Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Merry English Christmas!

So I had my very first English Christmas this year and only my second Christmas ever outside of Florida!

Ben and I headed out on Christmas Eve and took the train to Manchester, to spend the Christmas weekend with his cousin Faye, her husband Charlie and their boys Charlie and James.

Of course we started the journey with a bottle champagne because that's how we roll:




We also ran into one of Ben's friends, Bernardo, and invited him to sit with us and play some rounds of Uno:




He lost every round, but we were pleased with our winnings :)


We also admired the landscape along the train ride, the English countryside was still covered in blankets of snow:





Always nice to look at when it doesn't delay your train trip!

After the four hour ride, we arrived in Manchester and straight away headed to church to see Charlie and James in the Nativity play:


Here's proud Dad Charlie:


and Ben, studying the hymns for the play:


Charlie and James, after the play:


and me with my Christingle, an orange with a candle at the top, toothpicks with rasins and sweets and a red band going around the orange, very English indeed!


So that was our Christmas Eve night and of course we were up at 7am for Christmas, per Charlie and James' request of course ;)

The beautiful tree was absolutely surrounded by presents!



some presents required assembly by Dad:


Here is a picture of Ben's Christmas wrapping skills.  I think the bows are really the crowning achievement:


Here I am holding up my sushi making kit from Ben and there is Charlie (aka the photobomber) in the background:


Ben, loving his gift from me, a box of poo, so sweet!


also admiring his new straight razor, although he does look just a tad creepy..................


and of course I had to get some shots in of Elvis, the family dog:


she mistook Ben for a climbing post:


and here is Ben using all the shaving gifts I got him, a badger hair shaving brush and shaving soap:


and the straight razor:


to be followed with his new after shave, all from Taylor of Old Bond Street, established in the year of Queen Victoria, 1854, so English!

After the gift opening was done, we popped open a magnum size bottle of Moet:


Faye presented her beautiful cake (while Charlie photobombed in the back):


Charlie took James' new scooter for a ride in the kitchen, of course:


and red flannel twins James and Ben toasted to Christmas:


Ben had champagne but James opted for his 'boy wine' or slur, us Americans know it as sparkling white grape juice ;)

After an amazing traditional English dinner prepared by Faye we headed outside into the night to light some Chinese lanterns, apparently another English tradition:



Ben getting our lantern ready:



Faye with her lantern lit, getting ready to release it:


Ben lighting our lantern:


 getting ready to set our lantern off into the night:


and away it went!


Ben helped Andrew with his lantern:


and off his went too:


our lanterns floated off into the night sky, which meant our Christmas wishes came true :)


The next day was Boxing Day which is celebrated pretty much everywhere in the world EXCEPT for the U.S. and since no one really knows what it means, it's pretty much a day to visit family and friends you couldn't be with on the actual Christmas day.

We took the day to visit two trees planted at a local park in memory of Ben's grandmother and grandfather.  As snowy as it was, the park was still beautiful:


there were even sheep there!



Charlie brought his bike:


and Matt and Becs brought their dog Monty (Montgomery):


here is Ben posing with the sheep:


after the park we went to a local pub for some pints and traditional English pub food:


What a perfect ending to a wonderful English Christmas!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Greeting Card Sent to Ben's Parents in Atlanta

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More Snow!

So I woke up this morning to a car park covered in snow!



and it didn't stop there, it continued snowing for four straight hours!  I tried to capture the snowflakes in a picture:



but thought a video would be even better!

video

and I discovered that I can post videos on the blog, which should be fun for Christmas :)

The snow has finally stopped, but it's supposed to start up again tomorrow and continue through Sunday, yuck!  Guess we're in store for a white Christmas, but you know, I'd rather have a palm tree Christmas in sunny Florida!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Paris!

So Thursday finally arrived and Michele and I hopped on a plane headed for Paris!

We spent the trip familiarizing ourselves with Paris:


and how to get around:


After we arrived we had a confusing journey through the rail system, but finally found our way to the train and onto our hotel!






