Cheerio, from Washington!  We are officially back in America after an 8 hour flight from an Air Force Base in Suffolk, UK.  It took 2 ½ hours to drive there from London, but was well worth it (more on that offline). 

We spent the majority of our time working in London in the Cumberland Hotel, literally steps from the Marble Arch.  The Cumberland is an interesting place.  It’s very modern looking – Ann Compton of ABC News describes it as looking like “the Bloomberg After Party.”  I know that means nothing to most people, but imagine low lighting, modern art, lots of flashy crap and you’ve got the Cumberland.

BUT FIRST, we go back to Paris. Our second day there started out at the filing center for a few hours of work.  On the way there (unlike most files that are in our hotel, this time it was 2.5 miles away), we went into a tunnel that seemed rather normal, but our driver pointed out that it was the tunnel that Princess Diana was killed in.  To be honest, I had forgotten that happened in Paris.  It was one of those “I remember what I was doing when that happened” moments as I remembered laying down in my room watching Saturday Night Live when the news hit.  There was a statue of a flame above the entrance and a member of the press with us said you could still see a dent from where the car hit.  Later in the day, I did have a little bit of time to get away for my one major goal: see the portrait of that lady. So I headed to the Louvre (again, it’s pronounced “Loov-ray”).  When walking up to the Louvre, I felt like I was in The Da Vinci Code, with the pyramid and all…sadly, though, Tom Hanks was not there!

The Louvre is HUGE.  Like really big.  I know a few of you warned me about this and suggested not going, but I really did want to check off the Mona Lisa from the list.  After entering, we first headed towards the Napoleon Apartments, which were really grand (this dude knew how to live!), by way of a sculpture garden.  One of the sculptures…it was amazing…it portrayed me defeating Anthony outside the Eiffel Tower.  Spectacular work of art, if you ask me.

From there we headed towards Mona Lisa…the crowd taking pictures there was nuts!  I have not seen that many cell phone cameras in my life.  It took a while to get a clean shot.  On the way out of the Louvre we ran into a few of our fine United flight attendants.  I love those guys.  They take care of us very well.

I then headed back to the file.  It was at about this time that my international cell phone died a horrible death and refused to turn on again.  While walking to the Louvre I stepped off the curb onto the street to get around people that were not cooperating but instead standing in everyone’s way.  This put me in the path of numerous oncoming cyclists so in haste, I went to go back on the sidewalk, tripping and causing my cell phone to fall out of the holster.  Thanks for the valiant efforts of carrier pigeons (because I didn’t have a blackberry until London) I was able to communicate with my co-workers.  Along the way, one pigeon was injured, but we nursed him back to health. (I hope you can sense the extreme sarcasm in this fake anecdote – the carrier pigeon part, at least)

I called Anthony so we could meet up and head back to the Mercure (our hotel) and we decided to meet on the street across from the square. On the way, I passed by Dana and Raul Yanes, the Staff Secretary, and said hello…but I couldn’t find Anthony.  I headed back to the file and in a few minutes he made it there as well.  We headed back to the hotel and off to dinner.  Since we didn’t have a clue as to what is good to eat in Paris, we took a nice walk underneath the Eiffel Tower (still amazed you can do that), across the Seine River and over to an area with restaurants.  We stopped at a place called “Cafe Kebler” …wait, I mean “Cafe Kleber.”  It was pretty good.  Had a nice steak and fries (my first taste of ACTUAL French fries) and then we headed back to the hotel…just in time to catch the Eiffel Tower light show and get some great pics.

The big news is that we finally had the fight – Anthony and I – outside Eiffel Tower.  The picture doesn’t do it, or me, justice (you’ll see it soon), but I defeated him easily.  Not even a contest.

I turned in for the night because we had to get up really early to head to London for the final stop on our European Journey.

The journey to London started off early.  We all met up at the Mercure at 7:15am to head over to the airport, stopping to take some pictures outside the Eiffel Tower, again, with Jon Garcia of ABC.  Jon travels with a stuffed animal from his friend, Karen Travers, also of ABC, and takes pictures of it everywhere.  Kind of like a Flat Stanley thing. 

The flight to London was pretty quick…just over an hour.  We landed at Heathrow and headed to The Cumberland.  When asked how long the ride was, our driver said “Oh, it’s a Sunday, so maybe 30 minutes.” About 20 minutes into the ride, “Well, traffic is bad, probably another 30 minutes.”  Yeah, that worked out.  I got this feeling I was about to experience a day-light version of the 3-hour tour of darkness in Kuwait City.

