Dad vs. Disney Princesses – Part 2

If you’ve made it this far, I thank you for returning after I insulted your childhood idol.  Let’s make it clear – I don’t hate Disney Princesses.  Well, not all of them anyway.  I just prefer to see them as who they are, underneath their pretty faces and colorful dresses.  In the second installment of this series, I will discuss three of them from the 90’s.

 

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ARIEL

Never mind that Ariel defied her father and went against her entire kingdom for a guy who she saw from afar for five minutes.  Sometimes this love-at-first-sight phenomenon just… happens.  It’s like my college buddy who was convinced that he would marry Keira Knightly (hi Brian), except that she didn’t know Prince Eric as well as my friend knew the actress.  Can it be true love when Ariel and Eric had no conversation for the entire duration of the movie?  Well she wouldn’t be the first Disney Princess to pull that off.

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Stalking and true love are pretty much the same thing for a teenager, that’s for sure

What I do take issues with was Ariel’s sense of responsibility.  First she pretended that having her eyes closed while signing a contract would make its bad terms go away.  After the sequence of events that you can’t characterize as unexpected, her dad had to bail her out.  Lastly, her man murdered the contract holder in order to relieve everyone of the liability.  Way to go, Eric!  Take it to heart when your bride says “I do” down the aisle, when the same girl can’t be trusted to hold her end of a legally-binding document.

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Kids who learned from Ariel to sign contracts with their eyes closed ended up causing the subprime mortgage crisis in the US twenty years after the movie premiered

You know who I’m with in this movie?  Ursula.  She was an honest small business owner who people despised only because she was fat and dark-skinned.  What’s wrong with wanting to be paid for the (perfectly executed) lung and leg transplant service?  Her fees may be high, but she went into great detail explaining the terms and conditions.  In Poor Unfortunate Souls, she spent more time warning Ariel of the potential outcome of the contract, than actually selling her service.  Yes, she and her debt-collecting eels intervened, but only after that crab and a whole band of sea creatures tried to manipulate the couple (note how Sebastian was hypnotizing Eric to make non-consensual sexual advances on a mute girl of an unknown origin).  She also went berserk near the end of the movie, but can you criticize her for that after Eric assaulted her and Ariel killed her eels?  Till the end, Ursula told no lies and harmed no one.  Yet we celebrate the selfish, irresponsible couple as “the good guys” only because they are better looking.

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“Well I heard a voice say ‘possible she wants you too’, and, you know, she didn’t say no.”

 

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BELLE

In her introductory scene in Beauty and the Beast, this peasant’s daughter was goofing around town and ridiculing her hardworking neighbors.  She wanted to escape the “boring” life where everyone but her was being productive, and rolled her eyes when people needed to work rather than listen to her book report.  What was her contribution to the society?  She ate the bread that other people made, took books for free from a bookstore, and then fed its pages to a goat!  This village girl was no princess, but she was already acting like the most out-of-touch among them.

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“I’m good at rolling my eyes at these illiterate baguette makers.”

Later on, she was held in the Beast’s mansion in exchange for her dad’s freedom.  It was noble of her to sacrifice herself, though it was soon revealed that she did not take her promise seriously.

While being kept in captivity was no fun, the Beast treated her with respect, sending servants at her service and giving her nearly unrestricted access in the giant mansion.  What did Belle do in return?  Immediately sneaking into the one room that her host asked her to stay away from.  Worse, she reached for the one thing that clearly was the reason for the room to be off limits.  Can’t blame her for not knowing that her action nearly killed her host, but there should be no doubt that she damaged something quite special that her host cared very much about.  Instead of apologizing for the incident, she got mad at the Beast for for being upset.  What an entitled bitch!

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“Teehee I really want to poke whatever this thing is.”

 

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JASMINE

Jasmine was the only Disney Princess who her movie wasn’t named after.  She was the first non-Caucasian Disney Princess, and the first to fall in love with a non-Prince.  Instead of instantly wanting to marry any dude living in a castle like her predecessors, Jasmine actually drove away some of her rich suitors.

She did almost have her hand chopped off for stealing an apple.  Beyond that, however, she was a pretty reasonable character.  She was smart and courageous, and she didn’t consider herself too good to hangout with a street rat.  Not a heroine by any means, but Jasmine was the first Disney Princess worthy of being a role model by today’s standards.

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Jasmine pulling a Prince of Persia move

Dad vs. Disney Princesses – Part 1

Like most of you, I grew up watching Disney movies.  My earliest theater-going experience was of my aunt taking us kids to see Snow White.  I was too little to remember much of the actual movie, but the excitement lingered for a long time.  In the years that followed, I came to know and love the Cinderella in the blue dress, the Little Mermaid with red hair, and the Beauty who danced with the Beast in her yellow gown.  It was magical to see fairy tale characters coming to life on a colorful screen, and I loved them all.

Since then, however, I grew up.  I also became a dad – a dad to two little girls born in a world that spoon feeds little girls, foie gras style, everything Disney Princesses.  The Disney Princesses have become such a massive brand that they surround us in the forms of diapers, backpacks, and stickers handed out at pediatrician’s offices.  It’s now impossible to avoid them, and I’m not even kidding:

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Disney Princesses smiling at me from a pile of NYC trash

The unfortunate thing about growing up is that you start to see the truth in things.  MacGyver now looks dumb as a rock and Santa Claus is a tale that defies basic principles of physics. My opinion of fairy tales changed quite a bit as well.  I think about how my daughters might look up to Disney Princesses as role models, and it’s a horrid thought.  I start to wonder if Rambo will teach my kids a better moral lesson than the Little Mermaid.  At a minimum, can’t we rate these movies PG and demand parents to provide proper narrative while kids take in all this colorful animation?

This is a series documenting my high-level annotation of Disney Princesses.  Bear with me, if you will:

 

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SNOW WHITE

It began as a sad story when Snow White lost her parents and had a stepmother who wanted her murdered.  Nobody deserves that kind of horror.  Though, the unfortunate events aside, her story with the Seven Dwarfs is all about her poor decision-making skills.

Every two-year-old knows that Snow White should not have eaten that apple.  Sure, her dad may not have taught her to guard against strangers, but Charles Darwin would argue that she needed some basic instincts for survival.  She nearly had her heart ripped out of her chest, yet despite the huntsman’s warning, she turned around to accept a shady stranger’s plastic-colored apple.  Every critter in the forest knew the old lady was up to no good, but it was sad that Snow White couldn’t be as smart as the turtle.  Frail cripples don’t take random long hikes and end up deep in a forest, and sure wouldn’t possess any “magic wishing” food item.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) Directed by David Hand Shown from left: Snow White (voice: Adriana Caselotti), the Queen/Witch (voice: Lucille La Verne)
“Please put this in your mouth while I watch!  I’m anything but suspicious.”

