Thursday, April 27, 2017

Easter in the Alps

Easter weekend meant another trip to David's parent's house in Gap! I can't believe Easter is already over- I feel like it was just a month or two ago that we were there for Christmas. 

To mix things up, we spent Saturday in the Grenoble area. After a drive through the mountains followed by lunch with David's aunt and uncle, we headed to Vizille. 

Vizille might just be the most beautiful park I've ever been to. A castle, some mountains, a lake, animals, and so much green! It's a little piece of paradise. I went there a few years ago with my friend Olimpia when she lived in Grenoble. Perfect spring activity!

Now who wants to see roughly 1 million pictures?

Animal sightings: 

The peacock was so cool! I've never seen one with such tall feathers.

Since it's SO beautiful here, it's a popular place to take wedding pictures. I saw 3 different couples.

We walked around for at least a few hours- I'm so happy I could make it back!

Easter Monday is a holiday in France, so we got to stay an extra night and take our time driving back. We've made this same drive from Cannes to Gap and back so many times, and have never really had the time to see things along the way. 

This was our chance to start! One thing we've passed a million times is a huge basilica in St. Maximin. Get ready, because the church's full name is a mouthful. 
Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume

Marie Madeleine is the French for Mary Magdalene. The legend is that Mary Magdalene's bones are in the basement of this church, believe it or not.

When I first read the Da Vinci Code a few years ago, I thought Dan Brown totally made up the whole plot about Mary Magdalene coming to France. Nope, that's actually something (at least some) Catholics believe! They don't believe the whole 'wife of Jesus' and 'Holy Grail buried in the Louvre,' parts though ;)

The whole story is posted in the church- I thought it was pretty interesting. Early Christians were being persecuted in Israel, so Mary Magdalene and a few other escaped on a boat, crossed the Mediterranean, and settled in southern France. In the 1200s, someone discovered what they thought was her tomb (and maybe even made the whole story up, who knows). The church was built over the tomb starting in the late 1200s and wasn't fully finished until the 1500s.

David checking out the organ. 

The crypt with (possibly?) Mary Magdalene's bones.

Here's 2 aerial shots I stole from the internet, so you can get a sense of how big it is!

I loved getting to see this Gothic basilica in middle of nowhere, Provence. Let's compare with what you might stop to see in middle of nowhere, USA. 

Road trips might be a little different next year.

"From the car window" scenery.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Sunday was the day! The day of Harry Potter. 5 hours of Harry Potter, to be exact.

Sadly, it was also the day David had to fly back to France for work. Before my play and his flight, we walked through the gardens at Kensington Palace. After some Sunday brunch, we split up. I went to the West End and the Palace Theatre, and he went for a walk around Westminster- where he got lucky and happened to catch the special Palm Sunday service (which meant he could go inside for free!).

If you're not aware, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a sequel to the book series. It's a story about Harry+Co. and their children 19 years after the last book ends. I managed to snag last minute tickets from someone canceling. I was lucky because the tickets are sold out for the next year!

What can I even say about the play? Would it be too painfully cheesy to say that it was magical? Because the special effects were amazing! Not just like “that was cool,” but more like “how is that possible??”.  

I read the play when it came out last summer. I enjoyed it but wasn’t blown away. However, the play did blow me away! It was definitely meant to be a play and not a book. Besides the special effects (seriously like something every minute- flying, disappearing, spells) and the great acting... it made it more fun just to be in London and to be in a theater of very excited people.

The play was in 2 parts of about 2.5 hours each. Not for the faint of heart to do that all in one day. I never came close to getting bored though- and that's saying something, because I normally don't love sitting still for that long.

I had a few hours between parts 1 and 2 that I spent shopping. I've never shopped in London, guys! It had to be done. 

The first act of the play ends with Voldemort coming back... so when you come into the theater for the second half, the gift shop was only selling Slytherin and Dark Mark souvenirs. The stage looked like this:

I appreciated that little touch! It was a very happy day living out my childhood Harry Potter dreams. I feel like I've finally been to Hogwarts. I mean, on the way back to the hotel I even passed through King's Cross :)

On Monday, I woke up with the same sad feeling David had had the day before. It was time to leave London in a few hours. I had time to do a little more sightseeing first, so I walked around the Westminster area and visited the Churchill War Rooms. For someone who loves WWII history, it was really interesting! You can walk through the bunker where Churchill directed the war effort, and also visit a museum about his life.

It's definitely worth seeing as long as you're not claustrophobic. My favorite part were the Churchill quotes. He was so good at insults.

One of the best- a female politician said to him "If I was your wife, I'd put poison in your coffee." He replied, "Well, if I was your husband, I'd drink it." 

We had beautiful sunny weather and blue skies on every day of our trip.

Considering we were both so sad to leave London, I have a feeling that someday the Rubinos will be back. Until next time, London!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cruising down the Thames

Saturday morning started out at the Tower of London to brush up on our British history. It has been a royal residence, a prison, and today is the home of the crown jewels. History AND jewelry in a castle?? I was sold.

Ravens hanging at the tower

Inside the tower:

I laughed really hard when I overheard French tourists complaining that it wasn't impressive enough for their liking. One guy said "It's no Versailles." That's true, but it's probably because we were in a room that was built 600 years earlier than Versailles was. David was annoyed to not have a break from complaining French people while on vacation, but I was very entertained.

There is so much to see at the Tower. I think we spent at least 3 hours there. David likes to read every word of every informational sign, so that might have been part of it ;)

We were planning on going to a huge museum next, but that didn't sound too appealing after already walking all morning. Luckily, while trying to find the museum we happened to walk by a boat tour. Cruising down the Thames sounded much better, so we hopped right on.

View of St. Paul's from the water.
The HMS Belfast was in WWII.

Millennium Bridge: the one that gets blown up in Harry Potter.
Did you know that London Bridge is really just an ugly slab of concrete?

We felt refreshed after going down the Thames and back, and had the energy to make it to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. On the way we walked by this garden (spring!!) and this Egyptian obelisk (the oldest thing in London).

There was so much going on in Trafalgar Square! Street performers, chalk artists, tourists and locals hanging out. I want to give a shout out to London for not having thousands of pigeons like France and Italy do. Because normally squares like this with big crowds are where the pigeons congregate. Notttttt a big fan of European pigeons.

Just down the street from Big Ben!

The National Gallery was great! And also free. The highlight for me was Da Vinci's Madonna on the Rocks. 

This is an unfinished Da Vinci drawing.

We also walked through a big Rembrandt section and saw some Raphael and Rubens. And this famous Dutch painting of the Arnolfinis.

I don't even know who painted this, but I <3 the frame!

After dinner (it's so easy to find food we like in London!!) it was time to head to the Bach concert of St. Matthew's Passion that David had been looking forward to for months. It was 3 hours of 100% all in German fun. I have not really been exposed to classical music much in my life, and this was a little too intense for me. 3 hours. All in German. At least I learned something new about myself: I don't like Bach.

However, David was in heaven and loved it. through it. No worries though, because the next day I got to go to my happy place: two words... Harry. Potter. Recap of the play coming soon.