Even though all the President’s events that day were closed press, there was still plenty to do.  Around seven that night, I met up with Carlton and Stuart to go to dinner.  Carlton had just seen Dana who invited us to go with a group she put together: Stanzel, Johndroe, Marc Thiessen (the President’s speechwriter), John Yang of NBC, and a few others.  We had 13 in total.  The restaurant was just down the street and Dana said it was one of her favorite restaurants when she lived in London with her husband, Peter.  It’s called Maroush Garden and serves Lebanese cuisine.  The menu was price fixe, about 30 pounds (ended up being 51 pounds (100 bucks) when all was said and done) – but the amount of food was mind boggling. I just kept my focus on the lamb…I loved it!  It was a great night and perfect way to end the trip.

During the night, we all started making fun of Carlton for drinking these B-12 supplement drinks that have, and I’m not kidding, 42,000% of the daily recommended value of B-12 in them.  Again, this is no joke, it’s written on the label.  One of the folks with us asked, “Who is this marketed for?” “Horses,” I said.  Gordon was laughing so hard he started to cry.  Scott, not skipping a beat, elaborated, “Race horses.”  Later in the night, I decided they should call the product, “Win, Place or Show.”  Anyway, it was a really fun time.

On the way out, Dana called her husband to tell him we had eaten at the restaurant and he said, “What are you talking about, we ate at the one three doors down.” Sure enough, there were three or four places with “Maroush” in the title on that street.  Someone with us, a local, said “I didn’t want to say anything and ruin the moment, but yes, it was a Chinese restaurant until a few years ago.”  Oh well.

We walked back to the hotels, which were thankfully near by on this stop, and after considering making a stop at Cheers (yep, Cheers) I decided to call it a night since I had to be ready to go at 7:15am this next morning.

Why in the heck would I willingly wake up that early in the morning? To go to Number 10, Downing Street!  Talk about awesome.  Number 10 is the British White House, where the Prime Minister resides and works.  Although, since Prime Minister Brown’s family is so large, he actually lives in Number 11, and the Chancellor lives in Number 10 and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Number 12.  On the drive there, we passed by some great London sites including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben.  I took plenty of pics and then we arrived and walked down Downing Street to the press area set up outside of Number 10 for the President’s arrival. 

As soon as the President arrived, the three still photographers that got their picture taken with Mrs. Bush posed for a picture in front of Number 10.  They got together and slowly started walking backwards towards the door…closer…closer…closer…up the step…directly in front of the door and yelled “now!” Someone hit the shutter, picture taken they started to run.  Three more stills came out of Number 10 shortly after that, those of the Afghanistan trip, who had just taken pictures at the top of the meeting between the President and Prime Minister.  They, trying to one-up the other guys…got a picture of them and a British guard all shaking hands in front of the Number 10 door.  Well played, gentlemen.

After that, we headed into the Lacorna Room across the street from Number 10, for the Joint Press Availability.  It was a large and ornate room, looked great for the event.  As we sat there, Larry Downing, a still photographer for Reuters (he was in the buffer when Reagan said “…tear down this wall!”) started being his old self and would randomly “shhh” everyone – even though it was an hour before go time.  He kept doing this and I think the British press was annoyed.  Then they figured out it was a joke…and they started to “shhh” back.  This went on for about 15 minutes.  Like children, they are.  Haha

After the avail, we bounced the joint and headed back to the Cumberland to await our 7pm departure for the airport.  On the way back, we passed by Buckingham Palace and could see a little bit of the changing of the guard.  Jim Stinson, a USA Today reporter based in London that was with us, said he goes there some day at 11 a.m. when it starts for “man on the street” type interviews because you can find someone from almost every region of the world there to watch.  After that, I took some time to buy a few gifts for people before we left.  On the way to the airport, as we approached Westminster Abbey, someone asked what the building was.  He replied and I said something about, “can you point out the direction of Number 10 when we get there?” He proceeded to grab the van’s microphone and become tour guide pointing out Westminster, Number 10, Big Ben (named after one of the bell’s – although the formal name is something else), a statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.  It was a great little tour – and didn’t cost a single pound!

And now…the list: 

Countries Traveled: 6 – Slovenia, Germany, Italy, The Holy See, France, United Kingdom
Total Countries Traveled with President Bush: 21 (from March ’07 to today)
Days in a Row in a Different Bed/Country: 3 (Slovenia to Germany to Italy)
Most Countries in a Single Day: 3 (Germany, Italy, The Holy See)
Times I wish I had a blackberry: 10,000
Times I regretted having one when I got it: Ditto
McDonalds Pictures Taken: 5 (everywhere except The Holy See)
Language Barrier Moments in United Kingdom: 2
Legs on the Charter: 5
Legs on Air Force One: 1
Latest Night: about 12:30/1 a.m.
Earliest Morning: 4:45 a.m.
Complete, Total, Technological Meltdowns: 2 (the printer/copier and cell)
Big Kat bars consumed: 7 (not nearly enough)
Orange Fantas consumed: 2

As Maury says…”Until next time, America…”