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Trip Report The Trip to London and Paris with Three Kids

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wow, now that's an exciting title!

Background: We are a family of 5, Me, Mr. Surf, Thing 1 (10 yrs.), Thing 2 (8 yrs.), and Thing 3 (6 yrs.). Things 1 and 2 were in Paris 3 years ago, but Thing 3 couldn’t wait to go!

Warning: long! I assume you want to know the minutia, so I’m including it.

Day 0: departure: This trip was the tail end of April and immediately after the volcano travel nightmares. We were scheduled for 2 days after the end of the re-booking window and were extremely concerned about the possibility of a disruption. In advance, we had talked about a myriad of changes, but since the airline wouldn’t do anything without a penalty, we decided to stick with the original plan. (side note: these were ff tickets – yes five (5) !, so flexibility was limited).

PHL – LHR – We had originally booked seats A,B (window, aisle) and C, D, F (aisle, middle, aisle) hoping that E (middle) wouldn’t get booked. When we printed out boarding passes, we had been re-assigned to D, E, and F (middle, middle, and aisle). We hoped that the person in C (aisle adjacent to the “2”) would switch for the other aisle (F), so I just sat in C. When she arrived, she refused to switch even though it was an aisle for an aisle (just the right side of the 4 middle instead of the left side of the 4 middle).

Her rationale, “What happens if we crash ? They need to know where certain passengers are.” My immediate thought, “if we crash, we won’t care”. We tried to be respectful and not pass too many things across her, but backpacks and carryons were packed such that one had books, one had ipods, one had snacks, so it was inevitable that the other adult had the required thing for the child next to them! Although we tried to minimize passing, I’m sure by the end of the flight, she wished that she had switched.

One thing that worked out well was traveling in hooded sweatshirts. We explained to the kids the need to sleep on the plane – we had warned them that we weren’t getting any entertainment items out – no books, no ipods, no games. After boarding and getting settled, everyone put their hoods up and attempted to sleep – Thing 3 was actually asleep before we took off! The hooded sweatshirts were great for minimizing distractions and encouraging them to focus in and go to sleep. They all awoke about 90 minutes before we landed, so we dug out the cereal from the bags and had breakfast and landed. We didn’t even bother to attempt the breakfast served on the plane – one look at it and I knew the packed cereal was a better option. (Kids think the little individual sized cereal bowls are a treat, so we had a variety of those).

After the seating drama and the concerned that a volcano would erupt again, we were happy the flight was on time! We had warned the kids that when we got off the flight we were walking straight to passport control without stopping or dawdling (and hopefully no bathroom break). We encouraged them to just try and keep moving because being at the front of the plane makes a huge difference! We did get through the line relatively quickly and were happy to be out of passport control.

next: All About Dahl.

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    Great start. I can't imagine why the woman wouldn't accommodate your request. Swapping aisle for aisle seems fair, and who wants to sit in the middle of a family? Good idea with the hooded sweatshirts.

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    Surfmom, looking forward to reading more. Your earlier trip was fun to read about and full of helpful hints for my '09 trip to Paris with my then 6 yr old granddaughter, and we, plus her 5 year old brother, will be returning this April.

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    @elendi, @irishface, thanks for the good thoughts!

    @cw, it was a weird thing. The only thing I could figure out is that I know she was displaced from earlier flights and wondered if she was afraid to move and lose her seat ?

    @grandmere, of course I remember you taking your gd. You'll have a great time! Paris will be coming after the London part.

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    Day 1: Thursday – All About Dahl.

    We had rented a car for the first day, so we headed to the rental agency. Initially, they told us they didn’t have any automatic transmissions (which we had reserved at a higher rate) or booster seats (needed for 2 kids according to UK law), but as we settled in to sit and wait, they magically appeared. I almost felt like they were calling our bluff if we would take something else, but we got what we wanted pretty quickly.

    We headed to our hotel in Windsor – Oakley Court - while they hadn’t guaranteed early arrival, they hoped to be able to accommodate us. Unfortunately, our room wasn’t ready, so we opted to keep going. (this was a really cool hotel… more on that later).

    Our first destination was the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden. This is the town where he lived and wrote most of his books – the museum is not huge, but very well done. By this time, we were hungry, so we stopped in the “Twits Café” for some lunch - a very cute little café. They specially made a pot of penne with butter which made little people bellies very happy! Thing 2 is the difficult eater, but she discovered scones and was very happy with that! The cafe was very kid-friendly, and while not large, was perfect for sustenance. The man working who offered to make a pot of pasta was very nice and clearly has dealt with difficult eaters before. We would eat there again if at the museum - if nothing else, for the east of it.

