Day 4: London, English Channel, Paris

This morning started out with three wake-up calls at 5:00 AM. After the abrupt wakeup, we went downstairs to the lobby and grabbed our boxed breakfasts. A relatively short bus-ride (on which everyone slept) and we were at the Port of Dover. There was a slight mix-up with departure times, but we ended up on a ferry only half an hour late and said goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover.

The white cliffs of Dover
The white cliffs of Dover

The ferry ride was uneventful, but the actual ship was fairly large (9 decks, carrying people, cars, and even 18-wheelers). In an hour and a half we arrived at Calais.

Calais, France
Calais, France

We met our bus-driver and were aboard the most comfortable tour bus I’ve seen (comfy padded seats that recline almost flat).

Along the way, we stopped for some food while the driver rested (European commercial driving codes are more strictly enforced than in the US). The ATM at the rest stop was out of cash, so I was not able to obtain any Euros. However, we were able to use credit cards at the restaurants there, so I had a chicken sandwich which was pretty good. The bread it was on, though, was amazing.

We finally arrived at the hotel in Paris after some truly impressive maneuvering by our bus driver, Carmena. After checking in, we discovered that it is one of the strangest hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in: bunk beds (full on the bottom, twin on top), separate toilet and shower (neither of which have locks or even actual door-closing mechanisms), and a shower-head that points straight down (rain shower-head?). The lack of basic amenities (clock/alarm and phone) and the general poor quality of the finishings make me a little dissatisfied with the accommodations. However, it is only for three nights and then we’ll be gone.

Shower head in Etap Hotel, Paris
Shower head in Etap Hotel, Paris

Everyone was able to get dressed up and we went out for dinner at a French bistro. The meal was a bit unsatisfying (seemed burnt) and the wine wasn’t anything special, but it was fun nonetheless to go to a restaurant with everyone. I ended up drinking most of the wine at the table, which put me in a pretty good mood.


Following the dinner, we left for the bank of the Seine river for a tour/cruise. The actual tour was pretty bad; since they were providing pre-recorded segments in six languages and the boat was moving at a good clip, there wasn’t much depth to anything they were saying. However, we did turn around and see the Eiffel tower lit nicely. Everyone took ridiculous numbers of pictures to try and capture what it looked like.

Eiffel Tower with Richard and Harris
Eiffel Tower with Richard and Harris

Returning back to the hotel, I was finally able to obtain some internet access and start posting the first pictures.

Day 3: London

This morning, both Harris and I were awake by 6 AM. (Dad, this will not be a regular occurrence.) We hung out in the room until 7, when the hotel breakfast opened.

We met up with the whole group at 9:15 and started our walking tour of London. Simon, our London city guide, was very good. We saw interesting places around the city, saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and ended the tour by the Tower of London at 1 PM. After an unimpressive burger and very unimpressive IPA at a local pub, a smaller group set out to see some sights around London.

First, our adventure was toward the place where Diagon Alley was filmed. After a fair bit of searching and some wrong directions, we found the place.

Diagon Alley
Diagon Alley

Then it was off to the Globe Theatre, where some people stayed behind for a tour/exhibit.

Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre

Six of us split off to go buy tickets for a West End show. Stomp, our first choice, was sold out. However, we were able to get tickets for Sweeny Todd.

We then adventured out to find London’s Icebar. Due to how long it took to find the place and the timing of the performance later in the evening, Harris, Erin, and I split off to go take some pictures at Abbey Road.

At Abbey Road, we encountered some very drunk Englishmen in costume who were wreaking havoc at the crosswalk. Even so, we were able to get some successful pictures before heading back to the hotel for showers and different clothing.

Abbey Road
Abbey Road

We met up later to head out to the theatre. The map that the ticket place gave us was not great, so we were assisted by a homeless man who was able to successfully direct us to the theatre.

Overall, Sweeny Todd was a good show. The sound mixing wasn’t great, and combined with the fact that some English people are hard to understand when speaking quickly and at a high pitch, it was sometimes difficult to hear what was being said. Additionally, there was a mishap where an actor fell off a platform in the middle of Act I and the curtain was closed for a while to verify that he was okay.

