Waking was much more difficult today. The small window let in very little light, partly due to its size, but mostly due to overcast skies. The air was colder than days previous and between the fatigue I’ve developed over the last few days, and the cozy comfort of my bed, I decided it was best to skip breakfast and stay put for a bit.
We’d arranged to meet Evatt near Buckingham Palace at 10:30, so I had to motivate myself to get up and get around. With check-out at 11:00, and a train that didn’t depart until 2:00, we had to leave our luggage in the baggage room. Indeed a nice benefit to have versus carting luggage all over London, but I’m always hesitant to leave my bags anywhere.
We met Evatt at St. James’ Station, just a few blocks away from the Palace. Evatt also plays in one of the bands in the British Army, so he was an excellent tour guide. He took us by his barracks and explained to us the routine that occurred before marching into the palace. On one side was a group of soldiers with guns who lined up and were then individually inspected to ensure they were presentable enough for their duties. Evatt informed me the routine is historically traditional as years ago approaching troops were required to make it very evident who they were. Otherwise they could be interpreted as intruders, which was never a positive outcome.
While most of the routine is no longer necessary, Evatt stated there’s never been a reason to change it. Though a formal routine, it is much more laid back than it presents, and according to Evatt is largely a show for tourists and passerbys. They do in fact perform a true inspection, but if they find a scuffed boot, they simply say: “Your boot could use a little work” and leave it at that. Meanwhile, however, a superior follows by and pretends to write it in a book and yells audibly what the solider is to improve. (Interesting little details)!
Then the band came out. There are several bands who play at the Changing of the Guard. Evatt’s band played the morning we arrived, so we were unable to see him, but it was much nicer to have him with us to explain what was happening. We watched the soldiers for a while longer and then moved toward Buckingham Palace to take our place for the Changing of the Guard.
We found a perfect spot near the street where we could watch them come into the Palace. They marched by, and then at Evatt’s instruction moved to the other side of “The Wedding Cake”, also known as “The Birthday Cake”. This is a statue of Queen Victoria, but referred to as a cake by the soldiers as it resembles a tall beautiful cake.
We moved to the other side so we could watch the arrival of The Queen’s Lifeguard, which only marches by when the Queen is in residence. (How lucky were we)? It was an awe-inspiring moment as the Queen’s Lifeguard rode through on their horses: a trumpeter on a white horse in front followed by several black horses. The men all wore red capes and armour-like hats. As they passed, the person in front played his trumpet. It seemed like a fantasy… a Disney movie that I’d seen before! It’s hard to believe that this is normal routine, for a real Queen, in a real Palace.
After the Queen’s Lifeguard passed, the Changing of the Guard occurred, which was difficult to see. (I think there should be a rule that short people get to stand in front).
At any rate, with Evatt’s help (he’s 6’2″), I was able to get a recording of the three pieces the band played, and the guards as they exited the Palace. During one of the band’s pieces they started playing very quietly for a moment. As this occurred, a Royal Carriage came into the Palace, and Evatt believed it to be the Queen. He said she enjoys going out in her carriage, and when she entertains she often takes her guests out in it. Amazing! Once she’d passed by through the Palace gates, they crescendoed back to their standard playing volume.
When the Changing of the Guard was completed, Evatt took us to the nearest Tube station, and we parted ways. How nice it was to have a guide and friend here in London! The rest of the day was much less exciting. We obtained our luggage and walked the block to the train station where we grabbed some lunch and awaited the delayed Eurostar. When it finally arrived, we found our seats next to a very nice older couple who live south of London, but have a place in Paris: Hanz & Pauline. They were extremely nice, very cultured, VERY well traveled, and provided great conversation during our ride.
I was astonished at the speed by which the Eurostar travels. It can book it along at nearly 200 mph. A nice comparison was presented when the motorway ran parallel to the railway. We blew by those cars like they were standing still. It was encouraging to know we’d be moving through the Chunnel quickly. I was trying to block out the visualization of the ocean crashing in around us. We safely made it into France and I found the landscape to be much the same as in England. Green, green, green! (I can’t wait to get back to brown Missouri).
As we arrived to the train station, our new friends pointed out Sacre Coeur on the hill – a beautiful view from our train window. Sights in our immediate vicinity were much less enthralling. It was mostly a run-down area with a substantial amount of graffiti. Though, I must say, the graffiti was quite artistic and much more colorful than what I see in Kansas City. Paris has always produced amazing artists, right?