    The first room is devoted to Roald Dahl’s life and history – not terribly exciting for the kids. The other rooms are more intended to get kids to think, and to write, and to be creative. In fact, it is also called a “Literacy Center”. There are story bags where there are props from Roald Dahl books, and a station to make a little story and videotape stop motion, and magnetic poetry and words. If you have a Roald Dahl fan, it is a worthy adventure. The Things enjoyed just playing with the props and stories - Thing 2 has a very active imagination and could have spent longer here.

    Next, we headed to the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery in Aylesbury. This is a separate building in a larger county museum, but is very well done – it was designed with the direct input of Quentin Blake (the illustrator of Dahl books), which is obvious! It isn’t large, but the kids had fun playing here. On the ground floor, there is a “giant peach” that you can go in and play; there is a “Fantastic Mr. Fox” tunnel with various holes to look in, you can then go up the “glass Elevator” to the 2nd floor, with more fun things from his books.

    If you have kids who have good imaginations and like to invent pretend games on the fly, this is a very fun place. If you have kids who are older and more into the idea of writing creative fiction, the one in Great Missenden is probably better. Other than a school group at the one in Great Missenden, we were the only ones in both museums. My youngest Thing still talks about playing in the giant peach and fox tunnel!

    After all this, we headed back to our hotel in Windsor. We had decided to stay outside central London since we wanted to do the Roald Dahl things and this looked like a neat hotel outside the town of Windsor. It is on gorgeous grounds and has been restored recently. We were lucky to get a “family” room that could accommodate all five of us – the only downside being that we all went to sleep at the same time. (no space for adults to hang while children fell asleep). The upside is that adults went to bed at the same time!

    We sat in the bar and had snacks and then decided we would just extend that to dinner since no one was motivated to get back in the car to go into Windsor for dinner. Dinner wasn't anything special - bar food, basically. After dinner, we enjoyed walking around the grounds – there are tennis courts (in need of rehab), a little par 3 golf course, and large lawns on the Thames. We watched a crew boat go by while we were walking around. (the kids also found a large tree stump that they stood on top of and quoted "The Lorax"... I told you they have good imaginations!) There is also a large outdoor patio with tables to eat at. They seem to have a conference center and there seemed to be groups of people there, but overall, this was a neat hotel. For our purposes, it was perfect. It might even be a nice place to have lunch if you are killing time on a long layover at Heathrow - sit outside, watch the boats, enjoy the grounds.

    next: A cool dollhouse! How do we get out when they lock the Tower of London ?

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    Another fan here, surfmom. Your report is fun to read, and useful, too. I have an son who's 8, and I'm always willing to learn more about traveling better with him. Thanks.

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    @janisj, we ended up just dropped at the airport - decided that was the least stressful thing. good memory!

    @bookworm, jamikins, kerouac, thanks for the encouragement. I tend to get lazy in getting these done, but I know I learn much from others, so I try to do it.

    @pavot, what a great age to start traveling! I find my kids love to hear stories of what it was like years ago and stories about kings and queens and chopping heads off. I'm not sure how much they actually remember, but they seem to soak it all in.

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    Day 2: Friday - A Cool Dollhouse! How do we get out when they lock the Tower of London ?

    After a VERY good night’s sleep (the entire room didn’t awake until 9am!), we quickly motivated and headed to Windsor Castle. We had planned on having breakfast at the hotel, but since we all slept in, we decided we were better off just getting on with the day. We debated whether or not to visit Windsor Castle, but decided since we were right there, it would be worth it. We were getting tickets and going through security at 9:58am and quickly rushed down to see the Changing of the Guard. Unfortunately, since we were late, we were somewhat in the back, but with the actual changing occurring downhill from where you stand, you can still see. Honestly, the kids got bored with the pomp and circumstance (or maybe they felt there was a lack of it?), so we bailed and didn’t watch the entire ceremony.

