Day Twenty-nine. All good things must come to an end.

Getting to the Airport this morning was a bit of a challenge. We had to catch the tube early in the morning, in order to make it to a bus which we rode for close to an hour. But the station for the bus was a few blocks down from the station, and across a pedway, and down yet another street – which had us almost in a panic once we realized how tight on time we were getting. But all ended well and we found the spot in time to make it to our bus.

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The flight went off as planned, and was bittersweet. It was nice to be up in the air again, but it’s not as exciting to go home as it is to await new adventures. We made it to Germany in the early afternoon, and as we rode the train closer to Jan’s hometown, we even met some of his classmates on the way. And with that we were able to wrap up our journey, and come back to the familiar.

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Day Twenty-eight. Time’s ticking away on Big Ben’s face

For our last day in London, we started things off with a breakfast just as delicious as always, attempting also to use up the groceries we bought a couple days ago. But after some toast and eggs and a cup of coffee, it was time to start the day.

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Our first stop of the day today was right along the tube line, at Kings Cross. While we’ve made connections at this station in previous days, today was all about a certain experience. Jan and I have never received our letters to Hogwarts (damn owls must keep getting lost!) but we decided to try our luck at platform 9 and ¾ anyways. While most people head to the gimmicky replica which stands in the main atrium of the Kings Cross station, Jan and I looked at the crowd and opted instead to head to the spot where the scene in the movie was actually shot. Once we got that out of our system, we had time to notice the beautiful architecture of the station, and get ourselves moving for the rest of the day.

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Strolling along some main boulevards, we walked over to visit our big friend Ben, who is quite the punctual fellow. But we still had time to stop by the London National Gallery to take in the scene and view a few street performances before scurrying along. Some cheesy tourist shots in red phone booths definitely also happened along the way, but who can blame us?

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Deciding that the day was too lovely to spend indoors, and once we’d had our fill of watching the time pass by on Big Ben’s face, we jumped back on the train to head over to Camden Lock. For those of you who don’t know, this is a market dream. Vendors with a multitude of different foods and flavours available for a meal or a snack, little hipster stores with one of a kind dresses, spray painted decals, tourist knick knacks. Anything you could ever want to fulfill your shopping needs, or to keep yourself perfectly entertained for a full evening. We didn’t end up taking too many pictures, but we were just too busy walking around and sorting through everything this area of town has to offer. Tomorrow it’s time to fly back to Germany, and so after the flavours and sounds of Camden Lock, we got ourselves back to the flat, in order to pack up for the last time, and get a decent sleep.

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Day Twenty-seven. Living the high life

Jan proved his cooking skills this morning when he made us a salami omelette first thing in the morning. If we take nothing else away from this vacation, at least we will have had plenty of delicious breakfasts to whet our appetites! We were ready to go by 10 am, and on our way to The Shard.

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Rising above the streets of London by about 310 meters , The Shard incredibly tall, casting it’s shadow over London and looming over the city. Unmatched by anything nearby in height, from the top you can get an almost perfectly unbarred view over London.

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The viewing area extends over two floors, levels 68 and 69. The upper floor is somewhat open, with the edges of the shard having no roof but just jutting up around you just as the name suggests. While we were there, the upper level was much less crowded than the lower one, and so we were able to get a better view, and better photos, from there.

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Looking straight down gets dizzying, and in terms which sound somewhat odd, it really is real life google maps. You feel as though you are no longer within the city limits, but far removed from the life and bustling happening under your feet. If you’re planning a visit to the shard, we’d recommend trying to go earlier in the morning, as by  the time we were leaving it was around 11:30 and getting way more crowded than it was right at 10:30 when we got there.

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Walking across the river, we took a lap past the London Tower. There is an exhibit there right now commemorating the 100th ‘anniversary’ of the start of WWI. By November 11, 2014, over 880 thousand poppies will have been placed in the moat surrounding the Tower. The number of poppies is to equal the number of British and Colonial soldiers fallen during the war. The concept by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, all of these poppies are handmade and will be sold after Remembrance Day, with the profits going towards 6 different charities.

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Across the river from the Shard, we took a little while to enjoy both a snack and the view of this monumental building as it appears from ground level. Nastassia also couldn’t resist sticking her hand in a water wall, which can also be found near the Tower of London.