The most infuriating part of the story had to do with prince.  The seven dwarfs were her first and only human friends in the story.  They helped her when she needed help the most, providing her with food, shelter, and entertainment.  They gave her personal safety instructions (which she promptly ignored, because why would she take short people seriously?) and cared about her as more than just a tenant.  When she died, they risked their own lives to avenge her.  On the other hand, the well-groomed Prince Charming, a weirdo with no respect for a corpse (I mean who else kisses dead people on the lips?), did nothing for her.  When Snow White woke up, she immediately abandoned her seven true friends for the rich douche bag who she didn’t even know.  Ouch.  Good guys finish last, because girls grow up looking up to Snow White.

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“See ya suckers!  I’m leaving you because he’s got a horse.”

 

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AURORA

Aurora was one privileged person who got an entire story named after her for doing absolutely nothing.  You can’t do wrong when you do nothing!  It wasn’t her fault to be cursed and then abandoned by her parents.  I just don’t understand why, having spent all her life in a forest oblivious to her identity, she didn’t behave more like Pocahontas and enjoy hanging out with her wild animal friends.  Instead, she was desperate to marry into the castle in the distance that she knew nothing about.

On the other hand, her dad was a real tyrant on par with Stalin and Hitler.  For a mere superstitious matter, he ordered the burning of all spinners, committing everyone in his kingdom to have no new domestically-produced clothes for sixteen years!  What was his game plan?  Massively export their crops and livestock in exchange for foreign fabric?  How much do you want to bet that entire communities starved to death after losing their main source of income?  But of course none of that was the king’s concern.

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An entire sector of economy wiped out overnight

 

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CINDERELLA

I’m not sure whether to feel bad for Cinderella’s situation.  Let’s recall how the movie began.  Her bird friends woke her up (took two tries), sang for her, and helped her get ready for the day.  Then she turned around scolding the cat for not getting out of bed immediately.  How hypocritical!  She whined all day long about being a servant to her step-mom’s family, but it actually made sense that people were upset with her sloppy job.  She spent her life supposedly cleaning the house, and yet there were still critters everywhere.  Let’s not kid ourselves – if my own daughter serves me tea with a rat in the cup, I’d freak out, too!

Cinderella’s story was all about how an entitled girl didn’t want to work, and spent her life dreaming about not having to work.  Her ambition was to marry rich so that some other peasant girl could be her servant.  Yay for no longer wiping the floor or doing the laundry!  Other suckers can suck it!  She had no idea what the prince looked like, but it didn’t matter, she wanted to marry him.  She was completely comfortable accepting a big gift (the pink dress) from her critter friends and subsequently using them as slave labor on her ride.  When she got what she wanted, she immediately abandoned all of them by speeding off in the royal carriage.  Ouch.  If Cinderella isn’t the textbook definition of a bad friend that you should avoid, I don’t know who is.

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Fed up being a servant, but happy to make those animal friends slave over her party-going needs

With very limited screen time, the prince in this story managed to prove himself a complete loser as well.  Let’s see: (1) he was so disinterested in being hooked up that his dad had to round up every girl in the kingdom for a Tinder-styled party; (2) the girl wearing a huge evening gown and a single glass shoe outran him; (3) mice-drawn carriage carrying a girl in a party dress outran his royal cavalry; (4) he was too lazy to search for the love of his life… and rather just settle for whoever his men brought back based on shoe size; (5) his dad knew that shoe size wasn’t a unique personal identifier, but didn’t care as long as the prince got laid.

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“Hold up!  How did you get up all these stairs so fast?”

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“Please wait!  The king’s guards can’t possibly catch up to that pumpkin coach!”

I suppose it was a happy ending, after all, when the lazy, unfit dude got together with a girl who was clearly just after his money.  The end!

Europe 12/12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again

01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again

 

On our previous vacations, the last day of the trip was always reported as something like, “Okay we spent the entire 50-hour day to get home.  Made it alive.  The end.”  This one would be slightly different.

First, though, we had to get to the airport.  The underground station next to our hotel offered a straight shot to our terminal, so that was great.  Like the Chicago L to ORD and the New York subway to JFK, the London underground to LHR was by far the cheapest and objectively the fastest option to the airport, yet it was a little hard to appreciate the experience because the train made about 500 stops along the way.

Terminal 5 was enormous and seemed to serve exclusively British Airways.  We walked a long way from one end to the middle of the terminal, and had not seen a single sign for first class check-in.  We assumed at this point that the Brits didn’t offer such service, and turned to a kiosk.  I made a stupid entry error and was sent to see an agent.  Really sleepy and tired at this point, we just stood in the regular check-in line and waited.  When it was our turn and the agent found out that we were flying first class and came to his counter, he jumped in shock.  He explained to us that there were first-class counters even further down the terminal (can’t believe there wasn’t a horse carriage to take us over there), and probably while secretly judging our cluelessness, urged us not to miss the first-class security line and the Concorde Room.

Okay, of course I knew about the Concorde Room… British Airway’s flagship first class lounge, that BoardingArea bloggers overwhelmingly gave poor review to.  We walked in with mild expectations… and found ourselves jaw-droppingly impressed.

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Concorde Room was quite spacious

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Concorde Room bar & lounge

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Table service dining in a private booth!  We had some doubts about the food actually being free

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One of the best fruit salads ever, in a cute bowl that I regret I didn’t steal

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Elemis Spa, where we each got 15 minutes of massage.
It was a rather mediocre massage, but let’s not be so snobbish.
A mediocre massage is infinitely better than no massage, especially at an airport

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Morning cocktails in the name of sampling the Concorde Room service

This was another instance where I found myself completely puzzled by the reviews I’ve read.  What kind of out-of-the-world high standard must one have to be critical of the service at this place?  Everything was fabulous.  Okay, maybe the bartender gave me some attitude for not ordering my drink with the James Bond command of confidence, but I was too in awe with everything else to care.  Spoiler alert – bloggers also like to make fun of BA’s first class flight, but we loved it to death.