    They had given us different brochures with kids’ activities – we had three different ones. We ended up answering questions in about 1 ½ of them, but they are very well done. The high point of this excursion was the Queen Mary’s Dollhouse – I wondered why people kept talking about a dollhouse? It was really cool and totally greater and more amazing than I expected. Downside: It was hard for the kids to look at it behind glass, they totally would have had a ball playing with it! (and could have spent hours with it). We were all amazed and impressed with the details and it was fun to see what different people pointed out (clothes vs. architecture, etc.). We also enjoyed the scavenger hunt in the kids' activity booklets where it told you to go to a specific room and find something in that room. It also had the benefit of asking the guards questions… and they would tell the kids stories.

    (side note: throughout this trip, I found that people who listened to the headsets tended to wander around with a glazed look on their face. The kids had fun throughout our entire trip interacting with and asking questions of guards/tour guides in each room.)

    One interesting question that I recall – in the large room with all the family crests, there are some that are pure white. The guard explained that those were families that were ‘disgraced’ in some way and while the plaque was left there, the crest was eliminated. What the kids found interesting was the definition of “disgraced” – many times it was someone who just fell out of favor with the king – could be over something major, or something minor. But the price of a difference of opinion with the one who mattered (king) was being whitewashed!

    We all hit a wall about lunchtime and quickly exited. Our travel style is such that I’d rather leave on a good note and maybe miss a few things than push it too far and it turns into a miserable experience. Walking down High Street, we were stuck in the “what can we eat” lethargy with nothing that looked good to everyone. Mr. Surf finally made an executive decision and we stopped in Pizza Hut. Horrible, huh? At that point, we needed to feed them quickly before meltdowns (probably mine!) occurred. They had an all you can eat pizza and salad bar that was able to solve the problem and everyone was happy. (And I'm happy to report that was our only "American fast food" eating on the trip).

    We went back to the airport to drop off the car and took a taxi into central London. We had chosen to stay at Marriott County Hall for a few different reasons. We were using Marriott points, so limited to Marriott properties. We thought the kids would enjoy the Thames view, being close to Big Ben, etc. We loved this hotel and location! For our needs, it was great. We enjoyed walking along the Thames on the “way home” and seeing how different Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament looked as the light changed. The walkway along the Thames also had a lot going on, with lots of different “acts” to see. It was a nice place to go for a small walk at the end of each day. The only downside is that it feels less like a neighborhood than other areas… but it is convenient for many things. We were able to check into our rooms (we had connecting rooms since we were 5 people) and get settled.

    (sidenote: We would stay in this property again for a few reasons. One, it is neat to see Big Ben dominating the skyline! Two, we liked that there were lots of food options around - just a quick walk to Southbank Centre. Three, tube stations were easy - either Westminister, or Embankment, or Waterloo. Four, the staff was extremely nice and very accommodating. I had been concerned about getting connecting rooms, but they were great and we had a view of the Thames!)

    After we had arrived, we headed to the Tower of London. Thing 1 had done a presentation on the Tower, so she was anxious to see it. While it was getting late in the day, we were able to spend almost 2 hours before we got kicked out. We went into the armor exhibit – as it approaches closing, they close the top floors first and work down, so if if is near closing time, start from the top. The kids enjoyed seeing the different types of armor (especially the child sized ones). We hoped to come back here and spend more time, but it didn’t work out.

    Note on admissions: we had purchased annual passes to HRP (Historic Royal Palaces) which included the Tower of London. When I was here in February, I figured out an annual pass was the best way to proceed knowing the family would be back in May. This also gave us flexibility to break the visit into different days and visit the Tower of London in smaller, more manageable chunks rather than a monster visit (which becomes overwhelming). I would definitely do this again.

    As the Tower closed, we ended up along the path next to the Thames, where they miraculously had ice cream! On vacation, you can NEVER have enough ice cream, so of course, we *needed* to taste test this. It was yummy and made little legs happy.

    Back to the hotel for a break – getting organized for bedtime, since it would be late when we returned. We also were happy to check out the options at the Executive Lounge. We had tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys this evening, so we knew it was going to be a late one.

    We had decided to eat at the Dickens Inn at St. Katherine’s Dock, so we took the tube back to Tower Bridge, and walked there. By this time, it was spitting rain, so walking into a warm, lit restaurant was comforting. We were a little concerned because we realized when we sat down that I hadn’t planned well and timing was going to be tight. Since we just ordered penne and pizzas, they came out extremely quickly! The kids even had time for (another) bowl of ice cream! All in all, while the food may not be at the gourmet end of the scale, it was good, fast, and everyone was satisfied!