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Walking approximately one minute down, the Tower Bridge can also be found in this scenic area. We also enjoyed the volkswagen bus fast food stands – although I don’t think they’re an official tourist attraction. It’s a shame, really!

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We had read online about a festival called the Power of Summer, which is an outdoor cinema festival. It sounded pretty cool, and so we made our way over there in order to take part in some outdoor frivolity. On the tube there, Nastassia was not to be distracted from her very concentrated effort to play ‘100 balls’.

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We had some issues finding the festival entrance, and once we did, we found out (through another lost and confused couple) that the gates don’t actually open up until 4 pm on weekdays. So we sauntered across the road to kill a couple hours in the park there, and to try and enjoy the warm (albeit windy) weather.

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We weren’t able to reserve tickets yesterday night for the movie on tonight, and so we got to the place right around the opening time in order to try and secure ourselves a couple of tickets. The venue seemed super cool, and really well thought out, but unluckily the tickets were already sold out for the night. We were told that we could try waiting, and would then maybe get spots right after the start, but seeing as that was 3 hours away, we opted to go home and plan something else for the night instead. But not before a game of Jenga! Hometime means chicken wings for dinner, and Guardians of the Galaxy at a movie theater. Night everyone!

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Day Twenty-six. London calling from a red phone booth

Day one in London ushered in British big city living, along with the lyrics of London Calling constantly running though our minds. Wandering the streets, we knew only that our first stop of the day was to be Abbey Road, where we figured we could take a classic, cliched Beatles picture. Along the way we found a couple of photo opportunities. A tip of the hat to Deanna’s classic pose, as well as an irresistible mirror picture. London, baby!

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Walking up to Abbey road, we couldn’t help but laugh at the crowd of tourists, all running across a busy intersection, getting in the way of regular London life and traffic. The good weather of today must have contributed to the number of people there. We knew instantly that taking a picture made no sense at all – not only would there be crowds of other people in the shot, but probably other people and cars all on the road at the same time. Instead, we cut our losses and crossed over the street to the island in the middle of the traffic circle. From there Jan could set up his iPhone in order to take a time lapse of the craziness that was in front of us. Add a little music and it really was pure comedy. Nastassia’s personal favourite was all the people who decided to walk with the same arm and leg for the photo rather than keep them in opposition like everyone on a regular basis.

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Having had worked up an appetite, and knowing that we would have to get some food in us before heading to Harrods, we walked along a more main street and kept our eyes peeled for a place that looked good. Call this a shameless plug, but we came across The Tyburn. The posters advertising their prices really got us – but once inside, their atmosphere, well designed menus, and the simple but delicious food really hit the spot. For London, quite reasonably priced, and definitely filled our stomachs. Go there, people!

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Back on track and ready to get to Hyde park, we had only to pause shortly to allow Nastassia to pick the nose of a giant horse head statue. In all seriousness, it was just a really cool statue that we couldn’t resist but photographing.

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Crossing through Hyde park, we also took a minute to rest and digest on the foldable chairs laid out on the lawn. Our respite didn’t last long, however as the good weather that we had been enjoying up until this point all but vanished, due to some crazy wind. But a minute was long enough to snap a few photos of some cute ducks. Some real wildlife channel stuff going on today.

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Harrods is like the toy store you imagine as a kid, the jewelry and clothes store you dream up as an adult, and the sweets place you crave on a bad day. Amazing in a lot of ways – Material in every way. But all in all, while the rain poured down outside, it was a really fun way to spend an afternoon. It is so over the top, elaborate and extravagant, that you can’t help but be entertained. And if you like glitter and sparkles, you might want to have your friends and family invest in a human leash to keep you from getting lost amid everything there. Jan only bought one thing from Harrods, which was a macaroon for Nastassia. She had really wanted to try one in Paris for the first time but missed out on the chance, so today that little dream got fulfilled.

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We took every stuffed teddy bear to mean a photo op, because who can resist a giant teddy?

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Harrods Gaming section provided a small break from the rest of the store and allowed Jan to try out a couple of new games and catch up on at least a couple minutes of gaming that he had missed out on over the course of the vacation. Panda was able to find some friends at Harrods, and got to catch up on some news from the North.

