A Stroll Through St. James’s Park, London

St. James's Park - London

Given the current exchange rates, now is a good time to plan a visit to London!

A ramble through St. James’s Park, the oldest of London’s eight Royal Parks, should be on your list of things to do while visiting the British capital. Encompassed within the heart of the city, this sprawling park is beautifully laid out and meticulously maintained. It is situated in close proximity to two royal palaces:  Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Palace. A brief history of the park will enable you to better visualize its storied past and appreciate its continued prominence and appeal. Originally, this property was home to a leper’s hospital for women, named for James the Less (thought by some to be James, the brother of Jesus; by others to be James the son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus’ disciples). The property was later purchased by Henry VIII who erected St. James Palace and converted the swampy land into hunting grounds. During the 17th century reign of King James I, the marshland was drained and landscaped and became home to his exotic menagerie which included an elephant, crocodiles, camels, and exotic birds. Later that century, Charles II had the gardens redeveloped to resemble those he had seen at Versailles during the time of his exile in France.  Today, St. James’s Park is a reflection of a modernization project carried out by John Nash in 1828 and includes a Chinese-style bridge, extensive lawns and gardens, paved walking paths, a small lake, and several monuments.  There are also swans, ducks, geese, and plenty of pigeons in the park as well. (The pigeons are not shy and will land on you without batting an eye if you are eating or have food in your hands.) Ice cream vendors sell their sticky treats to the millions of tourists who descend on St. James’s Park in the summertime. Deck chairs are scattered invitingly across the green expanse from March to October but beware, fellow Americans…there is a charge for sitting in them, a fact we were unaware of until already seated and licking away on our ice cream cones. The park attendant was forgiving of our ignorance, however, and cheerfully collected £1.60 from each of us and allowed us to remain in our chairs. (That is the cost for one hour.  Sadly, we did not have anywhere close to an hour to loll about in the park.) For more information on Deck Chair Pricing, click here. If you visit Buckingham Palace, be sure to stroll on over to nearby St. James’s Park!

The People of Ireland…

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I found the people of Ireland to be charming, though initially a bit reticent and more than a little suspicious of Americans. One of the high points of my visit was a half-hour chat I had with our bus driver during the ride from Wicklow town to the airport in Dublin. We talked of horses, his desire to visit Texas and Kentucky, Irish independence, American history (he knew more about that than most Americans do), the EU, and the value of the euro. He was extremely knowledgeable and a delight to converse with. (I have been kicking myself ever since for not snapping a pic before leaving him!) And then there was Anne…the owner of the B&B in Wicklow where we stayed. Shocked by the size of our suitcases, she had a mild panic attack upon our arrival. She recovered fairly quickly when it became apparent that we intended to treat her home with the same care and respect we would exercise in our own home. (How people travel for two full weeks through three different countries, participating in every type of activity imaginable…and pack everything in a rucksack is beyond me. But, I digress…) There is something special about staying in a personal residence—particularly when welcomed in by someone to whom you are a perfect stranger! We (my niece and I) shared a cozy bed and bath on the upper floor overlooking a beautiful garden that was lovingly tended by Anne herself. It afforded every possible comfort and was the perfect home-away-from-home during the week we spent there. Our hostess graciously offered to do our laundry and was quite persistent about it, so we indulged her once…and greatly appreciated her efforts!

There is much more reminiscing I could do about our visit to Ireland, but I will save that for a later post. Suffice it to say, the time we spent on the Emerald Isle was memorable in so many ways and I truly long to return sooner than later…

When I think of Ireland…

 

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On this rainy April day I find my thoughts turning to Ireland, and a number of adjectives immediately spring to mind…picturesque, bold, verdant, lush, untamed, timeless. Did I mention green?? Its incredibly varied landscape was both unexpected and spectacular! Ireland is truly one of the most beautiful and fascinating countries I have ever visited. While much of Western society seems to have melded into a uniformity of sorts, the Irish have managed to retain their own independent culture and unique appeal—not to mention identity and superstitions. (Truly, I half expected to see leprechauns lurking among the Celtic crosses and Druids gliding through the monastic ruins!) Below are but a few of the thousands of photos I took during my seven day visit. Everywhere you look in Ireland there is another gorgeous landscape to amaze the senses!