    Back into the spitting rain, and headed to the Tower for the Ceremony of the Keys. There were a few people hanging around, trying to find out if they could get in, and were disappointed when they found out we had gotten tickets in advance. Since I had done this in February, I knew exactly which side to stand so that the kids were on the curb directly in front of Traitor’s Gate to watch the procession down the hill. That is probably the “best” location to be able to see everything that goes on. I must say I was surprised how many adults disregard instructions though - in particular, we were clearly told to stay on the curb and adults stepped off it to get a better view of the keys coming from the door. Since I wouldn’t allow our family off the curb, we did get a lovely view of the backs of the other adults! (The kids asked, 'how come they can do it?' I explained those adults weren't listening very well.) However, since we were in front of Traitor’s Gate, we were right in front of the sentry who goes through the questions and were able to “lead” the pack when we walked up the hill. The kids did wonder how exactly we would get out when the door was locked, but we explained the tourist “magic”. : ) They were interested, however, that we were escorted to the exit.

    All in all, the Ceremony of the Keys is short. However, it gives you a glimpse of what it must have been like to live there hundreds of years ago. The thick walls muffle the outside sound and city lights and since it was spitting rain, it felt dark, damp, and dank. If you have really young ones, it probably isn’t worth it, since it is late and relatively short, but it is very neat to have your name called and you get to do something ‘special’. I really think it also helps kids (and us!) visualize what it was like hundreds of years ago.

    We quickly headed back and got the bed after a successful day!

    Coming up next: a Princess playground, and a maze for a king.

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    Thanks. Great report so far. Looking forward to taking our granddaughters (now 2 and have done Disney twice so they're cutting their travel teeth, so to speak) to Paris as soon as we can. Thinking 6 would be good. I remember Grandmere's report. Will look for the next one this year.

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    I have a friend who wouldn't have been able to switch either. She always books an aisle so her right leg is by the aisle. She has a knee problem and it is more comfortbale for her to cross the left leg over the right when when can. Perhaps this woman had something like that or sometimes when people are nervous fliers they like to sit in certain spots.

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    Enjoying your trip report!

    We loved the Tower of London and son really enjoyed the armour exhibit. It is a very extensive collection and very impressive.

    Funny mention about the headsets. In both Paris and London we also had no patience to walk around with a headset so we did not use them at Versailles or Windsor (the only exception for us was the cabinet war rooms where we used them and enjoyed the narration). We also rather enjoyed talking to the guards and asking them questions. At Windsor they were very engaging with my son's questions about the crests too. We loved that room.

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    @Martinan, Julie, thanks for the good thoughts. It really can be fun to go with kids! Paris is a couple days away, but I'm getting there : )

    @Lynn, interesting - I never thought of that.

    @europeannovice, too funny that you had a similar experience! That room in Windsor was really gorgeous and it was fun to learn some little trivia.

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    Day 3, Saturday: A Princess playground, and a maze for a king.

    The kids awoke a little later than normal, but still in good time. We had been watching the weather and had 2 different days planned – a set of rainy day activities and a set of not-rainy day activities. Since the weather looked nice (there was actually sunshine!), we decided to do the “outside” day today. First, we headed to the Princess Diana playground in Kensington Park. While we were there, the kids were shedding layers – it felt good to be in the sun!

    Their favorite part of this was climbing the ship and specifically, the crow’s nest. That is the type of thing that is too “risky” for an American playground, but even the younger kids seemed fine. However, we were surprised how quickly they were ready to leave – I guess they really are growing up! I had tried to explain that I thought they were getting too old and would be bored, but they really wanted to go see it. Unfortunately, this was a case of me being right. However, I think had we not done it, they would have felt like they missed something.

    We headed to Waterloo Station to catch the train to Hampton Court. Unfortunately, we planned poorly and after running through the station to get to the train, we saw it pull out of the station. We knew the next one was 30 minutes later, so decided to use this time as a chance to refill both activities and bellies, so we got bagels to munch on from a nearby stand and spent some time in a bookstore. (Mr. Surf was required to check out the pub). Everyone found a book, got a snack, and it was easy to kill the time between trains. The new books were a great hit (of course!), so the train ride seemed fast. Once you arrive, the train station is a 5 minute walk from Hampton Court – you walk out, cross the bridge and it is *right there*!

