Heinz Field

Steelers Game

September 28, 2014 – We were in town for two friends’ wedding, and were fortunate to snag Steelers tickets for the Sunday afternoon game against Tampa Bay.  We’d never been to a Steelers game before, and were excited to go.  The weather cooperated – fairly warm and sunny – and we had no problem getting parking in one of the lots by the Gateway Clipper.  We got the round trip tickets for the Clipper and found a seat in the shade.  The boat was full, even two hours before kickoff, and everyone was decked out in Steelers gear.  The boat ride also afforded a really nice view of the skyline, and Point State Park.

We managed to find some lawn chairs just hanging around on the Gateway Clipper.
We managed to find some lawn chairs just hanging around on the Gateway Clipper.

We saw that the stadium has a no-bag policy, so we left all our bags at the hotel.  What we didn’t count on was a small drawstring holder for a small camera lens counting as a “bag”, but were able to get some of the clear allowed plastic bags by security to carry things.

I want one of these giant towels for my house.
I want one of these giant towels for my house.

The Marshall band was doing a pre-game show outside, and we paused to listen for a bit before heading in to find some souvenirs.  Once we had two commemorative Terrible Towels and two new ball caps, we wandered into the stadium in search of lunch.  Things were getting pretty crowded on the lower level, and since our seats were all the way up we headed up the stairs.  A giant bucket of fries and a foot long hot dog with peppers and onions later, we continued on up to our seats.

That's gonna stain.
That’s gonna stain.

Our seats were just under the awning, and had a good view of the field, score board, and downtown Pittsburgh.  The game was lots of fun to watch, from the Terrible Towels to watching Harrison play.  Unfortunately the score didn’t turn out the way we hoped, but we still enjoyed the atmosphere.  While we originally waited for the Clipper on the way back, we decided to walk across the bridges instead.  The walk was pleasant, maybe 30 minutes or so, with a nice view of the stadium and the Fort Pitt block house.  Once we fought our way through traffic to get to the highway, we were treated to a lovely sunset on our way to get dinner at Eat ‘n Park.

Buckingham Palace

Goodbye London

September 14, 2014 – Today was the last day of the trip.  We started off with a walk through St James’s Park, admiring the flowers and wild life (mostly ducks and geese) along the way.  We wandered past the Canadian War Memorial, and found ourselves at Buckingham Palace.

Look, it's a golden gate! Not like the bridge, but an actual gate.
Look, it’s a golden gate! Not like the bridge, but an actual gate.

Buckingham Palace is actually quite pleasant if you get there before the crowds, when you can walk up to the gates and admire the Victoria memorial in quiet. Louisa remains fascinated by the horse guard, and we made sure to follow them back to their staging area.  While most of the horses were well behaved, one kept looking over at the horse next to it, trying to sniff it or cause some other trouble.

We may like to take bird photos.
We may like to take bird photos.

The rest of the morning was spent at the National Gallery – including a break for tea and pastries.  The tea was great as we expected, and the pastries were good as well – we got a sweet marmalade roll, and a slice of Bakewell tart.

Come for the gardens, stay for the horse guard.
Come for the gardens, stay for the horse guard.

After the museum we headed across Trafalgar Square to get lunch at Cafe in the Crypt.  We like eating here since the food is always good, there’s plenty of space, and it’s a nice area to sit and rest for a bit in one of the busiest areas of the city.  Today’s menu was roasted chicken, rice, potatoes, roasted root vegetables, gravy, and braised red cabbage.  The food was very good, with the chicken juice juicy, the vegetables nicely roasted, and the gravy tying everything together.

The Crypt sold me on their Creme Brulee.
The Crypt sold me on their Creme Brulee.

We had a few hours in the afternoon since we booked the last flight of the night back to Boston, and we spent them at the British Museum.  This time we headed up to the top floor, where there is a long room with Japanese art and artifacts, including pretty pottery and Samurai armor.  Afterwards we relaxed with some tea by the totem poles.

Louisa wanted me to post a photo of this chicken god statue.
Louisa wanted me to post a photo of this chicken god statue.

By now it was time to head back to the hotel, collect our bags, and then take the Heathrow Express.  Security wasn’t too bad, and we were soon waiting in the lounge for our gate to be announced (they don’t announce gates until it’s close to boarding time).  We had dinner on the plane, a nice assortment of chicken, salad, rolls and pudding.

This ceiling was one of the few things that I did not enjoy at the Louvre.

Chunnel – Paris to London

September 13, 2014 – Today was our last day on the continent, since we had tickets for the Chunnel in the afternoon.  We ate breakfast at the apartment, packed up, checked out, and eventually found the spot at the train station to leave our luggage (hint: it’s called “left luggage”; they also will make change for the lockers, so don’t worry about trying to find coins ahead of time).

After a few days in Paris, it was time to take the Chunnel back to London.
After a few days in Paris, it was time to take the Chunnel back to London.

First up was the Musee d’Orsay, housed in a beautiful old train station.  The fascinating thing about museums in Paris is the amount of famous, world class artifacts and art that are available.  Paintings by Renoir, Manet, Cezanne, van Gogh, and more were on display.  Starry Night was interesting to us because, even though it was a van Gogh painting, it seemed rather peaceful.

But not before checking a few exhibits in the Louvre.
But not before checking a few exhibits in the Louvre.

Just outside the museum was a small espresso booth; we each got a drink for the walk over to the Louvre.  As a side note, the whole “good morning, please, thank you, goodbye” routine really does make for a pleasant interaction.

Not a Fan
This ceiling was one of the few things that I did not enjoy at the Louvre.

