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Colors of the Dark

I haven’t posted much since I returned from studying abroad. It was one of those things where you’ve set definite goals in your mind, but then life and school and fun catch up and suddenly a year has gone by.

It’s been a great year though and who would have thought that I would somehow return to Europe so soon, but it happened and I still can’t believe that I’m so fortunate.

I went to France to study wine (living the hard life, I know) and had a wonderful 10 days or so exploring the vineyards and the little town of Beaune.

However, the following are pictures that I took during my only night in Paris. I walked for hours to see all the main sights and attractions, but it wasn’t until the sun set and the street lights came on that Paris truly began to sparkle.




An Unexpected Day

Our final few days in London were full of nice surprises.

We spent Christmas day around the hotel, most of London was shut down including the Underground, so there was no point in going anywhere unless we wanted to pay for a taxi. It was really strange to see a city as large as London basically shutdown. I took a walk with my father down the street and we really didn’t see that many people and even the streets weren’t that busy.



The following day was our final day in London and my sister had been wanting to visit St. Bartholowmew’s Hospital, which is where Sherlock and John (from Sherlock Holmes) met for the first time. We took a quick taxi to St. Peter’s Church and from there it was only a short walk to the hospital.

St. Peter's

St. Bart’s was huge and confusing and we spent a long time trying to find the plaque that commeorated Sherlock and John meeting, eventually we were told that it was in a museum inside the hospital and the museum was closed. Dissapointed as we were, we still found a few fun things in the area. My entire family has watched the BBC version of Sherlock and so we recognized the area where the final scenes of the last season were shot.

St. Bartholomew's Hospital

As we walked around the hospital we happened upon a telephone booth with little notes pasted on the inside. Without spoiling anything, the notes were geared towards Sherlock and one of the themes in the final episode.

Sherlock Booth

My sister and I added one to the booth.

We Believe

A little further down, we came upon an unassuming plaque, which to our surprise was put up in memory of Sir William Wallace, who as some of you might know, was the main made famous by the film Braveheart.

William Wallace

After exploring a very cool courtyard next to the hospital, we made our way over to Hyde Park, where there was a winter wonderland set up, with rides, restaurants and games. It was great to see all the stalls of food and gifts lining the street. Tt reminded me of the Christmas markets in Austria, although the markets in Austria are the best I’ve seen so far. A lot of the restaurants in the Winter Wonderland were based on the stereotypical Bavarian taverns for Oktoberfest.

Winter Wonderland

Towards the back of the wonderland was an ice palace, which had some amazing sculptures.

Ice Palace


My favorite sculpture; a giant dragon!

Ice Dragon

The Winter Wonderland from across the park.

Hyde Park

As we were heading back to the hotel we made a chance sighting. As we walked through Leicester Square we saw Stephen Hawking coming out of a theater. My first celebrity sighting and it was of one the most intelligent men in the world!

I spent five months in Europe and although I was sad to leave it all behind, by the time I stepped onto the plane at Heathrow, I was done and ready to be home. Nobody was looking forward to the flight back, but somehow our tickets were upgraded to business class and we spent the 11 plus hours of travel in style, with our own reclining seats, TVs and pillows. Stepping back into the Portland Airport and seeing that horribly patterned green carpet had never felt better!

On the Set of Harry Potter

The day before Christmas we had tickets to visit the set of Harry Potter, which is based at the Warner Brother’s studio just outside of London in Watford. I had been waiting months for this day and it would not disappoint. It’s very cliché of me to talk about how much Harry Potter means to me, but lets face it, Harry Potter has come to define the childhood of my generation.

Having been said literally a million times before, I’m going to say it one more time, Harry Potter changed my life. It was a huge part of growing up and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without these stories. I always loved the fact that each year a new book came out, Harry and I were the same age. No, I never had to fight any Dark Lords (except maybe my parents), but I still felt like as I grew up, Harry was growing up with me and I could relate to many of the emotions he was going through. The Harry Potter books were important, because they taught me about loyalty, love and courage, but they also meant sometime much more to me. It’s easy for any book to spew morals out at readers, but it’s harder for a book to leave a lasting impression on people’s lives. That type of thing is only achieved through the best of books.