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Our boarding gate, with a long line queue that we did not wait in

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On board our first first class flight!  I was so excited with our space that I immediately started to hope that our flight would take longer

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Gender-specific amenity bags, on a huge arm rest

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The haves vs. have-nots problem… on United economy there’s usually not enough room for my knees; here I couldn’t reach the end of my foot rest

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Media control, USB ports, and… RCA?  Should’ve brought my Super Nintendo

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Cute menu.  Almost put it in my bag
From there I ordered a glass of Champagne named in honor of the Sun King Louis XIV

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The fold-out eating platform was a full-size restaurant table for two.  On top of the nice tablecloth were shakers and butter that I never used, and some real utensils

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I asked for soup instead of a lobster appetizer, mainly because the idea of having real soup aboard a flight seemed almost like a weird concept.  Delicious

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Steak.  Not as impressive as the soup

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Johnny Walker Blue Label (mainly because I could), and water

The cutest thing was that the flight served afternoon tea.  So British!  I seriously lost sleep over it as I wanted to wake up sufficiently before the end of the flight, to enjoy my tea.  No tower (duh, would’ve blocked the TV) but it was otherwise legit.  The tea was out of a fancy tea bag, and the food was not far off what we had at the Goring.  The tea came in a real pot, which was pretty much all I cared about.  I loved it, but at the same time I couldn’t fully understand this first class experience… wouldn’t silverware and fragile dishes be a hazard in the event of turbulence?

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British afternoon tea at an altitude far higher than the Shard, accompanied by a rather silly but entertaining Tollywood movie (Loafer)

Nine hours later, we handed in DFW, our connecting airport.  We certainly did not prefer connecting on AA to go home, but that’s what the first class award availability limited us to.  The upside was that we got to use the Centurion Lounge here, famous for having a spa akin to the Concorde Room.  Each of us got another 15-minute mediocre massage… because, hey, that’s what you do before and after a first-class flight.

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Centurion Lounge DFW

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Shower at the Centurion

Then we went home.  The last leg was on a small plane operated by AA.  Still “first class”, but the experience warranted only two pictures.  I’d just say that it was a good thing we had gotten real tired by this point, and slept almost the entirety of it.

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Left: a face of shock
Right: a sarcastic smile

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AA first class magazine holder

Well that concludes our lovely and enriching trip!  Heading back to work from all this certainly isn’t expected to be easy, but we’re grateful for this wonderful experience.  To recap some unique highlights:

  • For us Americans, Western Europe isn’t as exotic as India or the Middle East, but the rich history can be equally fascinating
  • We flew first class for the first time, and finally grasped how it’s possible to enjoy being on a plane
  • We stayed at one of the legendary category-7 Park Hyatts, and I learned from my more sophisticated half that “turn down service” doesn’t mean refusing service
  • We ate good food, and for the first time in memory I experienced what people say about not being able to button their pants

 

=== THE END ===

Europe 11/12 – Raining on the Parade

01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again

 

It rained in London today.

Which means, it also rained on the parade… the Horse Guard Parade.

The naming convention may seem strange:

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This building is called the Horse Guard

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This muddy plaza in front of the Horse Guard is called… the Horse Guard Parade

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These folks and their royal four-legged friends are not the Horse Guard.  They are the Queen’s Life Guard

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Lastly, the Horse Guard Parade is where the daily ceremony of changing the Queen’s Life Guard takes place
So… Horse Guard isn’t a guard and Horse Guard Parade isn’t an activity involving movement of people

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I didn’t fully understand it, but it was neat watching two groups of men on horses making some very orderly maneuvers

We first came here two mornings ago, but the race event closed down many roads in central London and this ceremony was cancelled.  Determined to watch it during this trip, we came here in the pouring rain.  I wanted to bitch about the rain on our last day in London, causing us to cancel some planned activities, but watching these guys and horses do their thing gave me a newfound appreciation for how good life was on vacation.  We felt miserable enough under a giant hotel umbrella, but the Queen’s Life Guard had to perform as if it were a beautiful sunny day.  The discipline, especially for those horses who probably had no clue why they were there, was simply incredible.

Weather postponed our plan to see London Zoo and Regent’s Park to our next vacation in London, whenever that may be.  That sucked, but at least we had some other activities to kill time with, such as riding the double-decker bus:

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Think this was my first time being on the second floor of a wheeled vehicle

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The traffic jam that came with the rain didn’t help, but it was a comfy bus ride and the scenery on the way to Kensington was nice

Then we spent some time at Harrod’s, a famous, super high-end department store.

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Its sheer size was like Macy’s in New York, but it was way fancier

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I really wanted a frosted glass bottle with studs of sparkle, but 20 pounds for water was not just the usual kind of expensive

On our way back to the hotel to dry up, we took another picture of these sheep.  Our suitcases were kinda full at this point so we didn’t steal them.

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The May Fair sheep

For dinner, we went to this small restaurant called Ffiona’s, near Kensington Palace.  It’s supposedly traditional British cuisine.  Prior to the trip, I sort of worried about this meal because you know British chefs don’t have the best reputation.  The food turned out excellent, and the staff had a great personality.  It turned out to be the highlight of the day, and helped us end the vacation on a high note.

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Ffiona’s interior

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Sitting right under this menu and having to read it wasn’t the healthiest thing that happened to my neck

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Some Champagne cocktail

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This avocado dish looked rather odd, but it was delicious.  The pesto and the raw green onion… I’d eat them straight up

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The asparagus was among the most interesting things that we ate on this trip.  It was the largest I had seen served on the table, ever.  It looked like it was harvest too late and overgrew.  It was quite crunchy on the outside and the texture was firm, but it also tasted fresh and juicy.  Wasn’t what I expected looking at it, and didn’t taste like any asparagus in the U.S..  Wouldn’t hesitate to order again.
And that Welsh lamb was, holy moly, definitely the sweetest lamb I had ever tasted.  It was easily the best meat we had on this trip, and a rare lamb with no gamy flavor at all.

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My main course was this venison steak cooked medium rare.  Like my pigeon and duckling on this trip, this was quite gamy and hard to swallow.  I enjoyed trying venison in a steak form for the first time, but gosh that lamb was so much more delicious.

Well that’s it!  Last day of the trip, plus the rain, left quite few pictures and little story to tell.  Bye London!

Europe 10/12 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower

01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again

 

This morning began with the good ol’ Starbucks.

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Except the barista got my order wrong and it tasted funny.

Then we went on to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It was a beautiful church that unfortunately did not allow photography inside.  I’m always bummed out when not allowed to snap a picture of something cool I see, but above all else I respect such rule at religious establishments.  To some extent, it seemed intrusive being a tourist at a place of worship, so being allowed in was already a privilege.

I found it a bit odd that St. Paul’s had a heavy focus on glorifying war heroes.  Instead of Christian saints, statues along the walls were of national heroes, some of whom died in battle.  In the crypt below buried Horatio Nelson, Duke of Wellington, their lesser-known commanders, and Sir Christopher Wren who built this cathedral.  Nelson was placed in a gigantic stone coffin in the center of the crypt, in a shrine-like setup surrounded by his buddies from Trafalgar.  Seemed like the highest honor a person could get.