Once we found our hotel, we checked in and checked out the view of the Eiffel Tower from our window, that's it in the distance!



We were also right by the metro and in a quaint Parisian neighborhood:



After some quick pics, we were off to the Eiffel Tower for a closer look!


And what an amazing site it was!  Just as the tower came into view, the lights began to twinkle all over, as you can imagine, we were quite calm, cool and collected, didn't get too excited about it at all ;)






Unfortunately my camera died, so these were all the pictures I got of the tower, but Michele got some great ones and as soon as she is settled back in the states I'll post some more :)

After our Eiffel Tower marathon picture session we headed into central Paris and settled into a quaint cafe for some amazing french food and a bottle of Bordeaux:




I loved it so much a bought a bottle and brought it back to Cardiff with me!

The next day we headed down to the Arc De Triomphe:










and by nightfall were walking down the avenues of Champs-Élysées, admiring the Christmas lights:



and historic buildings:



We walked for miles and miles and miles!  All around Paris, all day and into the evening, we were exhausted!  So of course we needed a drink and stopped off at a French wine store for a bottle of champagne which we brought back to the hotel for a little pre-party before dinner :)

Here is our Tattinger chilling in the hotel window:



We then headed to Chalet for dinner and since Friday night is apparently hat night, Michele donned her beret:


and I my fedora!


after some amazing savory crepes we were off for the night!  Hitting Bar Du Crillon at the Hotel De Crillon for the best 'shaken, not stirred vodka martinis in Paris' (according to our guidebook). 





Well as you can tell from the swanky settings, this place was quite posh!  Not only were they the best martinis we've ever had, but they were the most expensive at 29 euros each!  That means our two martinis cost us each $75 US dollars, what fun!

So after the shell shock of our huge bill, we went somewhere more humble where the locals go for a glass of champagne and apparently some French lessons ;)



We figured we should rest up for our day at Versailles the next day, so we didn't leave until the bars closed, you know, 5am, nothing too late!

So one long sleep in later, we managed to climb out of bed on Saturday and hit Versailles, which was on the outskirts of Paris and reachable via train:



Versailles was beautiful and so impressive!  Here are all the pics of the decadent palace:




Talk about golden gates!



there was even gold on the roof!





and the doors:


Now you know I love my ceiling shots and there were hundreds to take at Versailles, here are just a few I took, scattered throughout the palace:










the snowy grounds of Versailles:









a chandelier shot (and there were many!):


impressive, giant oil portraits:













more gold:





Marie Antoinette's bedchamber:








and the dinning hall:




Napolean era portraits:







and then we headed out into the cold night for some exterior shots of the palace and grounds:





Versailles was beautiful all around and even more so at night, all lit up:


After Versailles we we headed back home for some much needed rest before our last day in Paris!

Sunday morning we took two last pictures of the view from our room:



then headed to the creep catacombs of Paris, deep underground to check out some creepy bones and tunnels, ooo, scary!





these carvings were done by a stone worker who was killed when the tunnels caved in while he was completing these very castles, which were done from memory, scary!



and an underground well, discovered in the catacombs:



Pictures of the mummies of the catacombs, embalmed by monks and set out for display so wealthy family members could visit and pay tribute to their deceased loved ones:




actual skulls and bones staked up feet high with the catacomb tunnels:





an alter, created within the catacombs in order to hold mass service for the dead:


the only high ceilings in the entire catacombs, which were otherwise quite claustrophobic and low:






After our creepy tour of the catacombs we headed above ground and to The Islands where we saw the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral:












We explored the bridges and side streets of the Latin Quarter where Hemingway once lived, I thought this picture was a fitting tribute to the author, complete with storm clouds looming:



No worries though because the skies cleared and we carried on with our explorations!





We took some last pictures on our way out, I loved how the opulent:



mixed with the eclectic in this artistic area of Paris:


But sooner than we would have liked we were out of time and waited for our train back to the airport and home to Cardiff:


Paris was an amazing experience and Michele and I cannot WAIT to go back and are already planning a return in spring, yay for Paris!