For me Harry Potter is memories. My parents were the ones who introduced my sister and I to the books sometime in 1998. Before my sister and I went to sleep every night they would plunge us into the dazzling world of Harry Potter. Soon the books were just too good to read only at night. When my family and I went to Sunriver, a resort in Southern Oregon, we listen to the books on CD for the four-hour drive. On the audio CD’s there was a british man who acted out all the voices and made the books all the more entertaining. The long drive to Sunriver would have been the perfect opportunity to catch some sleep, but my sister and I would always stay awake, listening to Harry battle monsters and overcome all challenges.

When the new books came out, usually over the summer, my family and I would always be at the beach. Therefore, we would drive every summer about a half-hour to get to Lincoln City, where there was a little bright blue bookshop, called Bob’s Beach Books, that sold the books at midnight. My sister, my friends and I would buy the books on the hour and then hungrily read them as we drove home. Despite the fact that I get sick from reading in the car, I still couldn’t put the book down. Soon the midnight release of the books got big enough that it was moved to the public library and a bunch of dedicated fans would sit around reading the previous book before midnight.

The books themselves hold memories too, and I mean both in a literal and figurative way. When I open any of the Harry Potter books, I can remember where I was when I read them. One of the pages in the 3rd book has a grass stain on the side from when I sat in our backyard in the summer, or a corner of the 4th book has been bitten of, because my rabbit decided he was hungry. I remember where I was when I cried because of Dumbledore’s death and I remember exactly where I sat when I closed the last page of the last book. I can still recall the feeling of finishing the entire series. The satisfaction of having a wonderful story finally finished and the tinge of sadness, knowing that another book would never come.

Perhaps even more important than anything, Harry Potter taught me to love books. I read a lot before the Harry Potter books, but nothing came close to exciting me in the way that they did. Books are precious things and it’s thanks to Harry Potter that I think this way. These books taught me that I could go anywhere my mind could imagine, that I could be anyone I wanted to be and that I could face any challenge that I came up against. Harry Potter taught me that there are billions of journeys that I haven’t even started and it gave me a hunger to devour as many stories as I possibly could. It was the start of a journey that will last me a lifetime.

Just like the books, the Harry Potter movies were as important. Most of the movies would come out in November, right around my birthday. My friends and I would stand in line for hours waiting for the midnight premiere and just like in the books, the actors grew up and matured right along with me.

So, if you were wondering why this visit meant so much to me, there you have it. All these memories culminated into a sort of emotional visit to the Harry Potter set. Thirteen years (more than half) of my life.


We took a train from London to Watford Junction where a double-decker bus plastered in scenes from Harry Potter picked us up. The bus drove us directly to the set, which was about 20 minutes down the road. The town itself was very cute, with small houses and quiet roads and it reminded me of Privet Drive.

Arriving at the set.

Warner Bros Studio

One of the chess pieces.

There were three of them outside, all of them were around eight maybe nine feet tall. There were a number of other chess pieces inside the studio as well, but many of them were actually destroyed during the filming process.

Chess Piece

Outside the studio we talked to one of the employees about what it was like to live where they were filming. She said that there was a lot of security and they were never able to get close enough to see any of the actors, but sometimes they would see explosions from the fields and know that a movie was being filmed.

Once inside the studio we could only line up if we did a dance, our choices were the robot, moonwalk or gangnam style. I chose the moonwalk, but most people did gangnam style, it was great entertainment while waiting in line.

Harry’s cupboard under the stairs. It stood off to the side of the line so that we could peer in as we walked by.

Under the Stairs

Under the Stairs

The line filed us into a small room with screens hung up around the walls. They showed all the countries that the films were released in and from there we entered a small theater where Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint introduced the set on the screen. After the short film ended the movie screen pulled up and suddenly we were standing in front of the entrance to the Great Hall.

Entrance to the Great Hall

The Great Hall was decorated for Christmas and the tables for Gryffindor and Slytherin were standing on opposite sides of the hall. All along the tables are fake pieces of food. Originally, they used real food, but as you can imagine it began to get a little smelly after a few days. The hall was a lot smaller than it seems on-screen and there is no real ceiling. The floor is entirely made out of stone.

There were a lot of details in the hall that I’d never noticed before in the movie. The Hogwarts crest is engraved over the fireplace. Next to the hall doors there are very faint paintings on the wall, which were first painted and then faded to look hundreds of years old. All around the tables stood mannequins with the original clothes worn by the characters. Harry’s first cloak stood behind the Gryffindor table. At the front of the hall was the wardrobe for Dumbledore, Hagrid, Flitwick, Snape and a few other characters.

Great Hall

The Slythrin’s table.


Hogwarts crest over the fireplace.