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After a couple hours, and leaving Harrods behind us, we walked out to be greeted by just a ridiculous show of wealth – which is kind of the definition of Harrods. To some, this may look just like a yellow car. But look closer, and you see a matte gold, Mercedes G class. And not just that, but also with an Arabic license plate. No words. Just, Harrods.

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With a little extra time left in our day, we decided to pay a visit to the queen. We’d heard she invited us to tea, but for some reason the guards didn’t find our names on the list. Next time, I suppose! Across from Buckingham Palace, there is also the Canada gate. Which a certain Canadian demanded a picture in front of. And as Jan took this picture, the rain began to fall, and so it was time to go home and call it a day. So good night, and enjoy some tea with those biscuits!

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Day Twenty-five. Speedy bikes and bullet trains

French toast in France. A tad of a cliche, but enjoyable nonetheless, so we indulged in a little extra side to our eggs and bakey in order to kick start our day into high gear. A big day ahead, as per always, and gotta get ourselves motivated and ready to make it through.

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And speaking of high gears, Jan’s and Nastassia’s metro passes expired today, so we had to find a new method of transportation for the day. The credit card machines that work for the loan of public bikes always seem to like to give the users a bit of a hassle, so it didn’t start out being the most relaxing of experiences…But we quickly managed to get it working again for all of us, and rented out some bikes for our first ride around the city altogether.

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Our first scheduled stop was the Rodin Museum, which not only houses what we have been told is a lovely gallery, but where you can also pay to enter the garden, which houses perhaps the most famous of Rodin’s works, The Thinker. But in our breezy, vacation minds, we forgot that most museums are closed on Mondays, and strolled up confidently – until we saw the locks on the doors and no lights in the windows. Determined to make the most of today, we found a few nearby locations on our map which would be worth stopping by.

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A little randomly perhaps, we wound up at  L’Hôtel des Invalides, which has lovely gardens for the public to walk through, as well as a beautiful church lending it’s impressive view to the surroundings. On our way out from this spot, we also managed to find a little Crêperie, which definitely picked our moods right up. Nothing says happy like nutella and bananas encased in a hot pancake.

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Also nearby you can find the eiffel tower, which is worth a visit at any time of day. We watched tourists taking pictures, people enjoying picnics, and just the clouds crossing the skies. A lovely afternoon ambience, which we enjoyed at our leisure until some wind and a quick scattered shower forced us to move onwards to our next location.

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Today really did manage to become all about the gardens and scenery, because as we pedaled merrily on our way, we remembered about the Luxembourg gardens, which were a bit closer to our flat. The weather had all but cleared up, so we decided to make a lap around the gardens. However, not ten minutes after we got there, the clouds moved in yet again, and blessed us with another downpour of rain. This time, it seemed more or less there to stay, as the rain didn’t let up fully for the rest of the day.

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We decided to call it a day and returned to our flat to pack up our things nicely, and to bid our farewells. Jan and Nastassia had tickets to London, while Deanna was staying on in London for a longer period of time. We said our goodbyes and adieu’s, and prepared to part ways for the last time on this trip. Jan and Nastassia headed for the train station, while Deanna moved from the flat over to her hotel. The tickets we had were for the eurostar bullet train, which gets you from the heart of Paris to the center of London in roughly two hours. It travels of speeds of around 300 km an hour and goes through a tunnel and under the English channel, instead of trying to cross over or through it. Before boarding, we had to go through all the usual document check and security, but Nastassia also had to fill out extra customs forms relaying to the Passport control where she was staying and such. One of the perks of being a European Union citizen, Jan had a few extra minutes while Nastassia filled out her forms. Once on the train, we tested the validity of the speed claims made by Eurostar by using a GPS tracker that calculates the speed you are moving at. We saw it go up to 307, but only managed to swipe a picture of 305. Still speedy enough for us, we enjoyed our ride and made it to London with ease.

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Finding our flat was incredibly simple, and apart from a small bump in our plans with the host regarding the key pickup, we had basically no problems getting to our flat and into a warm and cozy bed for the night.