When we got to the Louvre we headed to the cafe to get lunch – salmon with tomatoes and block olives, just okay french fries, and a great Asian beef dish served over zucchini noodles (they sure had us fooled – we thought they were real noodles til we tried the dish) that went perfectly with the slightly spicy sauce.   We explored the museum until a few hours before our train was set to leave…. then wound up hopping a subway that didn’t stop where we needed to, running through the streets (and more subways) on our way to the Chatelet stop, and making it to our train with five minutes to spare.  Fortunately we had space for our bags in the overhead section, though it would have been tough if we had full-sized suitcases.

There. That's better.
There. That’s better.

The train ride was relaxing, particularly after running through the subways, and we enjoyed watching the countryside flatten and become more rural as we made our way over to England.  You go through passport control in France before getting on the train, which makes it nice and easy when you get to England.

These trains are pretty fast.
These trains are pretty fast.

We took the subway over to our hotel, and then went across the street in search of dinner.  Our destination was a local semi-hole in the wall fish and chip shop called Masters Super Fish.  We were pleasantly surprised to have the meal start with a few complimentary chilled shrimp and bread and butter.  We opted to each order a plate of fish and chips, expecting to share.  The food is great, hot, fresh, appropriately greasy, and the portions are huge.  Despite our best efforts we could only finish about 1.25 of the servings, and could definitely have split an entree and an appetizer.

Tower Bridge should be a requirement for any tour of London.
Tower Bridge should be a requirement for any tour of London.

After dinner we set off for the Tower of London.  The WWI poppy exhibit was in progress.  An artist was making 888,246 ceramic poppies to commemorate each British/colony WWI fatality.  The poppies were taking over the dry moat and beginning to climb the outer walls of the tower in a beautiful and sobering tribute.

Tower Bridge is one of our favorite walks in London.
Don’t forget to take some photos down the Thames if walking Tower Bridge.

Up next was a stroll over the always windy and always beautiful Tower Bridge, with a view of the HMS Belfast moored in the Thames.  We were searching for real ale, unfortunately there was a football match on and any pub with a tv was standing room only, if that.  Eventually we found a small place with no tv’s and with an outdoor courtyard as well, and were able to enjoy two pints in the still warm-ish Fall air.

Versailles Gardens

Versailles and Paris

September 12, 2014 – We conveniently had food in the apartment, and had a nice breakfast of cold cuts, bread, yogurt, juice and fruit before heading out to the train station.

We started the started the day with a ride on the RER.
We started the started the day with a ride on the RER.

We left around 9am, and the train was fairly packed.  The walk from the station to Versailles was pleasant, and afforded us a great view of the sun glinting off the gold on the palace roof and gates.  There weren’t that many tour buses yet, and the line to get inside was fairly short.  This, we discovered, was because everybody else was already inside.

One word: GOLD.
One word: GOLD.

So… Versailles.  After Notre Dame, the other “you should go if you’re in the area but probably not more than once” segment of the trip.  The palace is beautiful, and well maintained.  And crowded.  Very narrow passages, never meant to house hundreds of people, were bottlenecked by shoulder-to-shoulder tour groups.  If you could get by one, you would run right into another.  Fortunately we got to the Hall of Mirrors in between the tour groups; or perhaps we just had the misfortune of starting our tour immediately following all the groups.

This room actually wasn't one of the more crowded ones.
This room actually wasn’t one of the more crowded ones.

Regardless, we were quite happy to have a coffee and donut break midway through our trek through the palace.  The little cafe is not well sign-posted, but we found it by following the arrows and signs down a small back staircase.

Yes, the gardens go back as far as the eye can see.
Yes, the gardens go back as far as the eye can see.

We were also pleased to discover how extensive and massive the gardens are.  They’re so large you can rent golf carts to drive around.  We decided to walk instead, and spent quite a bit of time watching a gray swan swimming around before heading back through the 15+’ tall hedgerows to an outdoor cafe for lunch.  We split some wine and the free bar mix (pretzels, crackers) that was provided and ordered pizza.  Tony really liked the pizza, Louisa wasn’t quite sold.  The twist was the layer of bechamel sauce in place of tomato sauce.

We made it back to Notre Dame.
We made it back to Notre Dame.

That afternoon we realized that we hadn’t walked around Notre Dame to see the iconic flying buttresses, so that was our first stop.  That river side of the cathedral includes some small gardens and pedestrian ways, and is overall more pleasant than the side by the shops.

This may be the best hot chocolate ever.
This may be the best hot chocolate ever.

Next up was Angelina .  We opted to get our pastries and hot chocolate to go, not only because there was a bit of a wait for the dining room, but also because we preferred to eat outside in the neighboring park (prices are about 40% less for takeaway as well).  We selected two pastries – a chocolate eclair with chocolate filling, and a white cake/cream/berries combination – as well as two cups of hot chocolate.  The chocolate is literally melted chocolate, kept warm in an ornate stainless steel carafe.  The pastries were good, though we discovered we much preferred the berries/cream/cake to the eclair.

This was just a walk in the park.
This was just a walk in the park.

On the other end of the garden was the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris and home to a 3400 year old Egyptian obelisk that once marked the entrance to the Temple of Luxor.  Our destination was the Orangerie museum to look at some famous paintings.  Louisa mostly wanted to see the room of water lilies (probably the most peaceful museum spot we’ve ever found).

The Mona Lisa is down this hallway.
The Mona Lisa is down this hallway.

And where else would we finish the day but at the Louvre – this time to see the ornate apartments of Napoleon III, as well as whatever else we happened to find. That evening we were pretty tired after the full day, and just wanted to relax.  So we scrounged around the apartment for dinner – rose wine, seasoned rice, toasted open-face sandwiches and some fruit were on the menu.

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