Hogwarts Crest

The Great Hall then opened up into a larger area with multiple sets and props. As I walked through, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything was so much smaller than it seemed on film, but there was so much more detail to all the props and sets.

The ceiling of the Great Hall. It’s probably only a little bit larger than a door, but when filmed it is impossible to tell its actual size.

The Ceiling of Hogwarts

The “ice” sculpture for the Yule Ball in the fourth movie.

The Yule Ball

Along with the sets, there was also a wardrobe area with many of the wigs and clothes worn by the characters. What surprised me the most was that the many stages of change in the wardrobe of each individual character was meticulously thought out. Below is the shirt Harry wore in the last movie. You can see the different stages of wear and tear as the movie wore on.


An optical illusion. The chair is probably the perfect size for a doll in real life.

Leaky Cauldron

The boy’s dormitory.

The Dorm

The giant door to the Chamber of Secrets. The snakes can actually move like they did in the movie. The same is true for the vault into Gringotts.

Entrance to the Chamber of Secrets

The potions room. Many of the potions were stirring themselves.

Potions Room

The entrance to Dumbledore’s office. This particular piece does not move, but there is also another one that turns into stairs and spirals up.

The Griffin

Dumbledore in his study.

Dumbledore's Study

Hagrid’s Cabin. For many scenes in the movie, Hagrid’s head was fake to make him look taller.

Hagrid's Hut

Umbridge’s Office.

Umbridge's Room

Along with the sets above, there was also the inside of the burrow, the Gryffindor Common Room, and the fireplace of the Ministry of Magic. Along the way there was a room where we were all given cloaks and the chance to ride a broom with a green screen in the background. The brooms were surprisingly comfortable and easy to sit on. A metal seat was built into the broom and it was covered by the cloak so that it wouldn’t be filmed.

The large set room exited into the backlot, where some of the larger sets and pieces are kept. Outside, we had lunch and our first taste of Butterbeer, which was super sugary soda with some sort of cream on top.

The Knight Bus.

The Knight Bus

Number 4 Privet Drive.

Privet Drive Number 4

Harry’s destroyed home in Godric Hollow.

Godric's Hollow

The crooked Bridge to Hogwarts. Although not in the original books it was important in the movies. It was disorienting walking along the slanted path.

 Hogwart's Bridge

It was raining while we were outside so we hurried along after making sure that we had taken enough pictures of the sets. The next room was all about the magical creatures and animatronics. I was even more surprised after exploring this room. A lot of the creatures that I thought were completely computer animated were actually sculpted and made into a robot. Many of them could move on their own. One of the more impressive creations was a life-sized robot of Lupin as a werwolf. He probably stood eight or nine feet tall. The creators also made a rigging that attached the wolf’s head to the actor, but it turned out too heavy and so they had to scan it into the computer.

The head of a mermaid.


A full-sized Thestral to the left and the head of the Horntail on the right. This dragon head actually breathed fire during filming.



Aragog, the giant spider. The head of the Basilisk is in the corner and it’s skeleton sat just below.


My favorite animatronic creature was Buckbeak. He actually began moving while we were there and we got the chance to bow to him. He was incredibly life-like.


The architect of Hogwarts. He wasn’t originally in the books, but was added into the movies.

The fact that the creators of the HP films added so many extra details to the films was something that I had never realized before and really makes me appreciate the process a lot more. After going through the sets, I need to go back and re-watch the movies and try to catch some of the things I saw.

Hogwart's Architect

After exiting the animatronics room we walked straight onto Diagon Alley. Like many of the other sets it seemed so much smaller than on-screen. Many of the stores were destroyed from their last film, but the attention to detail was dazzling. Gringotts stood at the beginning to the alley and a patch of snow sat next to it. The snow would sink in as if Harry were walking under the invisibility cloak.

Diagon Alley

After passing trough Diagon Alley we were brought into the drawing-room, where everything that we had seen that day first came to life, as diagrams and paintings and even small paper models. As we passed through the planning rooms we rounded the corner and were met by a full scale model of Hogwarts, which was used for shots of the castle. As we walked around the model the lighting changed through the cycle of 24 hours and when the lights went down little flames flickered inside the windows of the castle.


The final room was filled to the ceiling with wand boxes, which had the names of every single person who worked on the movies. The boxes covered all four walls, top to bottom.


I didn’t want the tour to end, but it really brought the entire experience of Harry Potter into perspective and it won’t be something that I will forget soon.