    Since we had the Historic Royal Palaces annual pass (which included Hampton Court), we didn’t need additional tickets, so we stopped, got a map and timetable, and walked right into the grounds. We decided that a tour might not be a good idea, so we decided to walk through some of the apartments and rooms. They did have the 'wedding of' (Henry VIII and one of the wives) actors and activities, but the kids weren’t really interested. We moved quickly through the apartments and only pointed out things we thought they would be interested in. One thing they really had fun with was a banquet table set with plates and cups with big chairs – they played king and servants with everyone taking their share of turns! Again, we’re of the “we’d rather it be short and everyone leave happy than beat ourselves up with all the details and everyone is miserable” style of travel. We did enjoy going to the working kitchens and seeing volunteers testing recipes and trying to make food. It was interesting – they were using tools and techniques from the period trying to make various recipes work. Some of them were definite failures, but the process they used was also interesting (at least to the 10yo!). They had thermometers and were measuring the heat to see how hot they could get it and whether they could sustain that heat to make cookies or pancakes, for example.

    At this point, we thought a walk in the garden was needed, so we found the maze. The kids had seen pictures and were very excited about this. We first did it as a family and they had fun trying to get lost! They decided to do it again, so Mr. Surf and I found a bench to wait while they giggled their way through it. This was another bonus of the annual membership – they could go multiple times. Otherwise, the ticket is only good for one trip through the maze.

    We decided we were ready to head back to central London, so we worked our way back to the train station and caught the train. When we arrived, we made the executive decision to go to the Cabinet War Rooms. We walked through Trafalgar Square and while initially, the kids were excited to climb the lions, there were too many people (lots of teenagers especially) milling about for it to be meaningful. As parents, we were also a little concerned since they are high and a wee bit slippery, so we decided to view rather than climb.

    The kids didn’t “get” the Cabinet War Rooms at all and while we tried to explain the historical importance, they kept saying, “but it’s dark and it stinks.” We tried to explain how that was the point! And that some of the most important decisions in WWII were made there, but it was a bit over their heads. Unfortunately, when we came out, the rain had started. We decided to put on our coats, and start walking as quickly as their little legs could take. From where we were, it was easier and faster just to walk directly back to County Hall rather than deal with the tube (which wouldn’t have saved any time). They did great even though they were cold and wet by the time we got back to the hotel! Once we got back to the hotel, no one was motivated to go back out for dinner, so I became in charge. I walked over to the Southbank Centre and got Strada to go for everyone. While it wasn’t gourmet food, it was convenient, warm, it filled bellies and no one else had to get wet to get it!

    Coming up: One activity was a bust, one activity was the best!

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    "while the food may not be at the gourmet end of the scale, it was good, fast, and everyone was satisfied!"

    With kids, this counts as a resounding success.

    Such a fun read - you've got my travel bug all in a twitter.

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    @ Patrick - They were done for the day... the only thing they remember even now? It was dark and stinky.

    @mebe - do it! Plan that next trip! London was really fun and very kid-friendly.... Our next trip is Norway and Sweden in about 2 months - I'm getting excited about it!

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    Day 4: Sunday – One activity was a bust, one activity was the best!

    We awoke to more rain, so we enacted part of the indoor plan. We decided to head to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. It is intended for kids and I thought they would enjoy it. Everyone was disappointed, however, in the experience. While there were lots of buses, trains, etc. to look at, most of them were not able to be climbed on. And the ones that you *could* climb on were limited how far you could go. For example, on the London red bus, while the kids could sit in the driver’s seat, there was plexiglass beyond that, so they couldn’t sit down. These Things could have entertained themselves with everyone having a turn playing driver and passenger, but other than the one driver, it wasn’t much fun. And we ended up behind a boy that wouldn’t move – and his parents were nowhere to be found. He just didn’t want to take turns… he wanted it to be all about his turn. So by the time my kids got a turn, there was a line of kids waiting to be the driver and we encouraged them to be quick to be respectful of others. Overall, we wouldn’t go back and were disappointed.

    As we left, the pouring rain had changed to light drizzle. We decided to walk to St. Martin’s in the Fields to do some brass rubbing. The kids very much enjoyed this! I think had we allowed them to done multiple plates and colors, they would have, but we didn’t want to spend all afternoon there. This is also a very family friendly area – the café is adjacent to the brass rubbing centre, so you can actually bring your adult refreshments while the kids do their activity. This was a big hit and we wished that we had done it the night before instead of the Cabinet War Rooms. This would be a “not to miss” activity for kids on my next London trip.

