Hi, 

This is a summary of our trip to London and France over New Year 2000. We
will celebrate the new millennium when it really arrives next year ;-)

On this trip there were a few things working against us. The day we arrived
in London the worst storm to run through Europe in 100 years was wreaking
havoc on the continent. In England we had only a drizzle but in France 
winds over 125 mph downed literally millions of trees. The landscaped
park around Versailles lost approximately 10,000 trees alone. A few days
later we would drive along the French country side and in small villages see
roof after roof that had been knocked in by falling debris. We saw whole
sections of forests that were flattened. 

The other problem was the holidays. Many museums, stores and restaurants were
closed around Christmas and NYE limiting our choices. For example, the 
Eiffel Tower was closed before New Years so that they could install all
those fireworks. 

Nevertheless, we did enjoy our trip and had a wonderful vacation. In England,
we were lucky enough to stay at my friend Dan's flat in Windsor. He and his
wife were away sailing for the holidays. We arrived in Windsor on Dec 26th. 
The streets seemed to be completely deserted - all the shops were closed and
we hardly ran into a single person. We took the train into London and were
there in 30 minutes. 

At the Tower of London we saw the crown jewels, including the Sceptre of 
the Cross which contains the First Star of Africa - the largest cut diamond
in the world (530 Carats). It was great to take a close look at it and then
see paintings and photographs of George VI and Elizabeth II holding the 
sceptre and wearing the crown. 

Next we walked to St. Paul's Cathedral, a very beautiful Cathedral that 
is only exceeded in height by St. Peter's in Rome. It has been the site of 
many important ceremonial events including the funeral of Winston Churchill
and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. I climbed to the top of
the dome and was treated to a wonderful view of central London. 

Later that evening we look the underground to Leicester Square and purchased
discounted tickets to a play - The Quartet. It turned out to be a warm and 
hilarious comedy staring Stephanie Cole and Donald Sinden (famous English
actors). 

The next day we travelled to the Kensington section of London. This was the
nicest part of town we've seen. We walked by the grandiose Albert Memorial
across from Royal Albert Hall. Queen Victoria had it built for her late
husband and it contains a guilded statue of Prince Albert, multi-colored 
marble canopy, mosaics, enamels, wrought iron and nearly 200 sculpted figures. 

We walked through Kensington to the enormous Victoria and Albert Museum. It
contains a great collection of Roman and Greek sculpture, Indian Art, 
clothing from different periods and cultures and musical instruments. There
was much more to see but after a few hours we were exhausted. 

The next day we took the train to Paris through the chunnel. It moved 
relatively slowly through England and then sped quickly to Paris (3 hours
total). The British need to upgrade their tracks for high speed travel
along that line. 

Once in Paris we took the Metro to La Cite' and walked around Notre Dame. 
It was awesome as always but seemed much cleaner. I remember when I was 
there in 1987 that the front was much greyer and darker. They've cleaned up
the outside and it looks like new. 

There is so much to see in Paris - so many museums, parks and shops. We 
wandered the streets and soaked up as much as we could but I feel we could 
have done that for weeks. One of my favorites was the Musee D'Orsay. It is a 
museum built inside of a converted European train station with a unique 
architecture. The museum is layed out in a split-level open-wall design. 
Sculpture and paintings are mixed together down the center aisle. There are 
galleries on the side with more paintings and scupture at different levels. 
You can look up and see artwork in galleries above and below you - a very 
beautiful place. 

The next day we rented a car and drove toward the coast. We headed toward
the town of Caen in Normandy. I expected Caen to be a very small town. I
pictured that we would drive in and there would be 10 buildings - one of 
which would be our hotel. It turns out that Caen is a city with several
hundred thousand people and major highways circling the perimeter. We 
eventually did find our hotel and went straight to the Caen Normandy Memorial. 

Caen was a central location during the D-Day invasion. The Germans held it
for many weeks after the Allies landed and it was the scene of much fighting. 
The Caen Memorial is a very well organized multimedia exhibit depicting the
struggle of France during the German occupation through the liberation. It
was a very powerful presentation and demonstrated the tremendous cost that
the French and the Allied forces paid to win back France. 