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St. Paul’s

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This large church and one of London’s main tourist attractions… had no working bathroom

One attraction of St. Paul’s was its staircase leading to the top of the building.  The 528 steps got us to the Whispering Gallery (inner balcony just below the dome), Stone Gallery (outer balcony at the base of the dome), and Golden Gallery (small circular balcony at the crown of the dome).  Although it’s taller with more steps, climbing this dome was easier than climbing Belfry of Bruges.

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We got a lot of exercise out of this trip

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View from the top

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Shard yet again

While London didn’t have many tall buildings, the option to get a view from high up was surprisingly abundant.  We had been up the Shard, Sky Garden, London Eye, and St. Paul’s – two from the north side of Thames and two from the south.  It was an interesting contrast to New York, where you can get up to the 40th floor somewhere and still just be looking at an even taller building next door.

After the church, we went to one of the oldest buildings in the city – the Tower of London.

Built by William the Conqueror nearly a thousand years ago and expanded by later kings, this fortress has served many purposes in history.  While plenty of great kings called it home, the Tower was better known for its prison and as a symbol of oppression.

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While overrun by tourists now, the Tower stood here for over 900 years and witnessed countless English royalties born, died, and executed within its premises

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Traitor’s Gate

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The White Tower, est 1078

When compared side-by-side, I found the English history much more fascinating than their French counterparts, because some of its kings were fabulous out-of-the-box thinkers.  Edward III of the House Plantagenet, for example, got sick of the French dude screwing his mom, and went on to declare himself heir of the French throne in revenge.  Even better was Henry VIII who, having such strong desire to make babies with women other than his first wife, gave the Pope his middle finger and started his own church.  The White Tower had these kings’ armors on display.

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Henry VIII was a big man with large balls

The Tower of London, with its hefty admission price, was quite educational with its props and plaques.  We learned quite a bit just by casually strolling from one place to another.  Unfortunately the setup also lent itself to feel very much like an amusement park, taking away the seriousness I hoped for with a historic and royal fortress.  Its most popular exhibits were the crown jewels and torture equipment.  We skipped both due to the long lines.

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Contact your health care provider if this happens

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Doctors surgery

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Tower of London Outer Ward, and the Shard in the background

Looking at old bricks made us sufficiently hungry, so we went on to lunch.  The Rock & Sole Plaice was a popular fish & chips place for tourists.  Like sour dough bread in San Francisco and deep dish pizza in Chicago, fish & chips in London was kind of a must on everyone’s to-do list.

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The Rock & Sole Plaice

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That’s a huge chunk of fish

Next up was one of my most anticipated destinations on this trip… the British Museum.

Being into Egyptian stuff as a boy, I had learned about and wanted to visit the British Museum 25 years ago.  It was a strange concept, however, that some of the best Egyptian treasures should be found in the UK.  The Brits looted from not just the pharaohs, but also from the Greek gods and Asian emperors, leaving this museum’s collections to be highly controversial.  The feeling was mixed to finally visit some of humanity’s greatest relics in a giant pirates’ bay.

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The British Museum was surprisingly smaller than the Louvre

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The British Museum lobby

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Cleopetra… I was expecting a much fancier mummy wrapping for some reason

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The Rosetta Stone, the Mona Lisa of the British Museum

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The Parthenon Marbles were among the museum’s most controversial collections, and they were cool to look at too

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Easter Island statue

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Afterwards, we took a black cab back to the hotel.  It was one of the things to experience in London.

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Black cab

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Selfie in the cab

In the evening we checked out Fortnum & Mason, a high end department store that had been awarded a royal warrant.

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The Queen liked their ware

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It was doing a campaign with the new Alice movie

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Flowery staircase

For dinner, we walked a few blocks to an Indian restaurant called Veeraswamy.  In the US when you hear Indian you just expect somewhere casual and lay-back, but this place had a doorman in costume, a hostess downstairs, a hostess upstairs, and someone offering to hang up our jackets.  Both of us were thrown off by how upscale it was.

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First time having soup in an Indian restaurant and it kicked ass

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Yum

Afterwards, we walked through Picadilly Circus, and got boba to end the day.

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Sharetea

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Horse fountain

Europe 9/12 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors

01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again

 

Our plan of the day was to escape from the investment bankers that surrounded us, to stroll through the royal neighborhood nearby.

The United Kingdom (still) had a queen.  Hmm.  What an odd concept!  King and queens seemed like such a thing of fairy tales and history textbooks, but for some countries in the world they were still real people!  Life must be harder for the little Disney-loving girls in these countries who realized that princesses were actual people, yet they could never become one.

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That’s me watching my better half braving those stairs at the Charing Cross underground station

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Trafalgar Square, built to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar, where Admiral Horatio Nelson kicked Napoleon’s ass by wiping out his naval forces for good

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Left: Vendome Column from Place Vendome, erected because Napoleon won
Right: Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square, erected because Napoleon lost
You know you’re the shit when people commemorate both your victories and losses

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Lion guarding Nelson’s Column

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Note: slipping off the lion which you climb is prohibited

Next to Trafalgar Square, we found a Caffe Nero and had our breakfast.  I had a lot of trouble ordering my chocolate croissant: the label was in French, which I couldn’t pronounce but knew it meant “chocolate bread”.  I tried to pronounce it, which obviously didn’t go well, and then I said chocolate bread.  The barista was confused as hell.  Then I pointed and she was like, what, you want chocolate croissant?  Should’ve just stuck with my American English words.

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Breakfast at Caffe Nero

First thing on our real agenda was to watch the changing of Queen’s Life Guard at Horse Guard Parade.  Due to some running events that blocked off many streets in the city, the guard changing was cancelled.  Bummer.  We just snapped some pictures of the guards and left.

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A guard with a sword on a horse is like a girl in a mini skirt at a car show – no real purpose except to pose for the camera.

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Oh and what trip to London doesn’t include a picture of the Palace of Westminster?

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Selfie with Big Ben… or should we be factually correct and call it the Elizabeth Tower?

As we took the selfie above, two girls approached asking us to take their picture with Big Ben with their iPhones.  My first reaction was that if they were f**king scammy pickpockets again I’d swear to throw one of them over the bridge into Thames.  When I warmed up to the idea that they were genuine tourist like us, my thoughts turned to what f**king idiots couldn’t take a selfie with her own iPhone?  Oh excuse my inner angry New Yorker.  I obliged happily.