    When we departed St. Martin’s in the Fields, the rain had virtually stopped so we decided to do some outside things. Along the way, we saw a bookstore which the kids were very excited about. We ended up with a rather large bag of books, so Mr. Surf went back to the hotel to drop them while I continued on to our next activity - Tower Bridge. The kids very much enjoyed this and we had to stop and read every panel along the way (this was an example of reading everything ). We skipped most of the movies at either end, but enjoyed walking across the top and looking down. They have a nice exhibit of different types of bridges with photographs around the world and the kids enjoyed filling out the kids’ activity books and looking at each of the different bridges.

    We went to the engine room, but they were ‘bridged out’ by this point, so we quickly walked through. I had tried to plan our visit when the bridge was going up, but every time I checked the list of when it would go up or down, it wasn’t on the days we were in London, so we just decided to work the Tower Bridge visit into our schedule when it was convenient.

    We walked over to the Tower of London and decided to visit things we had missed from our earlier visit. We decided not to do a Yeoman Warder’s tour since we knew many of the things from Thing 1’s report. One of the fun things that I had never done before is to walk around the inner wall itself – they have steel silhouettes of soldiers on the wall which was neat. We did talk to a Yeoman Warder for about 20 minutes with Thing 1 (and siblings, too!) impressing him with the amount of trivia and knowledge she had learned. Thing 3 (6yo) was excited that he remembered a detail that Thing 1 forgot (the name of the oldest raven who had ever lived at the Tower). We also stopped in the cafeteria for some snacks – we ended up not sitting down and eating a “real lunch” this day, but grazing throughout.

    We decided we’d been ‘toured out’ for the day and headed back to the hotel. For dinner, we ate at Giraffe, in the Southbank Centre. We would eat there again – with kids. It was very kid-friendly and everyone was able to find something they liked. We had some time to kill before our London Eye time (I had bought discount tickets on line about 2 weeks before when I saw a special), so we walked and people watched along the pathway next to the Thames.

    We all enjoyed the London Eye! It was about 8 pm and the sun was beginning to set. While we were up, you could see the lights of London come on – definitely that “blue hour” that photographers talk about! This was something that we all enjoyed very much. There were no problems with lines or loading – we were in a capsule with about 20 other people – so there was plenty of room to move about or sit if desired.

    Since we were staying at Marriott County Hall, it was easy to get everyone settled for the night (while I packed).

    Next: a new country! And a looooooong tunnel.

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    since I am working on our family trip to London and Paris this coming June your report is very helpful. Our boys are 19 and 16 but I always try and plan as if the are kids because a slower pace is always enjoyed by everyone. Can't believe the high price of hotels and we are from California where we are used to high prices but for two rooms we are shocked. Thanks though for sharing.

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    Surfmom...hats off to you. You walked from St Martin in the Fields to the Tower of London with three small kids! My map says it is a 45 minute walk. I hope my teenage boys do as well! We are going in March and I will hold you up as an example. Sounds like you had a fun trip to London.

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    @cw, thanks!

    @jeri, I agree that getting 2 hotel rooms quickly can become a budget buster. We find that we'd rather skimp on other things and get 2 rooms because the space is so appreciated. As the kids grow and we spend less time in our hotel rooms, our opinions may change, but for now, that works for us. It is a tough call though when it doubles the lodging budget!

    @grandmere, it really was fun... you know how much fun it is going with kids! Have you thought about your next trip ?

    @reddy, wish I could take that credit.... however, we didn't walk from St. Martin's in the Fields to the Tower... we took the tube. However, one fun thing was that the kids quickly figured out the tube and would take turns being in charge of which line to get on, which direction, etc. They also really liked the electronic boards that listed how long until the next train.

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    Next: a new country! And a looooooong tunnel.

    Day 5 – Monday – we had reservations on the Eurostar for 9:30am (technically 9:22 I think?). We had debated taking an earlier train to get to Paris earlier, but decided that we didn’t feel like departing our hotel at the crack of dawn (when you plan for traffic, to be there early, etc.) As it turned out, we had plenty of time with leaving the hotel at 8ish. We were at St. Pancras with plenty of time to spare and in retrospect, I should have parked Mr. Surf with bags and taken the kids outside to see what a cool train station it is from the outside.

    The entire trip was happily uneventful. I thought that we would be more cognizant of when we were under the English Channel, but with the other smaller tunnels as warm-ups, we really didn’t notice. In some ways, I felt like I missed something! I don’t know what I expected but big signs saying, “you are under the English Channel” would have been cool.