Our second day in London was just as full as the last. We rode the underground to the Tower of London. The fortress, which sits right along the Thames was built by William the Conqueror and over the years other royals added to the fortress. The Tower is very impressive, although it was strange to see the old castle  surrounded by more modern and taller buildings.
Tower of London

Upon entering the fortress we were greeted by Water Lane. This area was originally part of the river, but the water was pushed back.


Looking down on the entrance to the fortress.

Inside the Tower of London

Just a quick walk down Water Lane is Traitors’ Gate. This is another entrance to the fortress, but not one that many people would be happy to use. Originally, the gate was meant to be used as a water entrance to the fortress, but during the Tudor’s time it was used as a prisoner’s entrance. One of the more famous prisoners to pass through this gate was Anne Boleyn.

Traitor's Gate

After Traitors’ Gate we made our way along the Wall Walk, which took us around the outside wall of the fortress, showing what life was like for the soldiers, how they would have defended the tower and even what life was like for the animals in the royal menagerie. After the tower walk, we came to the building housing the Crown Jewels and from there we headed to the White Tower.

The White Tower is a fortress within a fortress. It stood for the king’s power and I can only imagine how impressive it looked sitting atop its hill next to the Thames. Today, it is full of old relics of past kings and knights. Hopping joyfully on the lawn before the Tower are the famous ravens. If the ravens leave the tower it will fall, along will the power of the monarchy. Today, there are seven ravens, although there were originally six. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to be safe.

White Tower

After leaving the Tower we headed along the river and took a stroll over to Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge

Just across from the Tower of London on the other side of the Thames is the HMS Belfast, which was a used as a warship during WW II.


When we boarded the HMS Belfast, I was immediately impressed. The tour took us through level after level of the ship and really went into detail about how each part of the ship had been used, who had used it and what its purpose was. My favorite part was climbing down a small ladder to reach the engine rooms, where we had to duck under pipes and walk on small walkways to find our way through the maze. Every few minutes a recording of the working engines demonstrated just how loud the ship was when moving. I have a newfound respect for the men that worked down in that dark and confusing place.

The Engine Room



The Belfast's Weapons

It probably took us a good hour and a half to make it through the ship and that was after getting lost a few times. Once we came up on deck the sun was already setting and the city began to glow.

A stark contrast between the stone Tower of London and the new glass buildings on the left.

Along the Thames

The Tower Bridge at night.

Tower Bridge Night

Hello London!

Our time spent in Paris was amazing, but it was time that we moved on. Our last destination was London and it would be in London that my family and I would celebrate Christmas!

To get to London we road through the Channel Tunnel (aka, the Chunnel), which is an underwater train tunnel that crosses the English Channel from France to England. It was exciting and nerve-racking thinking about crossing through a tunnel that was surrounded by water. However, going through the tunnel itself turned out to be rather uneventful, which is probably a good thing now that I think about it.

Once we arrived at London at London St Pancras we were met by a spattering of british accents. Although it wasn’t like home, I felt relieved that I was finally back in a country where English was the main language. It made me realize just how much I had missed hearing those familiar and recognizable words. From the station we hauled our suitcases out the front doors and decided to drag them down the street for a few blocks to our hotel, which was really close. My family and I made sure to look for cars driving on the opposite side of the street, which even with the LOOK LEFT or LOOK RIGHT signs on the ground, was still hard to remember.

We made it to The Hotel Russell in one piece and were greeted by the warmth of the sun (it would be our only day in London without rain).

The Hotel Russell near Russell Square Station.

Russel Hotel


Just across from our hotel were the famous London telephone booths. Don’t let the bright red exterior fool you though, inside they smell like any other telephone booth (not good) and upon the walls are a number of scantily clad women with a telephone number next to them (you can probably guess on your own what they’re advertising).


We didn’t have much of the day left to go exploring, so we wandered over to Charles Dickens’ house and took a few photos of the outside, because the museum was closed. We then made our way to an small Italian restaurant. The meal was delicious and the waitress was more than happy to chat with us and give us some information on what there is to do in London.

That night we all rested well for the day to come.


The following morning we all trooped down to the Underground station for what was going to be a day packed full of sightseeing. There was a long line for the elevator at the station, so my family turned to walk down the steps, but we turned right back around when we saw the sign proclaiming that it was 175 steps to get to the Underground. What we didn’t realize was that the elevators were large enough to fit a small car inside, so we made it to the Underground without any fuss.