Elizabeth Tower / Big Ben wasn’t very tall, but we stood rather close to it so it was hard for the camera’s 4:3 photo setting to capture both the girls and the top of the tower.  I took the pain to position them several feet meters further onto the bridge, and to kneel down in order to get a good angle.  Did my job with what I thought was worthy of an amateur postcard, and handed the phone back.  The girls offered to return the favor, which I thought was unnecessary but hey, we could use a non-selfie from this trip.  So I handed her my phone.  And this resulted…

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… f**king idiots couldn’t even take a standard photo properly…

Lesson learned on this trip was that we had no luck with bridges.  Moving on…

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Westminster Abbey, the old church that people know as where “so and so got married.”
Fun fact: coronations over the past 1,000 years had taken place here

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Statue of Queen Victoria, in front of Buckingham Palace

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Buckingham Palace, a relatively modest building

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The gate inspired our future home designs

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The most kick we got out of Buckingham Palace was the mass of people peeking into its mostly empty front yard, as if a show was gonna take place

After walking by Buckingham Palace briefly, we headed to the Royal Mews.  It’s basically Her Majesty’s really elaborate garage.

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Royal Mews entrance

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Royal carriage-pulling horse

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One of the many royal carriages

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One of the many royal automobiles.  What a shame they put a mere Jaguar on display when RRs and Bentleys flooded the Mayfair streets just two blocks away

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The high-tech royal carriage (with components designed by race car companies) pretending to be another wooden coach

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The Gold State Coach, an art museum on wheels
It’d be my recommendation that the Queen takes this vehicle when invited to dinner at Chateau Versailles

After the royal palace and the royal palace garage, we were ready to drink some royal tea at a royal-approved hotel.  Our reservation was at the Goring, supposedly the only establishment to have ever received a royal warrant in the hospitality services category.  Exactly what that means, I have no clue.  It did sound important, though.

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Awesome hotel if you like to hangout with wealthy 80-year-old ladies

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The Goring lobby

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Sheep at the Goring Lounge

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Beautiful wallpaper, wall trims, and color choices that may be just a bit on the old-fashioned side for my grandma.  The royal beasts were proof that we chose the right place to hangout.

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Food tower and tea.  Not sure why our two orders came with just a single food item of each kind.

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Half of the Lounge were Asian tourists, and we did what Asian tourists do: Instagramming everything, edible or not!

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This golden ball was a really interesting dessert, basically an explosion of sweet jelly in your mouth.  I wouldn’t call it incredibly tasty, but the sensation was so fascinating that I had ask for a second.
Hong ate the dessert that our waitress said was the Queen’s favorite.  Her taste bud did not agree with the Queen’s

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The Goring bathroom

Once again, we were not too complimentary of the food at this afternoon tea.  The decor was also not to our liking.  However, the experience was a good one as we pretended to be upper class and enjoyed the luxury of a royal warrant establishment.  We ended up having such a leisure time and killed more than two hours there, eating sandwiches and sipping tea.

Taking a break from all the British royal stuff, we headed to the other side of Westminster Bridge and hopped on the London Eye.  When we bought the tickets online, we paid quite a premium for both flexible time entry and for line-cutting privileges.  Turned out to be a good call because it was the middle of a long weekend and the line queue was akin to Disneyland.  How can someone with royal desserts in the tummy wait in a long line under the sun?

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London Eye

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Our pod

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More selfie in the sky.  London was a great city for bird’s eye views

After the Ferris wheel ride, we headed to the fun part of town.  Starting with Picadilly Circus, we ended up in Chinatown.

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Picadilly

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Picadilly

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London Chinatown

We ended up having dinner at a Malaysian restaurant called Rasa Sayang.

Here’s the funny thing.  The British people supposedly sucked at cooking – there’s no shortage of jokes on that, and we had first-hand experience with the afternoon tea.  Yet the Brits conquered and colonized a lot of places that made really good food.  As a result, the food scene in London had quite a bit of diverse, authentic cuisines that were delicious, such as last night’s Indian and tonight’s Malaysian restaurants.

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This carrot cake was supposedly better than what we had in Singapore

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Nasi something or other

After dinner we had more tea… boba, that is.

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Europe 8/12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky

01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again

 

After two nights each at two hotels, this type-A couple was done with Paris and ready to move on to our next city: London.

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Gare du Nord.  Not sure if I should make a third reference to Jason Bourne at this point

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It was here that we got an UK entry stamp on our passports, roughly 10 feet after officially exiting Paris

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Non-participating selfie on Eurostar

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Arriving at King’s Cross St. Pancras International, 2.5 hours after departing Gare du Nord

London was what I looked forward to the most on this trip.  It was the only one among GaWC Alpha++ and Alpha+ cities (meaning having the highest global economic importance) that I hadn’t been to.  For someone who loves big cities, this meant a lot.

Our first stop was the Borough Market, a “whole sale & retail food” market with a history of 1,002 years.  Think about all the dead fish that has traveled through here!  Wow!  Of course, now it’s overrun with tourists looking for a bite to eat.

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Borough Market

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Seafood stall

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Pretty sure that “smell me” sign wasn’t intended to point at the lady’s head

From meat pies to Olympic-sized paella, the stuff looked good.  We love street food, but didn’t eat anything here.  In fact, the reason we hung out in Borough Market was that we were waiting for our afternoon tea reservation next door.  By next door, I mean the Shard.

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The Shard.  At 309.7 meters, it barely makes it into the world’s tallest 200 buildings list.  However, it is the #1 tallest in the entire European Union.  It’s rather strange that the Europeans just don’t seem to like skyscrapers.

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Ground-level reception at the Shangri-la Hotel, within the Shard

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Shangri-la elevator lobby

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Shangri-la security microwaving x-ray scanning our bags

Everyone and their grandma knows that the British are big on tea.  Therefore, the tourist-in-UK experience can’t start better than starting with some afternoon tea.  Hong booked us two opposite experiences: a traditional one tomorrow, and a posh modern twist today.  It can’t get any more posh modern than to have the drink on the 35th floor, far above the palaces and churches.  I could care less about tea, but being able to chill on a high floor by a giant glass window got me really excited.

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Shangri-la Hotel lobby, on the 35th floor in the Shard
The restaurant Ting with the afternoon tea service was on this floor

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Live music in the sky, to complement the tea

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Urinals 150 meters above River Thames where I assume lots of excess tea got offloaded

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Exceptional presentation kicked off our afternoon tea experience

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Our two food towers

Let me pause here and say that, when it comes to this British thing, I was completely uncultured.  I understood snacks – some people eat more of it than others.  But taking half of an afternoon to sit down and pay $100 for some sandwiches was just an activity that I could not fully comprehend.  But Hong also introduced me to other cultural things that I find puzzling, like eating raw fillets of fish stuck to white rice.  Certain things in the world can seem completely illogical and yet people love them to death.  Well I suppose love is never about being logical, is it?