Day Twenty-four. Long exposure and longer nights

After spending the rainy, rainy afternoon today showing Jan the wonders of Mean Girls, we finally got our act together before supper. Deanna and Nastassia cooked a lovely meal while Jan downloaded the pictures off our cameras and got everything ready for a picture session tonight. We know that we’re in Paris and that we shouldn’t be wasting our time, but it’s really quite tiring to always have everything be go-go-go. A chill day or relaxing evening here or there really helps to keep you from getting sick. Or at least that’s the logic we’ll rely on.

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After supper we packed up a little gear and went to find a quiet spot in the neighbourhood around our apartment that wasn’t too lit up. This was harder than it would seem, because Paris seems to be one of the only cities that has no dark alleys or unlit streets. As well, all of their parks are locked at night – this probably does wonders for city safety, but made it difficult to find an unlit spot.

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We finally found a place that worked – due to a broken streetlamp. We played around with long exposure photographs and a flashlight, taking 10-20 second long exposures. We planned to only be there for about 20 or 30 minutes and ended up spending over an hour just playing and trying to write things in the air. Nastassia would like it to be noted that Jan and Deanna were the artists responsible for the last photo. Next in the books for photo experiments? Gotta make a multicolored LED pen.

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Day Twenty-three. Lucky bird poop

None of us were feeling up to cooking this morning, and so we decided on a different path of action. Going out for breakfast isn‘t something we do often, but yet today we could‘t help but want to find a place where we could soak up a little of that Parisian ambience and have some really good food. English breakfast with fresh squeezed orange juice, and a cappuccino was just what the doctor ordered, and all 3 of us indulged.

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After breakfast, we walked down the same street where we had found the first little pub yesterday, and went nearly next door to it, but for some sweet crepes instead. The French really know how to do breakfast right, it seems like!

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We wandered around for quite a while today, until finally our path led us to the Notre-Dame. Deanna and Nastassia wanted to get some sketching in, and Jan took the opportunity to get some cool shots of everything going on in the square. 20 minutes or so into this time, Deanna and Nastassia heard a very distinct ‘splat‘ somewhere very close by. Turning, we found a little present from a little pigeon friend deposited on Deanna‘s shoulder. The 3 of us couldn‘t stop bringing it up all day, and it has to be one of the most hilarious things that has happened on this trip to date.

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Probably what didn‘t help the situation was the man standing close to the statue where Deanna and I were sitting, who arrived shortly after the incident and was providing crumbs to children so that they could feed the birds. None of them seemed to get the same special treatment as Deanna though.

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Once we were done there, we headed over to Champs Elyse, where we took a (2 hour) stroll down it. We started right at one end of it, and aimed to make it to the second, more modern arch that lies at the end of it. Along the way, before theArc de Triomphe, we almost passed by a man making silhouettes. We watched him make one or two and he had such a steady hand, and seemed so skillful with nothing more than just a pair of scissors, that Deanna decided she wanted to sit for one. Hers turned out nearly perfect, and incredibly accurate.

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Past the Arc de Triomphe, but about a km before the other arch, we stumbled across an area of Paris that we didn’t even realize existed. Down by that second arch, modern high-rise architecture is fused with an open air plan that leaves plenty of space for breathing room. Incorporated also are plenty of details and modern public playgrounds and playful spaces that allow for community interaction with such a commercial area. Absolutely beautiful, we were stunned by the mix of modern architecture with community functions.

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This place is definitely worth a visit. It‘s not the vision of Paris you probably have in your mind, but it is a vision of a new Paris, as well as a new way of defining space in a modern, 21st century city.

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We liked the atmosphere so much, and we were so far from our flat, that we decided to eat out at a Vapianos that is found right off the square in front of the Arch before heading back to our flat. We sat at home for a little while, but then decided to make a round two.

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We wanted to see Paris by night, and so made our way to the Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, where we had a couple beers, and enjoyed the city lights. Street musicians were also to be heard all around us, and the city felt very much awake and alive.

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Heading back down the hill, Deanna and Nastassia halted to a stop when they heard that a guy playing music at an Irish Pub on the hillside was singing with a guy from Edmonton. We listened for a while and realized that it was live karaoke. Deanna is a lovely singer, and the pigeon poop from before really did seem to offer some luck, because she got up on the stage and rocked it with a rendition of Katy Perry’s ‘Firework‘. We caught one of the latest trains back to our flat and fell into our beds before falling asleep shortly after.

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