One thing I loved about the signs in London… the exit was called the “way out”. I have no idea why someone decided “way out” was better than “exit”.

Way Out

We road the Underground (the trains are surprisingly small, I could have touched the ceiling) to Parliament and came out of the station right under Big Ben. I’ve said it before, but it still amazes me when I go somewhere and see famous sights. There are so many movies, TV series, and books set in London, so many in fact, that I felt like I knew London without even having been there. In reality there’s nothing as inspiring as seeing the sight for yourself.

Big Ben

The Clock of Big Ben

After admiring Big Ben, we headed to Winston Churchill’s WW II bunker. He only spent three nights total in the bunker and the bunker itself was never bombed, however it was the base of operation for Churchill during the war. The bunker consisted of sleeping quarters for his officers, war rooms, meeting rooms, the map room, a kitchen and rooms for communication. Churchill even had his own secret room with a telephone that connected directly to the President of the US (FDR at the time). Today it is a museum, which has kept many of the original rooms intact and has added a room specifically dedicated to Churchill and his life.

Churchill’s room. He loved maps, so the walls are covered in them, he probably thought of strategy in his sleep. Although he didn’t often spend the night in this room, he always took a one-hour nap during the day.

 Churchill's Room

Correspondence room. During the war there were a number of workers here sending and receiving messages. There was always at least one person there.

Secretary Room

The tunnel to the map room. The walls of the tunnel are made of concrete. The map room is filled with maps from ceiling to floor, which are covered in so many pins that they are more hole than map.

The Map Room

Churchill’s bunker was impressive and a great museum, but it was a relief to finally step outside again and breathe fresh air. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to work there for most of the war. The bunker halls and rooms were lit, but the light was dim and orange and the small hallways and constricting rooms couldn’t have been relaxing. Of course most anything was preferable to actually being out on the street while the threat of an attack hung over the city.

After the museum, we crossed the street to St. James’s Park, which surrounds a small lake. The park is filled with birds of all kinds and hundreds of squirrels. All the park creatures were daring and approached people with the hopes of a snack. The squirrels were especially brave and would walk onto the pathway and take food from people’s hands. We fed a few of the squirrels and one started to climb my father’s leg until he got scared and shook it off.

St. Jame's Park

A curious squirrel.


We walked through the park until we came upon Buckingham Palace. For some reason the Queen’s Guard was not wearing their red uniforms. I’m not sure why, so if anyone knows, please feel free to tell me!


A guard with his bearskin cap.

The Queen's Guard

Lock and Key

The Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the palace.

Victoria Memorial

Soon after the palace we took a taxi to 221b Baker Street, which is the famous residence of the London detective Sherlock Holmes. To the left, is the actual apartment, which is set up to look like his house. To the right, is a shop where the souvenirs and tickets are bought. The apartment was fun to wander through. The first and second floor consisted of rooms set up with various knick-nacks and items from Sherlock and John’s life. The third floor had wax figures from all the cases Sherlock had solved. I had quiet a scare on the third floor, where an old man sat against the wall with the wax figures. At first he sat very still and I thought he was apart of the exhibit, but he suddenly began moving I had to do a double take before I realized he was alive!

Sherlock 221B

Our last stop of the day was the London Eye. It was pouring rain, but lucky for us the line was not too long. The Eye was beautiful and glowing blue in the rain. As we walked up to the enclosed carriages they didn’t stop, but moved along the ramp at a slow pace and we had to stumble our way onto them. The carriages held around 20 people.

Big Ben from the Eye.

Big Ben from the Eye


A word of warning for any who want to visit the Louvre. Yes, it is an amazing museum. The sheer size of the place could count as a work of art in itself and I was truly amazed when I first saw the building, it was more like a palace than a museum. Even if you don’t go inside, at least stop by and take a gander at the place. It’s impressive to say the least. However, this museum was exhausting and a little overwhelming at times.

The Louvre is home to some really famous pieces and if you know that you want to see one in particular, go for it! My family and I, however, were not at all prepared. Basically, all we knew was that we wanted to see The Mona Lisa, but there are a lot of other really famous pieces in the museum. Some of my favorites were the Code of Hammurabi, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace (see below). There were also large sections of the museum housing a number of marble statues. This was my favorite part of the museum, because I felt like I walking through a garden of stone.

The glass pyramid of the Louvre (the entrance).

The Louvre

Winged Victory of Samothrace


A sculpted head from Egypt.