And for those of you who, like me as of yesterday, are clueless about this tradition, here’s how it works – you get (1) a pot of hot water with some dried leaves in it; (2) a plate of savory sandwiches; (3) some scones, which are really dry and crumbly bread that you’re supposed to eat with clotted cream; (4) a plate of sweet desserts.  Some or all of those can be refilled, I’m not entirely sure, but it seems to depend on how much the server likes you.  You are supposed to take time to enjoy these items, but some of them do dry out or get cold quickly and become less nice to eat.  There’s a long list of teas to choose from and you can switch in the middle of the service, but 2-3 seems to be the limit in a two-hour window.

Ting, this Shangri-la restaurant, offered two food menus.  On the left was a more traditional take on the afternoon tea concept, while the one on the right was an Asian-inspired set of food.  Ting was known for its Asian fusion stuff, and I suppose you can look at it as a hyper-glorified version of dim sum.

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Getting ready for the first sip!

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This view alone made it a very happy meal for me

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Ready to go for my Asian fusion desserts
(if you have to know, they weren’t that good)

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This pot of pu-erh was the best tea among the three that I tried

Let me pause again and comment on the food.  British food is known to be bad, and our first meal lived up to this expectation.  It wasn’t terrible, but it was just the least tasty food that we had had on this entire trip (except for two of Hong’s sandwiches, apparently).  I think it says a lot for a 5-star hotel restaurant to lose out by a wide margin to all the random Parisian cafes in terms of the tastiness it provided.  Don’t get me wrong, however – it was still a great experience.  Sipping tea leisurely like a modern royalty in the Shard was pretty awesome.  If Her Majesty gets by eating tasteless sandwiches in the afternoons, so shall we!

Moving on… since the Shard was quite close to the Tower Bridge, we walked to and crossed it.  Note: the Shard was even closer to the London Bridge, the Thames crossing that was both historically significant and boring to look at.  We preferred the aesthetically more appealing one for our selfies.

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This isn’t the bridge that’s falling down

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Selfie again!

In the late afternoon, we had tickets to the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street.  We walked by the Monument to reach this white (and rather ugly) building that the Londoners nicknamed “the Walkie Talkie”, as featured in one of the afternoon tea pictures above.  The top portion of the building was designed into this awesome urban garden that doubled as an event space.

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The Monument (to the Great Fire of London (of 1666))
This column itself was almost 340 years old

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Sky Garden

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Selfie in the sky – with Tower of London and Tower Bridge in the background

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The Sky Garden was a fantastic way for lovers of urban jungles to temporarily pretend that we enjoyed real nature as well

Later on in the evening, we grabbed dinner at an Indian restaurant near our hotel.  Chor Bizarre supposedly was a top restaurant in New Delhi that also had this location in London.

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Chor Bizarre

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Interior decor was real fancy

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The food was hands down amazing

For the remaining of the trip, we’d be staying at a hotel called The May Fair, located within Mayfair, London.  It was quite a posh establishment in a neighborhood that can hardly be overstated.  Our short walk from the hotel to the restaurant made me seriously question whether we could afford dinner, just by judging the average cost of cars parked by the sidewalks.

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The May Fair’s black sheep

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The May Fair’s white sheep, and me plotting on stealing it

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Our room at the May Fair

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In Mayfair, there were more R8’s than Accords and more Range Rovers than CRVs
Driving here must be stressful as any collision you may have was likely with a $100k car

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Our drinks at the May Fair Bar

 

Europe 7/12 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home

01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again

 

This morning, we took a train to see the non-so-humble Louis XIV’s not-so-humble home – Chateau Versailles.  It was a long train ride with many stops, without an easy system for you to figure out which station you were.  But when all the passengers simultaneously got off their seats, we knew we had arrived.

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Can’t sight-see on an empty stomach!  Eric Kayser first.

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Lemme finish my drink before spending a whole day here.

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Imagine living here and having to walk a mile just to get to your mailbox!  No thanks!

If you know a bit of French history, you’d know that Louis XIV was a really important king.  If you visit France without learning any French history, you’d probably think that he was the only king ever lived.  I mean seriously, this dude is everywhere:

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Louis XIV statue outside the Louvre

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Louis XIV statue in one of the Louvre’s many exhibits

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Louis XIV statue in front of Chateau Versailles

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Louis XIV’s horse had a bow on its tail

When you’re awesome like the most important king in history, you make it impossible for the mailman or the Uber driver to accidentally miss your house.  Can’t go wrong making it big and shiny.

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These gates were intended for the visitors’ eyes to adjust to shiny objects before approaching the shiny Sun King

The palace was more or less the same as other 18th-century mansions, except larger, by a whole order of magnitude.  We didn’t quite care for the antique furniture or the excessive number of oversized paintings of the royal family members.

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The Hall of Mirrors, the most famous feature in Chateau Versailles.  Didn’t look that impressive today, but mirrors were a big deal 300 years ago.

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The Hall of Battles, with gigantic paintings commemorating the major French battles from 6th to 19th centuries.  This was my favorite part of the palace because the King of Math likes timelines

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The hall of kings was a reminder that kings other than Louis XIV existed in history

Behind the palace was a massive garden.  I didn’t care for gardens, but appreciated its layout and organization.  The perfectly lined and manicured trees were quite something.

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Chateau Versailles was as fascinating to visit as the Imperial Palace in Beijing, home to some other folks believed to have divine rights.  Although the architecture was vastly different, both palaces exhibited jaw-dropping scale or luxury from the front gate to the backyard. They were awesome to look at because they were such extreme examples of abundance.  Living in an era where every other Facebook friend posted about the wealth gap problem, it was hard to look at all this grandness and not think about how this one dude amassed wealth tens of thousand times over the average individual.  The peasants understandably pissed off.  Five generations later, Louis XVI’s head got chopped off during the French Revolution.

In the afternoon, we returned to the hotel and got some bites at a cafe nearby:

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Random delicious soup

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Random delicious pasta

A nap later, we got ourselves some macarons from Pierre Herme.  This is where French prices really threw me off… this store sold each macaron for 2.10 Euro, not cheap for such small things.  But considering that any random cafe charged 6-7 Euros for 500ml of water, these ultra-artisan sweets were quite reasonable in comparison.

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Dinner was at La Fontaine de Mars, just doors down from Les Cocottes. It was a strong recommendation from my boss Rhys, who came on his own honeymoon and subsequently sent other family members to dine here.  Supposedly President Obama had skipped a dinner with the French president in order to eat at this place.  We liked it, too, marking a nice finale to our stay in Paris.

