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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Back from a relaxing R&R!

With Facebook, it seems like I post on here less and less, but through this medium I can write a bit more and it's suitable.  So here's an update on what we've been up to and a little more about our R&R.  Before we went on R&R, work was just day to day thing.  I for obvious reasons can't discuss work but needless to say it's work, nothing too exciting.  Living in Jeddah is about the same.  The girls struggle with it a bit, it's hard to live in such repressive place.  I find myself thinking more ad more how screwed up this country is.  The biggest thing is the driving for me, people can't stay in their lanes it's amazing.  And now, they've resurfaced a lot of the main roads and have yet to paint any lines, so you can just imagine the chaos during rush hours.  Let's see the weather is getting hotter and a lot more humid, pretty much sucks to be outside for any length of time during the day.

So what do you do when things start to wear on you?  You get the hell out of Dodge!  R&R is so nice, this time we took a trip to London and Paris.  I'm sure some of you saw the pictures on Facebook and Picasa, but here I'll try to add some context and tell you a little bit about our trip.

We started out in London and after a short 5 1/2 hour flight we were picked up by our car that I scheduled.  (Cheaper than a taxi, I'd recommend it)  We made it to our hotel,  I have to say the lady that checked us in at the Marriott there was extremely friendly and cheerful.  Another change from our current country is the focus on customer service.  Anyways, we've always like Marriott and are good customers, we were upgraded on our room and given access to the executive lounge, so breakfast was free and it's nice to be able to grab a drink or snack in the evening.

On through London, we did quite a bit while there, we started with a tour of the Warner Bros. studio where the Harry Potter films were made.
This was a very cool tour and took the better part of 3 hour to go through, and we didn't stop and read everything.

 Here is the front of the Great Hall which was awesome, we learned that Hagrid had a body double that was some rugby player who was like 6'7" and he still had to wear stilts to get Hagrid to his half giant size.
Breakfast time setup in the great hall.

 Entry to Dumbledore's office.  It was very cool to see all the props used in the movies.  Below is the actual owl that played Hedwig.  It's real name is Elmer and he was used for all the sitting shots in the movie.

 And a stroll down Diagon Alley.  Since coming back we started watching the movies again and it's pretty cool to see the sets and have been to them.  All the details and the effort that went into creating these movies is amazing.
And finally at the end of the tour, was the model used for all the shots on the castle.  This was simply amazing and the size and detail was astounding.  The rest of the tour pictures are here: HP Tour Pictures

It's funny sometimes what you miss when living in Saudi Arabia.  Well grass was one of Crystal's...

We walked around London a bit and one of the next things we went to was the Sherlock Holmes museum.  Though a fictional character, the address used for hime 221b Baker Street does exist and the place was at one time a turn of the century flat.  Nonetheless, it was pretty neat to go and visit.  On the second floor is a book of actual letters sent to Sherlock from actual people from around the world.  I read one from a lady actually asking for help with finding missing items around her house.

Late that night we went on a walking tour around London where the Jack the Ripper murders happened.  Our tour guide, Donald Rumbelow, was excellent and had actually published a book on the subject.  Jolene bought herself a copy and got it signed.  Here's a shot of the two.

The tour was very interesting and took us through the East Side of London.  Back in the day it was the poorest section of London, and still is actually.  The pictures from the Sherlock and Ripper tour are here: Holmes and Ripper Tour.

London was packed with things to do and we actually found it difficult to get in everything we wanted to do.  When planning our activities, we didn't take into account how long it would take to get from point A to B and the lines.  We did get the London Pass, which allowed us to skip some of the lines when purchasing tickets and it got us into a lot of stuff for free, well included in the cost of the pass.

One morning we made our way to Westminster Abbey and the London Pass was very helpful here.  Another great church with so much history, royal weddings and coronations and the such.  I also have to mention how great the weather was in London, cool and sunny the whole time... 

We spent a pleasant afternoon at the Tower of London.  A small castle in the center of London right on the Thames River.  Plenty of executions and activities there if you remember your English History or watched The Tudors on HBO.  On the way we had to see Parliament and Big Ben too!
Parliament and Big Ben

Tower of London from the Thames

The White Tower

The Tower of London had many exotic animals from time to time

Okay so the guy that wore this survived like 3 gun shots, but the canon shot won out!

 For centuries, the White tower was an armament museum, many heads of state have been here to see this museum.

 The line to see the crown jewels was way too long so we just took a picture of one of the guards.