Egyptian Bust

I thought the crowd around Mona Lisa was hilarious. Everyone (including myself) pushed and shoved their way to the front to see this smiling woman, take a picture and then amble on.

Mona Lisa's Crowd

One of the more interesting statues in the museum. It depicts Hercules battling Achelous (a river god), who transformed into a snake.


After the Louvre, my family and I met up with some relatives who also happened to be staying in Paris. It was only a coincidence that we even met up, but it was a pleasant night. Dinner was seafood and although I didn’t order them, my fish came with two snails. I was in France… so I had to try. I won’t be eating another snail again, but mostly it tasted like fish with a strange texture.

After dinner we walked around the Arc de Triomphe and admired the lights of the Champs-Élysées before retiring for the night.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées


I thought that Schönbrunn was the largest palace anyone could possibly want or need. How wrong I was.

Versailles is by far much larger and grander than Schönbrunn, both in the size of the gardens and in the size of the palace itself. However, like Schönbrunn it started as a hunting lodge and was slowly expanded and built into what we see today. Once it was transformed into a palace, the seat of the French government was moved here and the kings of France had their homes in the palace. It was only after the French Revolution that it was no longer occupied.

There are a few different sections of the palace that can be explored. We took a tour of the King and Queen’s Grand Apartments, which are set off to the right of the palace. They built this section, because the king and queen wanted an area where they could live separate lives from the court and have some peace and quiet. The King’s Apartment was very impressive, although the rooms were smaller than I thought they would be. Many of the rooms had hidden doors that led into secret sections of the apartments where the king could spend his time alone and working on official business.

The rest of the palace has been transformed into a museum. Below is a model of the palace when it was in the first stages of its construction. Although it is large, this little place is nothing compared to the vast palace today.
Versailles Model

The palace and the gardens today. The two buildings in the very front of the model are the stables.

Model Today

The front gates.

Versailles Front Gates

Inside the front square.

Inside the Gates

The Queen’s bed. The queen never actually slept in this bed, but simply received her guests in this room.

The Queen's Room

The Hall of Mirrors.

Hall of Mirrors

Even more impressive than the palace were the gardens. The garden itself could hold a small town, with enough space for people to live comfortably. My family and I decided it was worth the money, and we became the ultimate tourists by renting a golf cart and touring the gardens that way. It was a good thing we did, because it would have taken us well over an hour just to get to the Grand Trianon, which sits on the other side of the garden from the palace.

The Gardens from behind the Latona Fountain. The large lake in the center is called the Grand Canal, after the canal in Venice. There used to be two gondolas floating in the lake as well.

Latona Fountain

The Apollo Fountain

Apollo Fountain

Notre Dame

We were in Paris, so of course we had to visit Notre Dame. Thanks to Disney, my sister and I had a number of songs to sing about the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The front of Notre Dame is actually rather plain, the two towers hide the back of the tower making the church look smaller than it really is. It was the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame while we were visiting, so there was some sort of exhibit in front of the church, plus some bleachers for people to sit on and admire the architecture.
Front of ND

We climbed the left side of the tower first. The entire tour takes you up through the left tower across the small bridge and then up again to the very top of the right tower. From there we were allowed to walk around the small tower and see the city from various angles. The only disappointing thing was that the bells were being worked on, so we had no luck seeing them.

The steps up to the lookout.

The steps were worn down by so many feet that they were more like bowls that steps.

Stairs up to ND

The back of Notre Dame.

From the top of ND

The famous gargoyles of Notre Dame.

The church is said to be one of the better examples of Gothic architecture both in France and in Europe as a whole. I’ve seen a lot of churches on this trip, and I have to admit that these were probably some of the most beautiful and creepy gargoyles I’ve seen. Each and every one was different in shape and character. Some were just sitting looking over the city, while others held smaller creatures in their hands and enjoying a meal.


Over Paris

After descending the right tower, we visited the inside of the church, which really put into perspective just how huge the cathedral really was. Once we exited the church we headed towards the back and it took on a completely different look. I actually like the back of Notre Dame the most. It has huge arches that shoot out from the main building and form into sturdy pillars, making the building look like a creature, ready to lift its massive body from the earth.

From the Back of Notre Dame.

A typical street in Paris.

The streets of Paris are just plain dirty. There are unpleasant things all over the streets and sidewalks, but despite this I felt like Paris streets had a certain charm and character that I hadn’t yet found in any other European city. There was always a small restaurant to stop at on every corner and the buildings were smashed together creating small alleys, each of which seemed to hold its own special secret.