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The “heart attack appetizer” was the only food item I recall Rhys ever describing in detail.  It wasn’t as ridiculously rich as he made it sound, but it was freaking awesome.  Two eggs in “bacon sauce” got licked clean.

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Duck pate

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Beef stew

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Duckling filet, yet another dish that I ordered for its exotic-sounding ingredient.  The meat, being medium rare, was rather gamy.  I was not used to it, but quite appreciated getting a real taste of meat.  That experience is comparatively missing in the American dining scene, where everything more or less tastes like chicken.

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Creme brulee.  My college roommate Phil set a really high bar on this dessert for me, and this was definitely the best I had ever eaten in a restaurant

We got so overstuffed that we had to postpone whatever we had planned, and walk it off instead.  Unintentionally, we strolled back to the Eiffel Tower.  It was getting dark, and the tower lit up.  Gorgeous.

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Till next time, Paris!

 

Europe 6/12 – A Police Story

01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again

 

Got out of bed in the morning, not yet fully awake, and I was confronted with this sign just a few steps down the hall.  I was so horrified, that we immediately checked out of the hotel.

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Work was stalking me on vacation

We wanted to fill our stomachs before starting the day of sightseeing.  Hong suggested this “bakery” named Angelina that we walked by yesterday, thinking we could try another brand of croissants and pastries.  We didn’t realize until showing up that the bakery part of Angelina only made desserts like macarons; its breakfast portion was in an old-world luxury dining room attached to some palace-turned-hotel, decked out in gold.

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The exterior looked cute and innocent

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The interior… was a few notches fancier than we expected

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I wasn’t expecting to hold a leather-bound menu for breakfast… like ever

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Care for a 14-Euro croissant?

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We both got the breakfast combo, served akin to the English afternoon tea.  On the top layer was, among other things, the Isigny butter that my sister told us about just a week ago.  Hong immediately agreed that it was the tastiest butter ever, but I didn’t have that sort of fine palate to appreciate it.  The pastries were rather weak.

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Hot chocolate, what Angelina was famous for

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Statue of Miss Arc, not far from Angelina

After having coffee, bread, and butter like a king and a queen, we headed toward Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame.  To get there, we walked over Pont Neuf (“New Bridge” circa 1607, the oldest bridge in Paris) to Ile a la Cite.  This was when the most exciting thing of the day happened…

Immediately upon exiting the Metro at the north end of the bridge, I saw a bunch of girls holding pen and paper for people to pledge donation.  We came across a few people like that at the Louvre yesterday so I knew, more or less, what they wanted.  I turned to walk in the opposite direction but Hong just ignored them to admire River Seine.  When I rejoined her was when one of the girls started asking us to sign the paper.  We said no, at this point mostly just considering them a nuisance.  However, the other two or three started surrounding us, asking the same question and getting physically close to us.  At this point I noticed that they were all kind of short, chunky, wore low-cut shirts, had curly hair and red lipsticks.  I still didn’t fully grasp the situation but became subconsciously more alert, guarding my jacket pockets and maintaining distance.  Hong and I started physically pushing back – we weren’t afraid of fighting our way through crowds, but being in a foreign country it was difficult to judge the level of appropriate resistance.  I remember wondering how we could get rid of these pests without getting ourselves in trouble for assault.  Realistically, my options were pretty much pushing their chests or punching them in the face.

Then a big man shouted and charged over, and the girls dispersed like mice seeing a cat.  He grabbed one of them, took her paper, and tore it into pieces.  In that split second, we were confused more than ever about what was happening: were they illegally soliciting donation for his charity, or were they prostitutes who somehow pissed off their mafia boss?  A skinning man joined shortly after, also yelling and taking control of the situation.  We stood there stunned but realized that they were helping us… and were grateful to be rid of those solicitors.  The skinny man approached us and identified himself, twice, while showing badge, as French police.  It became clear that the girls were known scammers who picked tourists’ pockets.  The skinny cop asked us several times, in English with heavy accent, to double check that we didn’t lose wallet, money, camera, or phone, and asked whether we wanted to file a complaint against them.  We wanted to, but didn’t lose anything.

The two plainclothes cops were quite rough in the handling of that one girl, throwing her against the wall and yelling to shut her up.  It was so satisfying to watch the cinematic version of police work right in front of our eyes.  I thought it ironic how Hollywood (i.e. Kiss of the Dragon and Taken) loved to portray French police as corrupt and evil, yet our first experience with “cops saving the day” happened in Paris.  The two men were courteous and professional to us, rough on the criminal suspects, and seemingly really passionate about serving justice.

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Pont Neuf, where the day could have started really poorly

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Smiling bigger than ever after watching immediate karma coming to those who wanted to f with us

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Neighborhood on the other side of the bridge

Okay, show was over.  We went on to Sainte Chapelle.  Pre-purchased online tickets really rocked in this case, as they allowed us to skip lines like a boss.

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First we were escorted past two of these security lines outside.  Due to capacity control, they appeared to move really slowly

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Then we were able to bypass this ticket-purchasing line on the inside

Sainte Chapelle was a chapel built by King Louis IX in 1248 to house a bunch of Passion-of-the-Christ relics in his collection.  Those relics, plus the silver chest that was made specifically to hold them, cost 6 times as much money as the construction of this building.  They said the inside of Sainte Chapelle looked like a jewelry box?  Well it was intended to be exactly that.

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Ground level.  Gorgeous.  For a moment I thought that was it…

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But the real deal was upstairs

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More than half of these stained glass windows were destroyed in the French Revolution.  We were looking at the restored version

After Sainte Chapelle, we walked by the more famous Notre Dame.  There was no entrance fee, but the line was ridiculous so we did not go in.

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In front of Notre Dame was a mark for the official center of Paris

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Notre Dame with no hunchback in sight

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“Do not hold your child’s hand”?  Good thing we didn’t bring ours…

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A quick break for crepes next to Notre Dame

Later on, we found ourselves in Saint-Germain des Pres, having lunch next to the Abbey of Saint-Germain des Pres, the oldest church in Paris.  We ate at Les Deux Magots, one of the most historic cafes in Paris that was reportedly frequented by famous people including Hemingway and Picasso. The name of the place referred to statues of two oriental people, and it seemed fitting that two oriental people were dining here now.

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It was far more convenient just referring to it as “the two maggots”, though

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The two orientals

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The pasta with lamb & bone marrow was among the most irresistible pasta dishes I had ever had

Not far away was Musee Rodin, exhibiting works of one of the only sculptors that we knew.  It was a decent visit, but the free-to-the-public collection at Stanford seemed better.

