Below is my account of the trip to Europe that I'd promised myself for 27 years. When I first told myself I would go, I imagined back packing by myself, sleeping in hostels, and counting pennies. Instead, by the time I finally fulfilled my dream, I was traveling with my teenage daughter, sleeping in nice hotels, and shopping at Harrod's. The trip was part of my daughter's year of homeschooling for 8th grade.

We began in London, a great walking town -- flat and managable. The next day we took a day trip to Stonehenge and the city of Bath. Stonehenge was not so impressive -- just the expected bunch of rocks stuck in the ground for no known reason. Bath was interesting. The town began with a Roman bath. Folks would travel miles to come to the Roman bath which looked as if it were in the wrong space. Then the town became a place for the "artsy" crowd. Gainsborough had a house there. The town also had some great shops! We'd gotten there by bus on an organized "day trip" kind of tour. (After that, we decided "tour groups" were to be avoided.) Funniest thing that happened at Bath: We went into the Roman Bath. It was PACKED and hot. I saw quickly what was there, thought, "BOR-ing! Gag-me-with-a-spoon. I'm getting out of here and going to some of the neat shops." I saw a door labeled "emergency exit," decided to escape the packed maze, and dragged my daughter along. When we walked thru the door, we quickly saw the "emergency exit" was thru a back door in the men's room. Bad move! I tried to go back thru the door from whence I'd just come. The door wouldn't open from that side. I thought, "I'm TRAPPED!" By chance, there was a female employee working in a side room there. She assumed I was claustrophobic and lead us out thru the men's room. There was a man standing at the urinal who likely had a story to tell about how HIS day went. Poor man.

We were at Buckingham Palace (not inside) and saw the Palace guards in formation. One evening we'd been walking and were tired by the time we reached the palace. We tried to hale a cab and had no luck; a palace guard haled a cab for us. We were at Kensington Gardens outside Kensington Palace; piles of fresh flowers were outside the gates of the palace, remembrances for Lady Diana. We went to the London Gallery of Art and were unimpressed. We ate in lots of pubs; they're cheaper, and the soup is just as good. We walked along the Thames (pronounced "Tims") one nite, stopped at a "dinner cruise" boat, and were told we were not dressed well enough to board. We shopped at Harrod's Department Store; the store IS impressive! It is unlike anything I'd ever seen, and I've done LOTS of shopping! Interesting note: One must pay a pound (equal to $1.70 American money) to use the loo at Harrod's. Of course, the loo has bottles of perfume at the sink. We had "tea" at a tea room across from Harrod's; an old lady fell down going down the stairs, and it took the locals 30 minutes to get her help. She lay bleeding on the stairs for the while. We used the London "tube" (subway) enough that we became comfortable with it. We went to an Andrew Lloyd Weber production called Starlight Express: Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; girl comes back -- all on roller skates with music from a great orchestra, a little boy's fantasy built around his trains. The orchestra was the best thing about the production; the music was excellent. Weber has not been able to get Americans interested in the production, but I liked it. It was no Cats or Le Miz, but it was fun.

We rented a car to drive out of London and decided on the spur of the moment to drive as far as Edinburgh. The town looks as if it were lifted from a fairy tale. Edinburgh Castle is perched on the side of a hill. We were inside the castle which was of particular interest because my daughter's confirmation name is "Margaret," after St. Margaret of Scotland who reared her children there and died there. We had "haggis, neeps, and tattie" at a Scottish Pub. That's "the heart, liver, & lungs of a sheep, minced with onions, oatmeal, & seasonings boiled in a sheep's stomach"; turnips; and potatoes. Haggis is good, but it's a bit like sausage -- you're better off not knowing what it is or how it's made. Our server was a young man from Nova Scotia who was taking a year off college. He had decided on the spur of the moment to go to Scotland for a year.

Beggars were rare in Edinburgh. The only one I can recall was a healthy looking man of about 25, sitting on the ground next to a shop, with a sign asking for handouts. I said, "Get a job." He answered, "I have to get a house first." His logic was puzzling.

I was driving a new Rover, a good car; it handled well and did 100 mph with ease on the motor ways. The legal limit is 70 mph, but folks who drive 70 risk being run over. I had a bit of an accident when I got lost in Edinburgh: Mirror against mirror when I drove a bit too close to a parked car. I went door to door to find out whose car I had damaged. I found an older gentleman and asked how much I owed him for the damage: "Forty quid," he said. I had to ask, "What's a quid?" A quid is a pound that traveled to Scotland. Quick conversion: That's seventy American bucks. I pulled out the last two twenty-pound notes I had in my purse and hunted for a pub that would take VISA.