We ended our night after the show so that we could get enough sleep to wake up by 5:00 AM.

Aside: The London Tube is fantastic. Fast, easy, and clean. However, there is a reason that “Mind the Gap” is well known; the carriage is often at a different height and fairly far from the actual platform.

Day 1 & 2: Travel to London

My flight to London was relatively uneventful.

We left the house at 2:00 (early, so as to allow for traffic due to the 405 Wilshire exit closure) and arrived at LAX at 3 (exactly 3 hours before my flight departed). Check-in was fine, although I did have to use the most confusing self check-in kiosk I’ve ever seen (there were no instructions as to how to operate the passport scanner). While waiting in line for security, I encountered two other travelers on the same trip. After security, we went toward the gate and found the Alumni Association’s tour leader, Alex.

The plane boarded relatively quickly and left on-time from LAX. I was seated in a middle seat, but ended up switching with a gentleman so that he could be with his son and wound up sitting next to Harris (my roommate for the trip). The pilot enabled United’s “From the Flight Deck” audio, so Harris (an Aerospace Engineer) and I both listened to the radio traffic. Except for some flap about a plastic bag somewhere on the tarmac, the radio traffic was as you would expect. I was ammused by the sign-off that the tower would have with each plane: “Good day”.

I was very impressed with the selection of TV and Movies available on the flight. I first watched Ocean’s Thirteen (which I had not seen before), followed by Star Trek (hello Anton!). Meals were served during the first movie. I had requested a Kosher meal, which was correctly served.

The meal was prepared by a company called KoshAir and consisted of chicken rustica, fruit, a roll, and a brownie. The chicken rustica was chicken (fairly good) and pasta (fairly terrible). The roll was good, but the brownie was dry. Overall, I’d say it was decent for airline food. The meal also came with an interesting insert, which I have transcribed below:

KoshAir Cuisine

This Kosher meal is prepared under the strict constant supervision of the Kashruth Department of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

All dishes, flatware and trays used for this meal service are new and have never been used before. All meat meals are Glatt Kosher. Bread and rolls are Hamotzie. Cake, as well as the bread and rolls are Pas Yisroel. Dairy meals are not Cholov Yisroel unless they are clearly marked as such.

When you received this meal, it should have been over-wrapped and sealed with an imprinted “KoshAir OU” plastic film. If there is a hot entree served with this tray, it should be presented to you in a double wrapped and sealed package with a “KoshAir OU” label. These imprinted and sealed packages are your assurance that the foods were all produced under OU supervision. Only trays which are sealed in our imprinted film and entrees that have not been opened are guaranteed to be OU Kosher.

Our kosher meals and trays are delivered to the airline’s designated in-flight catering service kitchen, where the product is stored in a freezer until it is needed for meal service. Green salads cannot be frozen, therefore, KoshAir is unable to provide a kosher salad with this meal request. The in-flight caterer should ensure that your tray service is presented to you completely defrosted and that any hot entree is fully heated.

We wish you a pleasant journey and a hearty appetite!

Prepared by: MilMar Food Group, LLC. One 6 1/2 Station Road, Goshen, NY 10924

Breakfast was also served. The Kosher breakfast (again from KoshAir) consisted of turkey and pastrami on challah…yum!

As we got closer to Europe, I started to listen to the “From the Flight Deck” audio again. Irish air-traffic control was fairly difficult to understand. British air-traffic control was easier, though Heathrow put us in a holding pattern for about 20 minutes (why can’t they figure out how to schedule flight patterns better?). I don’t think I’ve ever been in a holding pattern above a US airport (that I know of) unless there was a major problem.

After (finally) landing, everyone got through Border Control and Customs without incident. A short drive (in a Mercedes bus) and we were at the hotel.

The Orientation meeting was at six, but by the time it was done, I was ready to fall asleep. I uncharacteristically fell asleep by 7:30.

St. Giles Hotel, London
St. Giles Hotel, London