Paris Streets

I was told by a friend that I needed to visit a bookstore not too far from Notre Dame. After not much searching at all, we arrived at Shakespeare & Company. It is a very unassuming shop, just off the main street and somewhat hidden behind a wall, but despite this it was my favorite place in Paris. True, I was born to love books, but even one who reads only one book a year would appreciate the charm of S&C.

Even before entering the store you have travel through thick curtains to see inside. As I pushed them aside, I felt like I was entering another world. The rooms of the store hardly fit together. It was almost a game to try to discover all the different nooks and crannies the store was hiding. Books covered the ceiling from top to bottom, they were piled on tables and overflowing in customer’s arms (especially mine).

S & C

The first floor of the building is a store, while the second floor is a living space, but also holds a number of books not for sale. There was a small living space, a cubby for writing, a small nook for reading and a bedroom with a piano. Basically, I want to this place as my home.

WIndow Seat

A small cubby filled with notes and a simple red typewriter.

Writing Corner


After buying the store out, we headed back to the apartment as the sun set. Every hour after the sun sets, the Eiffel Tower puts on a light show and sparkles in the sky. We were barely able to catch the show and ended up watching the beautiful sight from the side of the tower.

The Eiffel Tower at night.

Orange Sky

Under the Tower at Night

Omaha Beach

We felt like it was important to go to the American Cemetery next to Omaha Beach. It’s only a two-hour train ride from Paris and a half-hour drive from the city Caen. When we reached Caen there was a car rental just across from the station so it was easy to go and pick up a car to drive to the coast.

Before reaching Omaha Beach we stopped for lunch in the small town of Bayeux, which is most known for the famous Bayeux Tapestry, however, we didn’t have enough time to visit the tapestry ourselves. We stopped for lunch in a cute little restaurant off the main road and walked around the little town for maybe five or ten minutes before moving on.

A House in Bayeux

The coolest part of the town was probably the church, which stood in the very center and was a massive structure of stone.


Church in Bayeux

To me Bayeux seemed like the typical French country town. The buildings were especially cute and small. The stone homes were plain and simple and the streets were quiet. Only the splashing of rain and cars disturbed the peace.

Muddy Water

A small river/creek that ran through the town.

Bayeux Creek

After driving through large swaths of country land, we arrived at the coast and a number of signs directed us towards the cemetery.

Omaha Beach was the code name given to the Normandy beach along the French coast during WW II. This particular beach was important because it was the only possible area where the Allies had any chance of liberating France from Hitler’s clutch. Omaha Beach was only one section of the Normandy Landings. There was also Utah Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach and Sword Beach.  The day that the Americans, British and Canadians landed on Normandy is known as D-Day (June 6th, 1944). It was a battle with heavy casualties, but resulted in victory for the Allies.

When we arrived at the parking lot there were only two other cars parked in the area and it was drizzling outside. It rained while we walked over to the memorial and cemetery. As we rounded the corner of the memorial the wind picked up, making the flags whip and snap in the gale.


Looking out from the memorial doesn’t even let the visitors see the entire cemetery. It goes even further back and I couldn’t believe how many white crosses stood vigilant on the green grass.

The memorial from the front.

American War Memorial

We walked towards the middle of the cemetery; the rain pouring down on us when suddenly the clouds began to clear and over the ocean was a rainbow. It was one of those serendipitous moments and I couldn’t have asked for beautiful weather while I paid my respects to the soldiers.


A Soldier's Grave

After rounding the cemetery we headed down to the beach. Just looking down the hill into thickets of leaves and bushes, it was made apparent just how much of a challenge the soldiers faced climbing from the beach with German artillery and gunfire blaring down on them.

Looking down onto the beach

The Path to the Beach

Uphill Battle

Once we began walking down the hill, I was even more impressed and horrified at the prospect of capturing that hill. The bushes were thick and dense, sometimes disappearing into darkness. As we neared the beach, we were met by a large section of swamp, whose water probably would have gone over my knees. To top all that off, shoulder high grass grew out of the water before reaching the dunes of sand. All I can say is that it is incredible that ANYONE even made it past the first sand dune.

The Beach of Normandy

It was a humbling day to see the things someone would go through for their freedom and for the freedom of people they had never even met face to face.