That night was the only time I cried on the trip. We had left our "bed & breakfast" with some directions to a local pub for supper. The Scotsman who ran the B&B drew the directions on a piece of paper and said, "You canna miss it. Just take the roundabout." Ah, yes, Scottish roundabouts, worse than D.C. circles. Indeed, I could miss it, because I took the wrong spoke off the roundabout and ended up on a limited access motor way, not knowing where I had been, and not knowing where I was, and not having a clue how to get to where I had been headed. I exited off the motor way and found myself in a residential area where I had the accident. The houses were all huge, made of great blocks of cut stone. For such big houses, they were terribly close together. There were no garages and only short drive ways. With so little space to park cars off the street, cars were parked on the narrow streets. As I kept saying to myself, "line on the right, line on the right," the left side of my car came too close to a car parked on the left. But that wasn't enuf for the tears. I just stopped and hunted up whomever I owed how much to. That man gave some vague directions to the little town I'd originally been headed to for the pub for supper. He talked about going "straight down" a street. NO street in Scotland goes straight! All I know is that by following his directions, the road ended, and I would have been forced to turn left or right. There was no house or business in view, and I couldn't recall seeing one for a few miles. It seemed to be the middle of nowhere with green all around, but it was dark so the green didn't look too green. It was close to 10 p.m. I didn't know whether to go left or right so I stopped the car and cried; it seemed like a reasonable alternative. I had NO idea how to get back to the bed and breakfast; our luggage was there. I had tickets, passports, travelers cheques, and credit cards; I figured worst case scenario, I could wait till day light, forget the luggage, and get back to London.

As I sat crying, a BMW passed by and stopped just ahead of me. A husband, wife, and young child were in the car, and the wife walked back to my car and offered help. God only knows how she figured out the name of the pub I'd been headed to, but as soon as she said it, I recalled it. They led the way to the pub. When we got there, the husband was able to figure out where the B&B was and drew some better directions for getting back after we had eaten.

The next night I drove back to London and arrived early morning. With great difficulty I navigated the London streets back to the car rental shop. Driving in London itself is difficult. The roads are narrow, and the drivers are bold.

We left that afternoon from Waterloo Station. That's where the EuroStar (train) leaves for the trip thru the Chunnel into Paris. The train went slowly thru the country side in England and again in France. It's a three-hour trip from London to Paris, but if the train moved as fast as one would expect, the trip would be less than two hours.

We arrived in Paris with no room booked. The EuroStar comes in at the Gare du Nord (train station). We walked to the outside, saw several hotels across the street and went to the closest; it worked out fine. The first night, I stood on the corner balcony of our room, looked up and down two streets at the lights of a Paris night and said WOW! In Paris we also used the subway with ease; both subways are better put together and more useful than the D.C. system, or even the Chicago system. The Paris subway is the "Metropolitan," and several of the stations have an art deco kind of entry-way arch.

We also did LOTS of walking in Paris. It was so interesting that we'd begin to walk, thinking we'd walk for "just a few blocks," and end up walking a few miles. Our first walk was from our hotel across from the Gare du Nord to the Arc de Triomphe. That's a bit of a hike, maybe four miles. I carried a little tourist map we had been given when we got off the train, and occasionally I needed to ask for assistance, but it was easy to get around.

We shopped on the Champs Elysees, went to the Louvre (the French leave the "r" sound out and the Brits leave the "r" sound in), went to the Orsay Museum (an art gallery I liked even more than the Louvre, filled with 19th century French Impressionism, more Monet than I'd EVER seen, and a painting by Gustave Caillebotte called "Planing the Floor" that made me drool!), went up the Eiffel Tower (a bore but the restaurant next to it was memorable because of the free-standing urinal in the open hall!), visited Notre Dame (genuinely moving), and took a boat ride on the Seine. We had our portraits sketched by a 55-year-old man with gorgeous blue eyes and a great tan. And, yes, a 55-year-old man can look great! He was born in 1943 in Moroco of Jewish parents. For 15 years, he has lived in Hawaii, and he travels on a USA passport. Has a son 29 who lives in Paris and children 6 and 4 who live in California; different moms. He is divorced and comes to Paris every year from about May thru August to sketch tourists. His name is Maurice. We came across him next to the Seine near Notre Dame; he sketched first my daughter and then me as we sat on the walk way next to the river, overlooking Notre Dame as he sketched and told what he wished to share of his life story.

