half; Yasmin told me that that’s the sign of a good scone. By the end, I was so full that I only sampled one of the desserts.