 Of course we had to the the torture devices used, Nice Rack!

And some more Grass Time!
And of course, lot's more pictures here: Westminster Abbey and Tower of London

And a trip to London isn't complete without a visit to the Eye.  I think the "Wheel" would be a better name, but either way the view was spectacular and again great weather!

We had a nice tour out to Windsor Castle and the City of Bath, specifically the Roman Baths there.  Windsor Castle was amazing, unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures on the inside, but it was very awesome, all the furniture, paintings, and just plain history!  We did learn that most castles with a moat didn't actually have water in them.  Now the Tower of London did because they were able to "tap the Thames".  This made sure the water was flowing through and not sitting stagnate.  This actually makes sense, the moat was actually dug to make it impossible to use battering rams against walls of the castle.  You can see in the picture below, no one was getting a battering ram up that hill on the left.
Here's a shot of the Moat at Windsor

Flag is flying so the Queen was at home.
 After Windsor it was about an hour bus ride through the country side to the city of Bath.  We would have like to spent more time at Bath to explore the city itself a bit, but the Roman Baths were pretty cool.  The green water in the bath well that's just plain pollution and we were told to make sure we don't touch the water.

Swimming Pool

This guy had great balance

Entrance to the Bathhouse

And plenty more pictures.... Eye, Windsor Castle, Bath

The tour guide for our trips this day was excellent, Oxford graduate former British officer and now working on his Doctorate.  His experience made him very knowledgeable and able to make decisive decisions.  Especially when he had to leave a woman at Bath when she didn't show up at the appointed time.  She was a little late at Windsor Castle and a lot late in Bath.  Apparently, she was to fall into another tour group, but turns out she was late for that departure as well and they left without her too.  Sucks to be that lady!

So, after Bath we went to Stonehenge.  I really enjoyed this visit, this was one of my bucket list locations to visit.  There is just so much history with it and so much unknown.  I think that is part of the draw for me.  Again, we had some beautiful and I guess unusually nice weather.

Your typical Stonehenge picture.  Nice to not have tourist in it.

 In the middle of the picture you can see some writing below it are gouges made from a metal axe either copper or bronze.  This signifies the end of the stone age.

 This is an ancient post hole, in these holes they found cremated human remains.  There about a hundred of these post holes identified.

Nothing related to Stonehenge,
just an old mile marker stating the distance to London

This large horse was dug into the hill side.  The soil is chalk and when you dig down far enough you find this bright white chalk.  This horse was carved between 1200 BC and 800 BC placing its creation in the Bronze Age, though to be made by Druids. Here are the rest of the Stonehenge pictures: Stonehenge.

That pretty much encompasses our tour of London.  From here we took the train from London under the channel to Paris.  I guess normally this is a pretty good trip, runs on time, nice smooth ride, etc.  Well some time before we were to board, a train pulled into station somewhere in France and on the front of the engine was a bicyclist.  There aren't sure when exactly he got hit and whether or not it was suicide but we did have like a four hour delay.  Well we did finally get on the train and it was a nice trip to Paris.  Once at the train station we hailed a cab and headed toward our hotel on the outskirts of the city.  Well to top off our day of travel mishaps our cab driver couldn't find our hotel, we would up following a local guy to our hotel, the cab driver felt bad and knocked our fare down to 25 euro from 35.  Can't complain about that!

In Paris we didn't have as many tours or scheduled visits, here we kind of picked things to do and went and did them.  We spent a lot of time at the Louvre, then the girls went shopping a bit and I spent some more time at the Louvre and then walked to the Eiffel Tower.
The Louvre

Venus De Milo

The Mona Lisa

I'm guessing the first Viagra advertisement 

At sunset

We took a morning and spent it at the Cathedral of Notre Dame and then went underground to see the archeological dig taking place.
Notre Dame Cathedral

One of the stain glassed windows

Some of the famed Gargoyles of Notre Dame 


And we took time to walk around the city.  We took a private tour of chocolate shops in Paris.  Our guide was very knowledgeable and we got to sample some excellent macaroons and other chocolates. Our guide was very interesting and she knew a lot about the city too.  Our last full day in Paris we went to Disney Paris and then bounced around the city a bit. We wanted to do so much more in both London and Paris, we just ran out of time.  So, I guess we will just have to go back and visit the other sites.

Well I'll leave you with one more picture and because I got lazy all of our Paris photos are in one online album so here you go... Paris Album.