New Year's Eve was not very happening in Caen - which is what we wanted - 
someplace relatively quiet. Most resturants were either closed or offering a 
special "millennium dinner" that cost between $80-$150. Our hotel had a good 
restaurant and had a similiar offer. We asked if we could just have a normal
meal. The chef came out, spoke perfect English and was very nice. He told us
that he would be happy to make us anything we wanted. Cathy decided to have
filet mignon and I veal medallions. The dinner turned out to be one of the 
best we had in Europe. The food was excellent and they gave us many of the 
special millenium items such as the dinner rolls with 2000 baked in. The
price turned out to be very reasonable as well ($30 per person).  

After dinner we headed back to our room with a bottle of Champagne and watched
the New Years celebrations on CNN. It was the type of NYE that I enjoy - 
quiet and intimate. 

New years day we drove down the coast. We went to the American cemetary near
Omaha Beach. This is the place that was brought to life in the opening
scenes of Saving Private Ryan. There are 9,386 graves there and a very 
dramatic artistic statue. It definitely puts it all in perspective to look out 
over the headstones next to the beach. 

Next we drove down to the majestic monastery - Mont St. Michel. The medieval
abbey was built on top of a small island off the coast. Until recent times 
when the tide was out the monastery was connected to the coast by land - 
when the tide came in it was an island. Today a causeway allows you to drive
right up to it anytime. There are many building and one street on the 
island that snakes its way up to the abbey. This is a photo of Mont St. Michel:

Click on the photo to see an enlargement
We were disappointed that all the buildings along that path are filled with
tourist shops selling junk. It just didn't feel right. The Abbey itself was
also closed on New Years Day adding to our frustration. 

The next day we drove back to Paris. We returned the car and quickly went 
straight to Les Invalides - a huge imposing complex built by Louis XIV. 
It contains many parts including a beautiful domed church that holds the
tomb of Napoleon. As we looked over the ornate memorial to the emperor I
couldn't help thinking that the French must have much fonder memories of
Napoleon than I thought. He was credited with creating the court systems, 
educational institutions, museums, and on and on. 

Across the street from Les Invalides is the Musee Rodin. This small museum 
and garden is filled with the expressive and sensuous works of Auguste Rodin. 
Famous scupltures include The Thinker and The Gates of Hell. The latter is
a very ummm...interesting piece. 

Our last morning in Paris we wanted to stop by the famous cemetary Pere 
Lachaise. Many famous people are buried there including Oscar Wilde, Sandra
Bernhardt, Frederic Chopin and of course Jim Morrison. We planned on 
seeing the cemetary a few days earlier on our first pass through Paris but
it was closed due to fallen trees from the storm. Across the street there
is a vendor selling all kinds of books and photographs of Jim Morrison and
the Doors. There is a whole Doors underground in Paris of people that are
fixated on the band and Jim in particular. This is fuelled by Jim's mysterious
death and quick burial just four months after arriving in Paris. 

When we returned to the cemetary it was still closed from the storm. 
On the entrance to the cemetary there was a polite sign in plain English:

    FOR YOUR SAFETY, THE CIMETERY IS 
      CLOSED (TO MANY DANGEROUS
        THREES AND MONUMENTS).

    WE IGNORE WHEN IT WILL BE POSSIBLE
      TO OPEN. WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE 
              DESAGREMENT.

Later that day we took the train back to London and then Windsor. Luckily,
Windsor Castle was open for vistors and we were able to tour the complex. 
Since it is the primary residence for the Queen it is often closed. 
It is quite a large and grand palace with chapels and crypts. Henry VIII is 
buried in St. George's Chapel along with many other kings and queens. The 
Albert memorial chapel was quite impressive. It has a series of marble inlay
murals that were quite beautiful and unlike anything I've seen. I was told
that it is the only place to ever use such a technique. The state apartments 
are filled with swords, weapons and paintings layed out in elaborate displays. 

The next day we flew back to California. That was a fast vacation. I know we
have said this before but next time....we'll move a littler slower. 

Andy