Eiffel Tower

The following morning my father and I went to the Eiffel Tower early to try and reach the top before it got too crowded. Even though I had seen the Moulin Rouge the day before, I still wasn’t really convinced that I was in Paris. Walking along the streets felt different than any other city I’d been to so far, but it still hadn’t really hit me that I was in Paris.

We came from the northwest side of the city and rounded the Palais de Chaillot, which provided a dramatic lead-up to the tower’s unveiling. It was only after I was standing in front of the tower that I truly felt like I was in Paris. It was an impressive view and a site I had never really imagined seeing in person. I’ve seen Paris in movies, read about it in books and seen it in pictures, but there’s nothing like actually standing in front of the Eiffel Tower to put in perspective how lucky I am.

The Eiffel Tower from the Palais de Chaillot. The sun was just rising, but already the entire place was covered in tourists!

Eiffel Tower from the Palais de Chaillot

Tower in the Morning

As we walked towards the Eiffel Tower, I couldn’t stop thinking, “I’m in Paris!”. It was really surreal and I almost couldn’t wrap my head around it.

Eiffel Tower Silhouet

The tower from below.

Under the Tower

We reached the tower and then frantically searched for the quickest way to the top. Maybe I’m spoiling the secret, although I feel like it’s really not that huge of a secret, but the Eiffel Tower can be climbed! That one or two-hour long line that you’re waiting in, well just go around the corner and it takes a minute to buy a ticket and start the climb. This is what we did and it was actually really nice. There was no line, the staircase has a number of informational posters and along the way you get to admire the incredible infrastructure of the tower. I can’t even imagine how Eiffel (the tower is named after its architect, he also built the Statue of Liberty) could conceive such a massive tower of steel.

Some fun facts about the Eiffel Tower. It was built by Gustave Eiffel in 1889. It was finished in only a little over 2 years and it reaches the height of 324 meters or 1,063 feet. There are 704 steps to the second floor.


Almost there!

Climbing Up

As far as I know no one is allowed to climb to the very top of the tower, but we were able to make it to the first and second levels. It really wasn’t that bad of a climb and once we reached the top we were able to snag some tickets to ride the final elevator to the summit.

The view from the summit looking out over Paris and the park, Champ de Mars.


Paris from Above

The Sacred Heart Basilica, which we visited the other day.

Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre

The L’hôtel des Invalides really stands out on the Paris skyline. It sparkles among all the short grey buildings.

L'hôtel des Invalides

The metro station in the vicinity of our apartment. The entrances to the stations are done in the Art Nouveau style, painted green with swirling arches and curves. It’s really beautiful, but sometimes makes it difficult to find the station entrances among the busy streets and buildings.


After visiting the Eiffel Tower we picked up my mother and sister at the apartment and then headed to the Arc de Triomphe. This arch is surrounded by the world’s largest roundabout. We witnessed a few daring (or stupid) people running across the roundabout, but there is of course a safer way in an underground tunnel.

The Arc was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon to celebrate his victories, but it was not finished until 1836. The Germans and Allies took turns marching through this arch at different periods in time. First the Germans marched through in 1871, then the Allies in 1919. During World War II the Germans marched through the arch again in 1940 and at the end of the war in 1944 the Allies marched through.

Arc de Triomphe

Looking out over the tomb of an unknown soldier from WW I. The flame burns for the lives lost during WW I and WW II.

Eternal Flame

The ceiling of the arch.

Under the Arc

After touring the arch we turned towards the Avenue Des Champs-Élysées, which lines up perfectly with the tomb of the unknown soldier and the arch. This avenue is full of big-name stores, Christmas stalls, people and cars.

Champ Elysee

At the opposite end of the Champs-Élysées is the Place de la Concorde, one of the larger squares in Paris. Situated in the center of it is the Grande Roue de Paris, the ferris wheel, and the Luxor Obelisk. The Obelisk used to be at the Luxor Temple in Egypt, but was offered to France as a gift.

Grande Roue de Paris and Luxor Obelisk

One of the fountains on the Place de la Concorde.

Place de la Concorde

From the Concorde we headed towards the river Seine so that we could walk back towards the Eiffel Tower along the river. We crossed the Seine on the famous Pont Alexandre III bridge, which is decorated with a number of statues, some completely gold and also intricate lamps. The view of the Eiffel Tower from the bridge is beautiful.

Pont Alexandre III

As we headed back to our apartment the sun was beginning to set and the Eiffel Tower was lit.

Eiffel Tower at Night