As we pulled up to the platform, Pauline handed Ashley and I each a metro ticket. We were so thankful! One less thing to worry about! We exchanged our goodbyes and Ashley and I moved into Gare du Nord to 1) find a restroom, 2) find an ATM, and 3) follow our host’s instructions to the correct metro station. I’d crammed some French into my brain on the train ride, but I still felt very unprepared to ask directions. We immediately found the universal man/woman sign indicating the restroom was ahead. I rushed through the doors, only to find that you have to PAY 0.70 Euro to use it! You’ve got to be kidding me!!!!! Who charges you to use the restroom? It’s not like I have a choice whether or not to use the restroom as I do with choosing to buy a sandwich or beverage. Unbelievable… Nonetheless, I feel a bit of satisfaction knowing that first and foremost, they’re not getting my money. Secondly, I don’t have to tackle these French public restrooms.
Finding an ATM was not so easy. They strategically have not placed any in the station so you must use the currency interchange they provide. Again, I’m not giving anyone my money unnecessarily, so I told Ashley to keep a close eye out for shady people, and hold on to her bags, because we were exiting the station to find an ATM. Just across the street was a machine and we were easily able to cross the street and pull out some Euros without incident. Once we got back inside, we began the search for Line 2. We searched and searched and searched. I got really good at asking people where Line 2 for La Chapelle station was… I just couldn’t understand what they were saying back to us. I found it easy to follow a pointed finger and then ask another person and follow their pointed finger. We found a group of airport police who were kind to guide use through a gate. Unfortunately our metro tickets wouldn’t work for it. They scanned us past and we headed down a loooooooooong hallway to the Line 2 entrance where we were required to use our metro ticket again… of which Ashley’s did not work again. We had gotten ourselves into a bit of a pickle. We could either go allllllll the way back and try to buy a new ticket, not knowing if we’d need a ticket to get out. There was no one there to help us, so we decided to take matters into our own hands. Other people were having problems with their passes, so they were just jumping over the gates. There was first one of those revolving bars that are at waist level, and then a gate that appears as shutters and would open apart to let you through once passing through the bar. Ashley tackled the gate first because I didn’t want to get through with my card and her be stuck on the other side. She hurried after someone as soon as they passed their card. She moved through the bar… and then the gate shut, trapping her! She couldn’t come back and she couldn’t move through. It was absolutely hilarious. There was NOTHING I could do to help her, so I just sat back and watched everything unfold. Finally another woman walking by scanned her card allowing Ashley to move on through, and then she followed. Now it was my turn. As I’d not yet used my ticket, I first ran it through, only to find it was obsolete as well. With Ashley on the other side, I was able to pass her my luggage and jump over the gates. I feel like we’ve already conquered part of Paris, though I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as liberating had we gotten caught!
We followed the stairs to Line 2 and safely made it to our destination: 53 Rue Blanche in Montmartre. Jacques must have been watching for us because he immediately came down to meet us. He is such a delightful man and courteously showed us the tricks of unlocking all the doors, turning on the lights, etc. He had maps and transit descriptions laid out for us. Helene was not home as she was out shopping, but he made us feel very welcome and right at home. He also introduced us to their white chat (cat). I can’t remember how to say the name, but it means “white drug”. Schloop, maybe? (Obviously that’s not the appropriate spelling).
Our accomodation is outstanding, far surpassing the European Hotel. We visited with Jacques for a bit and got some recommendations for dinner. We decided on Le Petitlyon, which he described as restaurant staying true to French tradition. Just a few blocks away, we were able to walk through the narrow streets between the tall gated buildings. The area is historic and beautiful and it was hard to believe I was actually walking on those sidewalks. We arrived at the restaurant, and the staff, sensing our nervousness, started rattling off different languages. Upon determining we were English speaking, they smiled and directed us to a small table for two against the wall. Everyone has told me if you attempt to speak French, they are very accommodating. We didn’t have much of an opportunity to even try French, yet they welcomed us in and gave us excellent service. We’ve decided to go back there. We each had a small glass of red wine, and the food was outstanding. Ashley had a steak with fries, and I had chicken with fresh green beans. Each of the dishes were smothered in a very French tasting sauce that was extremely satisfying to the palate! What an excellent first meal in Paris!
We made our way back to our B&B and had the opportunity to meet Helene, who is a very sweet lady with kind eyes. Her English is not as fluent as Jacques’, but she did her best to communicate. I definitely scored with the B&B hosts. I can’t wait to see Paris through their eyes, as well as my own!