Jordan and I have had a whirlwind past few days — getting up early, taking the NJ transit into the city, and walking all over. So much walking, you guys… That is until we eventually figured out the subway, which is surprisingly easy to use.
The first couple of hours on our first day in the city was a little overwhelming, but we quickly settled in and found a good rhythm.
We are going through our list of places we wanted to visit, all while finding sweet little gems a long the way; our perfect vacation cocktail. But at the moment (while writing this), we are relaxing with my family and watching the World Cup final.
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There is something comforting and peaceful about West Texas. Flat pastures that allow you to see for miles and a dry wind that whips the heat around you. I can see why people risked their lives traveling in covered wagons to the great western expanse. On this trip, I found out that Jordan’s relatives traveled from the east in a covered wagon to settle in Texas and New Mexico. It made me thankful I was traveling in an air conditioned car!
We spent half of our week in New Mexico and the other half in Texas (more on that later). Clovis, NM (where we stayed) is a big small town; well, it has a Walmart, at least three Sonics and one really good local coffee shop. The last time Jordan and I visited we stayed with his aunt and uncle, who used to go cruising down Clovis’ Main Street as teenagers. Main Street is now filled with mostly antique and craft stores. Clovis is a few miles from Texico, which doesn’t have much besides a western store selling boots and saddles. My mother-in-law was raised in Texico.
Our evenings were spent with the family, catching up and playing round after round of Gin Rummy, Spades, and 42 (a domino game). Jordan is ready to start a 42 league.
^ Main Street.
^ A selection from Leslie’s Candy Co. A little shop in the outskirts of Clovis. I’m still enjoying their saltwater taffy!
Jordan and I, along with his brother, leave for a little family reunion in West Texas/New Mexico next week. This will be my first time driving out there (the last time, we flew) and my first road trip longer than five hours in probably ten years. Our day events are pretty planned out with family activities, but I still needed to prepare for the actual road travel.
Cue the internet.
I searched all around for suggestions on packing, snacks, and entertainment to help pass the time on our 19 + hour drive (and no, we aren’t doing it in one day: we aren’t that hardcore).
When it comes to any type of travel, there is no way to be fully prepared: delays and unexpected circumstances will occur, but it is still beneficial to start with a general plan. Jordan was the more seasoned traveler when we were first married and he’s really helped me learn to go with the flow and take the unexpected moments in stride.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for your summer road trip.
I often jokingly say that my history books growing up seemed to focus solely on the pilgrims, so much so that I feel like certain historical events aren’t familiar to me. It used to be my little joke, but now Jordan laughs along with me. I’m always trying to fill in those perceived gaps through documentaries, podcasts and books.
One area of history that fascinates me, starting when I was an early teen, is the Tudor Dynasty. King Henry VIII and the scandals that surrounded his six wives seem unreal. Despite his attempts at producing a healthy son, Henry’s greatest legacy was a daughter! Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne after the tumultuous reign of her sister, Mary. She was able to support and provide stability to her people during her 44 year reign and was loved and revered in return.
Fast forward to earlier in the year when Jordan and I were deciding on places to visit in Europe. The Tower of London was high on my priority list. For a time, Queen Elizabeth I was actually held prisoner there, the same place where her mother was beheaded. The Tower (and the other buildings inside the walls) is nestled across the River Thames from many contemporary government offices. One might imagine that it is secluded but in actuality, it’s right in the middle of a very modern environment.
I’m not one to regret past decisions, but I kind of regret that we didn’t pay for a Tower of London tour. Returning to London from Paris, I forgot my initial desire to see the inside of the Tower. The 40 US dollars per person ticket price seemed like a lot considering the Tate Modern museum was free and it was still on our to-do list that day. Looking back and after hearing of other people’s experiences, going inside the Tower would have been worth it. It’s a guided tour, not simply a price for admission. Thankfully, we were able to walk the grounds outside the wall and read a few interesting facts along the perimeter. Hopefully, this won’t be our last time in London because I would love to go back to the Tower!
Jordan and I planned our trip to Europe off-and-on for almost a year. The early stages mostly consisted of discussing which countries/cities we wanted to visit. When traveling Europe there are several reasons why visiting more than one country makes sense. Since the countries are close together, the cost to travel between them is minimal compared to the initial plane tickets to arrive (in fact, our Eurostar tickets were less than an average ticket to another US state). We wanted to make good use of our time and experience Europe from different perspectives. London was an automatic yes for both of us, but we weren’t sure about where else to go.
Jordan suggested Scotland as he had great memories from a pervious trip. We eventually decided on Paris, France, a city and country neither of us had visited, which just so happened to be my idea :-). During the pre-planning, a close friend got married and moved to England with her husband, who is a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit them and experience a smaller town since our other two stops were larger cities. After our first stint in London, we left for Oxford.
Not only did we have a great time visiting with Zac and Sally, we were also able to recharge for a few days. Jordan had the opportunity to catch up on some work and I took full advantage of their laundry room (the only way we were able to take carry-ons). Oxford is my kind of town; quaint, charm for days (medieval charm!), plenty of modern conveniences, but a slightly slower pace compared to London.
Our friend’s apartment was perfectly situated. We had no trouble wandering and exploring the city center by ourselves. London is roughly 70 miles away, but since Oxford is a university town all major necessities wouldn’t require travel (and so many cafes, I was in coffee/croissant heaven). Traveling from London was extremely easy and inexpensive. We used the UK version of Megabus.
