January 28, 2010

Two in a series of past travel exploits.

This is another blast from our past travels that I'm posting photos now only because of the Metafilter postcard exchange.

Sometime in 2005, my good friend from grad school invited (or I otherwise wrangled an invitation from him) Renae and me to come to his family's cabin in the French Alps for New Year's Eve that year. We planned an entire Paris/London/Alps trip around his invitation.

We flew from Chicago to Paris, spent about 2 days there, then took a train to the southern French Alps. Our friend picked us up and drove us to his family's cabin up in the mountains! Our first stop was at a small hut where everyone in his family was gathered to bake bread in a wood-fired oven. It was incredible!

The New Year's Eve celebration was outstanding! There was a multi-course meal, with oysters, foie gras, and many other delicious dishes. We started eating at 8:00 pm, and didn't stop until the champagne flowed at midnight. It was so, so, so cool!!!

Everyone in the family was so incredible hospitable and kind to us. We spoke not a lick of French, and they went out of their way to make us feel welcome. It truly was the best part of the trip.

I think we were planning to leave on the 3rd, but because of the holiday and because we had not booked a return train ticket to Paris, we had to leave on the 2nd. It was our fault for not booking a ticket, but we were used to traveling in 1996 on trains where you could always ride on trains as standing-passengers. I guess times had changed. So we stayed overnight at a hotel in Grenoble, then went back to Paris to catch the Eurostar to London.

Somewhere in Paris, Renae got sick (actually, hadn't been 100% well in the Alps) and probably got a bit of food poisoning from a weird fish pizza that she ordered at a cafe. She hadn't slept the night before we were supposed to catch the first train out in the morning, so we were bracing for a crummy ride from Paris to London.

We had bought our Eurostar tickets online a few months ahead of time. When I ordered the tickets, I bought coach seats ($65 each, I think) for the return from London to Paris. But the Paris to London trip, all the coach seats were sold out. All the First Class tickets were around $500 or more, which was way more than I wanted to pay. After poking around on their website, I had found some middle class ticket that was something like "Business Economy" or something similar. From all I could tell, it was going to be a coach seat for $30 extra. Having no other options, though, we bought them.

When we finally got to the train platform and were directed to our seats, it turned out we were in First Class. In fact, the Eurostar only has First Class and coach. An in our car, there was only a family of four sharing the entire car with us. The seats were comfortable; there was a real table for us to use; and the breakfast was simple, but refreshing. We got toast with jam, which was the perfect meal for Renae's stomach.

London was great, but knowing that we'd have to cram a lot into a little bit of time, we chose to do only highlights. We spent a lot of time running around to some of the major sites. We paid for an all-city bus tour that allowed us to hop onto and off of any bus run by a popular bus tour company. We saw the Mousetrap. We shopped at Herrod's. We wandered through one of the residences of one of the Royals. We did not hang around for the changing of the guard.

After a few days in London, it was the Eurostar back to Paris. Coach was like riding in a plane on Southwest Airlines. It wasn't too cramped, but we weren't exactly comfortable. And no one brought us toast.

We had another night in Paris, then flew home.

Somewhere in this post, I should have pointed out that right about the time the plane took off from Chicago to Paris, I looked at Renae and realized that having been married for five and half years, it was the first actual vacation travel we had taken that did not involve a physics conference in any way.

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