We had snails and soupe de poisson and fish lasagna. The French seem to do every thing with stuff that comes out of the water. Soupe de poisson is fish soup; a little scarey at first, but okay; tastes a little like turtle soup you can get at O'Donnell's in Bethesda. We had lunch at the tea room at the Orsay Museum; the room is GRAND with paintings on the rounded, vaulted ceilings and 30 huge crystal chandeliers in the room.

The British win in the "tea contest." They know how to serve tea properly: With cream and brown sugar and five o'clock silver spoons for stirring. Right along with a hair dryer, it seems every hotel room in the U.K. has the makings for tea; they do include coffee as a bit of a concession. The French don't bother with the makings in the room, and they don't prefer tea. They prefer coffee or chocolat, i.e., hot chocolate. They serve the chocolat by giving you a chocolate powder and a pitcher of hot milk. When you order tea, they don't really do it right. Every time I ordered tea, I had to specifiy "with milk." The French don't drink much tea, and when they do, they drink it with lemon and sugar. The coffee drinkers in Paris began by dropping cubes of sugar into the coffee -- no cream, but lots of sugar.

I liked the fact that in Paris, "service" is included in the bill. Additional tips are seldom left. No one tips cabbies. The first night we were there, I tipped a cabbie, and he gave me a strange look. I asked the Tunisian man who worked the desk at our hotel about tipping taxi drivers, and he said it was done only in the rarest circumstances. Very unlike D.C. or Manhattan.

We survived in Paris knowing no French beyond what any fool knows: bonjour; bonsoir; s'il vous plait; merci; merci beaucoup. Comment allez-vous? Ca va? Good day; good evening; please; thank you, thank you very much. How are you doing? How are you? Even knowing no more than that, I managed to get myself in the spot of having agreed to a "date" with a man we saw a block from our hotel, two or three times every day. Long story, and my solution was to be at the Orsay Museum at 4 p.m. when I had said I would meet him, as opposed to across from the Gare du Nord where he was expecting me to meet him. The Orsay Museum and the Gare du Nord are three or four miles apart. The next solution was not to walk by that corner again. Paris is strange! And we learned how to say "thank you" in Tunisian; it sounds like "sho-kron."

I was threatened with arrest by a French cop, and there were no words involved other than "NO!" We came out of our hotel one morning, saw a blue-uniformed French cop with two men in camo. The camo-guys were young and openly carrying fully automatic weapons. They carried them pointing out, with their hands at the triggers. They were headed into an unmarked door at the side of the Gare du Nord. I thought, "Great photo op!" I raised my camera, and the cop said, "NO!" I smiled, hoping it might get me thru the photo. The cop -- who looked about 40 -- said no again and held out his arms, and crossed his wrists, making a gesture which I took to mean that if I took the photo, I would be handcuffed. Since my favorite lawyer was not with me, I passed on the photo op.

Beggars were all over the place in Paris. Most were Gypsies and had a scam going. At a garden park next to the Louvre, a little boy of about six played a small accordian all day, looking terribly pathetic, like one of the gamins of Hugo's Le Miserables. I feared he was homeless and spoke to help. Then I saw a man of about 20 with the same face, sitting in a chair about 25 yards from the boy, watching him. Clearly an older brother/younger brother act with the young one pulling in the money as the older one safeguarded both the money and the younger brother. The ones I respected got on the subway at night with musical instruments and played music for money. We saw a young Gyspy man with a bass. (For those unfamiliar, the bass is the big one: violin, viola, cello, bass.) The bass was the most beat-up bass I'd ever seen, held together with duct tape in one spot. It had only three strings. My daughter spoke to the young man with the bass; he explained that Gypsy music used only three strings. We could see on the bridge that there was no groove worn for the fourth string; it wasn't that he had lost one string: He'd never had the 4th string.

We saw a "young and in love" homeless couple living in a makeshift "tent" along the Seine. We saw a young girl who didn't look a year older than my daughter, apparently homeless, about seven months pregnant, pulling her sweater over her belly protectively. Presumably, she'd believed some standard lies and was left holding the baby. We saw a pigeon with no toes; my daughter suggested prosthetic toes for pigeons.

I spent a lot of money. I had a lot of fun. I wished I could have stayed much longer, and I hope to go back to Paris. London was fine; Edinburgh was beautiful, but Paris I love!

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