After experiencing some dreary, rainy days in London it was nice to see the sun! It wasn’t quite warm enough to shed all our layers, but oh so nice to feel the sun shine on our faces.
Jordan and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary during our stay in Paris. The original idea was to visit The Louvre, but unfortunately they were experiencing an employee strike. With no real plan for April 12, we continued to wonder that enchanting city. First stop was to visit the English-speaking bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. Pictures aren’t allowed to be taken inside, but if you want a peak, the bookstore has been featured in a few movies, including the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. Our lack of extra luggage space was the only thing stopping Jordan from buying the whole store!
Continuing on from the bookstore, we walked right into the Luxembourg Gardens (I had forgotten it was so close!). Spring literally sprang for us on that day; the gardens looked so lush. We bought baguette sandwiches and McDonald’s Cokes (because sometimes you need something familiar) and enjoyed lunch on the lawn with the locals.
Many of the large parks in Paris have these green lawn chairs sprawled about to use for picnics. I love the idea! The Parisians seem to take full advantage of any public outdoor space. This is the Tuileries Garden, located outside of the Louvre Museum. Even though we weren’t able to go inside of the Louvre we were able to see many statues, including a few Rodin, that were sprinkled around the garden.
After lunch, Jordan wanted to walk to see the location of the Bastille prison. The only remains left are surrounded by a park but this is the beautiful July Monument, marking the event that pushed forth The French Revolution.
Maybe you can see the huge storm that was brewing in these clouds because right after visiting this monument the rain fell hard and we were drenched! In fact, the rain fell so hard part of the roof in a local grocery store (we took refuge for a few minutes) starting caving in! An employee and I had an interesting interaction where because I greeted her with a simple bonsoir, she continued laughing and joking about the rain in French. I enjoyed being considered a local for a few minutes!
Those two days in Paris, where Jordan and I were able to wonder leisurely, were some of the best days.
Arriving into London I didn’t experience culture shock. It felt comfortable and familiar, but that is not how Paris was for me. Paris is equal parts beautiful and intimidating. Like a mysterious women, who at first, appears to be cold and distant. You must be polite, respectful and eager to learn her ways, but once you do, you are welcome to stay and know her better.
We stayed in Le Marais area. It is found in the 4th arrondissement (district) of Paris. Only one major street separated us from the Seine, which made it extremely convenient to walk to everything.
On our first full day in Paris, we decided to use the river as our guide. We saw Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc De Triomphe among many other enchanting sights. Below are a few photos from our day in Paris.
This bridge was covered with locks that couples affixed to represent their unending love. It was a sight to see.
To our pleasant surprise, Notre Dame was open to the public and non flash photography was allowed. Every inch is covered with beautiful carvings or stained glass windows.
Walking under the Eiffel Tower was a surreal experience. It feels larger than life, especially for a structure that was intended for temporary use. It’s hard to fit the whole structure into a picture and we had to walk awhile until we were able too! The lawn is filled with runners, school groups and locals eating lunch; seemingly unphased by the beauty surrounding them.
To avoid interrupting the intense roundabout, entering the Arc De Triumph is accomplished through an underground tunnel.
Our bodies were sore from walking so much this day, but we were ready to tackle Versailles on day two.
Yes, Marie Antoinette, Versailles is a little ridiculous but oh is it mesmerizing. Prior to leaving on vacation, Jordan and I created a list of places that we would like to see and places that we must see in London and Paris. My must see in Paris was the Palace of Versailles (despite being located slightly outside of the city!). I am drawn to royalty and couldn’t deny the pull to see first hand where the demise of the French monarchy took place.
We really need to thank the people of France. During the French Revolution someone had the wherewithal to know that the Palace shouldn’t burn down! Most of the furniture and paintings were sold (and subsequently many have been re-bought) but the structure was kept intact during all the upheaval.
We spent the whole day exploring the three structures (the Palace, Grand Trianon & the Petite Trianon) and the gardens. My favorite was Marie Antoinette’s estate, which includes the Petite Trianon as well as a working farm, styled like a British village.
Versailles is one tourist site that is completely worth the admission price.
Living near a city like Chicago, I have experienced large scale buildings. Chicago is known for its skyline filled with an abundance of architecturally impressive skyscrapers. In London, Jordan and I spent a day in Westminster exploring all that it offered. Walking a long the River Thames towards Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey was a must. I was completely blown away. These structures aren’t nearly the size of a Chicago skyscraper, but the intricate detail built into each inch leaves a lasting impression. When I think of all the secrets that the Abbey’s watchful gargoyles must hold, I get kinda excited.
After walking for a few hours we were ready for a good meal. We happened to discover a pub that was from the late 1700s. Jordan convinced me to try fish & chips for the first time and I wasn’t disappointed!
The day we took these pictures was quite cold and windy! Thankfully, I remembered to wear my grandmother’s pink leather gloves. My dad’s mother was quite fashionable and loved accessories. I thought it fitting to use them on this trip to London considering she liked to call me her little Welsh girl.
Jordan was in charge of the camera when we traveled through London and Paris last month. His backpack carried the camera carefully from town to town. This made it natural for him to take most of the pictures. He has an eye for what is important to capture. As soon as I saw these colorful houses (especially the pink one), I immediately requested he snap a picture.
We stumbled upon this street after traveling through Kensington Gardens. These houses are located in Brompton, which is a district in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London. If there was a way for me to have that pink home and add a porch swing, perfection would be made.