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Hotel National des Invalides, across the street.  San Francisco’s city hall was supposedly modeled after this dome, under which laid Napoleon’s body

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The Gates, the awesome art piece where many of Rodin’s most famous sculpture pieces came from

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Was The Thinker thinking or just taking his time on the toilet?

In the evening, we paid our obligatory respect to the Eiffel Tower, the overused symbol of Paris that neither of us cared much about.  The long stretch of Champ de Mars in front of it was under some sort of construction, leaving only a small patch of the park for people and their dogs to play and litter.

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“Yay Paris XOXOXO” <– the kind of selfie every visitor needs to have

Dinner was at Les Cocottes, a restaurant by Christian Constant.  Let me tell you, I had no clue who Christian Constant was, but his name was all over everything in the restaurant from napkin holders to menu items.  They were also selling two of Chef Constant’s books, both of which had so many copies on the shelf that you’d think they were a registered bookstore.  The food was fantastic, but so far in this city we hadn’t put anything less than delicious in our mouths, so I could not attest to this celebrity chef’s power over the average cafe cook.

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Just steps away from the Eiffel Tower

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We were seated at the bar

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Chez Constant’s monogram on the napkin holder

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The kitchen view was awesome, but this dude was going back and forth between cutting raw meat and doing final plating of cooked food.  We were quite concerned…

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Egg & bacon salad

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Seafood pasta risotto

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“Chez Constant’s Famous Chococlate Tart” was the name of this dessert.  I’m sure it’s true, but his non-discrete love for himself was rather humorous

 

Tonight we stayed at another hotel: Park Hyatt Paris – Vendome, a block and a half away from Le Grand and next to Place Vendome.  It was a more intimate, more modern hotel, and equally unaffordable without lots of points.  I loved Hyatt, and Vendome was among Hyatt’s top 1% properties.  Expectation going in was really high and they met it.

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The entrance was low key and quite easily missed

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The elevator was entirely gold

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The room was modern with touches of old world luxury.  It didn’t win my heart over from Park Hyatt Seoul, but it was appropriately Parisian.

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The bathroom was quite nice.  Loved the connecting bathtub and shower

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My gold phone fit right in with the gold fixtures

The hotel had a lounge downstairs with a nice fire place.  Like our Bruges and Brussels stays, we decided to camp out there at night.  Well the problem with managing to stay at a hotel with a crazy price tag was, that whatever fringe service offered also had a crazy price tag.  Twelve Euros for a soda or tea bag?  Um.  I suddenly convinced myself that alcohol was not good for me, and looked away from the cocktails.  Two non-alcoholic drinks still set us back 33 Euros.

 

Europe 5/12 – Seeing Louvre

01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again

 

Our first breakfast in Paris was at Eric Kayser, drinking latte and eating pastries, much like what we do back home at Paris Baguette.

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Eric Kayser morning selection

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Table service

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The bakery was next to Place Vendome, with a giant column commemorating Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz

The day was dedicated to Louvre, the second most visited museum in the world (after the Forbidden Palace in Beijing).  Tickets purchased online allowed us to bypass the long line at the ticket counter, heading in right as the museum opened.  I was surprised by and completely amazed by how large this museum was.  It wasn’t until we approached the entrance when I realized that two rows of palace-like buildings that we had been walking by were in fact part of that museum.

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Arch as we approached the Louvre entrance

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The Louvre’s glass pyramid entrance

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A panoramic view of the wings of Louvre

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Selfie beneath the glass pyramid

We realized that it wasn’t possible to see all of Louvre in one day, nor did we wish to spend excessive amount of time in a museum.  Therefore, we had taken notes of the most interesting treasures and planned our routes in a hit-and-run manner.  We did not realize, however, that the Louvre’s three wings were far more expansive than they appear on the PDF map, and traversing a single floor could require quite a bit of stairs up and down.  Three and a half hours (and hundreds of stairs) later, we only managed to check off 80% of the list that we made.

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The Winged Victory of Samothrace – my favorite piece in Louvre

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Hammurabi’s Code – my second favorite piece due to its historic significance.  It was far smaller than I thought, though

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Dog sculpture, Hong’s favorite piece

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Lion goes raaah

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The crown of some stone column.  Someone’s more important than you when part of a column in his house is bigger than your entire apartment

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Me taking a selfie with a guy taking a selfie

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Stone veil

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Asclepius, the god that I worship

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Mona Lisa, the girl that 99% of people really don’t care about but still want a picture with anyway

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Pretty sure this was where the five dozen tour guides said the magical words of “Okay this concludes our Louvre tour.  Time for lunch!”

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One of the many rooms with lots of paintings

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Marly’s sculptures

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Row of Sphinx

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Two dudes with passion

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The upside-down pyramid looked like a diamond

After Louvre, we went to Le Marais, the neighborhood that my favorite Kosher restaurant was named after.  With its name meaning “the marsh”, this was an area outside the historic city of Paris where Jews were expelled to.

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Le Marais

Naturally, we had lunch at a Jewish restaurant.  Didn’t expect to say this having lived in New York, but we had the most delicious falafel and shawarma here.

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King Falafel Palace right at the heart of Pletzl

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This may have become my new favorite Kosher restaurant

After lunch, we chilled at Place des Vosges.  Originally named Place Royale and built 400 years ago by King Henri IV, it was renamed during the French Revolution after the first municipality that paid taxes to the Revolutionary Army.  A great reminder that bribing the winner has its perks.

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Place des Vosges

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Sunglasses selfie

A few more steps away was Place de la Bastille, where the French Revolution began with a mob storming and destroying the fortress/prison at this location.

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July Column, erected to commemorate the July Revolution, not to be confused with the first French Revolution which also started in July

Then, we hopped all the way past the west end of Paris into La Defense, to check out this gigantic arch.

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La Grande Arche de la Defense.  It’s featured in some Lexus commercials

Then we rode the same train back, all the way beyond Bastille to reach our dinner: Le Bistrot Paul Bert, on Rue de Paul Bert.  We got a table on a narrow sidewalk, and dined in a public walkway for the first time.  This was a residential neighborhood so we got to watch Parisians walking home with groceries.  Just about everyone carried one or two baguettes, and we got a kick out of how many of them chewed on the plain baguette while strolling casually down the street.

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Le Bistrot Paul Bert

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English menu was propped on our table

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Pigeon, cooked medium rare.  The meat was so dark that it almost tasted like liver

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Steak and fries

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Hong’s “pork chop” that was in reality a three-dimensional piece of bacon

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Our first experience with souffle

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XOXOXO Paris <3<3<3

Fourteen hours after leaving the hotel, we returned to our room exhausted.  To greet us was a false fire alarm that had us evacuating temporarily.  Well our experience with this Le Grand Hotel just kept getting worse!