 

Paris In a Day and a Half…Day 1

If you find yourself with a “spare” day and a half—not counting travel time—is it worth it to try to see Paris? I wondered the same thing myself when I had the opportunity to tack a quick visit onto the front-side of a trip to Ireland. It is indeed possible, but be prepared to prioritize and make some tough decisions in order to maximize your limited time.

I did as much planning ahead as possible—making the hotel reservation, booking tickets for several attractions, and mapping out a tentative touring schedule and route.

Day 1 Itinerary:

  • Our flight arrived in Paris at 9:00 a.m. and we hit the ground running. For whatever reason, I am never able to sleep in-flight—a circumstance that is terribly aggravating—so I was fairly tired on top of the jet lag that first day. There was no time for rest, however, so we pushed on.  I had arranged for a shuttle from Charles de Gaulle Airport to our hotel and the driver was waiting to whisk us away as soon as we grabbed our luggage. [Prior to meeting him, we withdrew money (in euros, of course) from the airport ATM machine (distributeur in French). This is the best option if you want to avoid terrible exchange rates and an astronomical commission charge at Travelex or similar exchange agencies. We also stopped by one of the airport T1 desks and purchased Paris Museum Passes.]
  • We were checking into our hotel by 11:00 a.m., Paris time.
  • After freshening up a bit, we headed around the corner from our hotel to eat lunch on Rue Cler. The restaurant choices are diverse and plentiful on this delightful, cobblestone thoroughfare, so we made a pass up and back before settling on Cafe’ du Marche’ for our first sampling of French cuisine. This popular cafe’ offers sidewalk seating, so we had an opportunity to people-watch while enjoying our meal. (More about Cafe’ du Marche’ in a future post.) Then we began our sightseeing in earnest…
  • Sightseeing on Foot – We walked from our hotel to Les Invalides and then on to Pont Alexandre III (the Bridge of Golden Statues) in search of a tour bus stop. We didn’t follow a pre-planned route…just walked wherever our feet carried us. We saw a number of high-end stores, cute cafes with red-and-white striped awnings and umbrellas, and lots of fabulous French architecture.
  • L’Open Tour – We purchased passes online in advance for this hop on-hop off, open-top double-decker bus tour. There are 50 stops along the route as well as multilingual commentary. In theory, this is a great way to see the city; in reality, there is a downside. We visited Paris in August and though it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I had feared, we had difficulty  finding a tour bus with available space—especially in the upper deck for the best view—and often had to wait until the third or fourth bus, go to another stop, or settle for touring on foot. That said, the view of the Arc de Triomphe from the open-air, top deck was far better than anything we could have seen from the ground. Ditto the view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadéro…got some wonderful photos of both. It was a great way to see the Champs-Élysées and Place de la Concorde as well. All in all, worth the money…just be prepared for delays during heavy tourist times.
  • Eiffel Tower –  We ended our bus tour near the Eiffel Tower, then went to pick up our admission tickets. (If you wish to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower—or even visit the lower decks—you need to purchase tickets through the official web site well in advance. I did not do that so ended up booking (still in advance) through Paris Easy Pass Tours, which costs a bit more but has the benefit of an actual tour guide.) We met up with our group at the designated location and accompanied our guide to the tower, where we hopped right on the elevator and headed up to the first level.  From there we went to the second level and then on to the summit. (More about the actual tour in a future post.) This is a must, in my opinion, no matter how much or how little time you have to spend in Paris.
  • Back to Rue Cler for supper (at 9:00 p.m.), then on to the hotel to get some shut-eye!

This was a full day—especially on top of flying all night and dealing with the seven-hour time change! We walked back to our hotel from the Eiffel Tower—a distance of half a mile—after which we were exhausted! We maximized every minute of the day and saw a lot in twelve hours!

Check back for our Day 2 Itinerary