    We pulled into Paris on time (12:47 I think?). When we got to the front of the taxi line, I told the taxi man that we were five and needed a taxi that could accommodate us. He just pulled us aside and asked us to wait until a larger vehicle came through. While we were waiting, a few men approached us and asked if we needed a van. When I asked them the price, and they quoted me over 100 E, I told them ‘no way’ – these are the ubiquitous gypsy cabs. While I don’t remember what we finally paid, even with the extra passenger and luggage, it was less than 40 E with about a 10-15 minute wait for a cab that could take 5 people.

    We had chosen to stay at an apartment at Palais Royal. We stayed there 3 years ago and loved the area and found another, larger apartment that could accommodate all of us (since we were now 5 instead of 4). We loved this apartment as well as the agency and would stay there again! I called the contact from the train station and they were waiting for us in the apartment. We rang from outside and they met us at the elevator.

    We were met with fresh croissants and flowers in the apartment and had a quick orientation how things worked. I was impressed that she had noticed a few lightbulbs that were burned out and wanted me to know that she asked their maintenance man to replace them. We were thrilled both with the location, the size, and the appointments in the apartment! After allowing the kids to explore and decided who was sleeping where, we decided to head out for a walk and find some lunch.

    Since we didn’t want to take a lot of time, we just went to the Carrousel du Louvre (the indoor food court in the mall attached to the Louvre). While it was only pizza, we were happy that it was quick and solved the hunger problem.

    Next, we walked through the Tuileries with the Orangerie as a destination. When we arrived, there was a line of about 30 people, so I went to the front and inquired about using the Museum Pass and we were directed to a different line with about 5 people (I had already purchased the Museum Pass). We skipped the downstairs paintings and headed straight to the Water Lilies. As always, I’m amazed at the beauty and we enjoyed the paintings as well as the building they are in. As we left, we stopped by the ice cream cart in the Tuileries for day 1 of the Paris ice cream tastings. (It was a bit chilly for me for ice cream, but when you are a kid, the outside temperature is immaterial when it comes to ice cream!)

    Next part of the plan was a bit of a mistake with regard to timing. We headed to Monoprix on Avenue de l’Opera to get some provisions for the week. Mistake #1: time of day. By this time, it was the end of the work day and people were stopping to do their regular Monday shopping for the week. Mistake #2: Dragging everyone along. However, I needed Mr. Surf help to carry everything and he needed my help to translate for purchases and the kids weren’t old enough to be left alone, so we didn’t have many options. Mistake #3: I was a bit hungry by this time since I’d only had a taste of the ice cream above. We ended up buying a lot of food! (which did get eaten!) Mistake #4: Buying a watermelon. The cashier couldn’t figure out how to weigh it and while the sign downstairs had said 5 E/piece, she kept ringing it as 5E per pound. I finally went downstairs and brought the sign to her and she was able to figure it out. Unfortunately, the line behind me was not happy about this either.

    We were happy to be out of there and head back to our apartment! I’ll add a sidenote on eating here. I’m sure many of you will be horrified when you hear what our meals consisted of, but we are not ‘foodies’ (as you’ve probably figured out by now). For me, Paris isn’t about the meals… it is about the history, the architecture, the buildings, the art. The Things are asleep by 9pm at the latest, so eating out every night can become challenging. This is one of the things that we particularly enjoy about getting an apartment… we can just make a pot of noodles and fresh fruit and they are happy. So, after their dinner of noodles …. Oh, need another sidenote here. We thought we were buying elbows and instead we discovered that we had purchased cavatappi (or double elbows). Thing 1 especially like these and they became known as ‘silly noodles’! I meant to purchase a few boxes before we left and was dismayed to remember on the way home that I forgot. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find something similar at home, so I made a little Thing happy! (Oh, and that watermelon…. Wow! It was great!) end embedded sidenote. …. So, after their dinner of noodles (or whatever), I tended to go out and get big people food. There was a little sandwich shop around the corner that was easy and convenient, so we tried a few different panini’s.

    I also like to take pictures and something else fun for me was to go out each night when the kids were in bed, take my camera and wander a little. I’m in love with the Louvre courtyard at sunset – as you can see by my profile picture. So I would spend some time each evening with my camera before I brought back dinner.

    Our apartment. As mentioned, we wanted to stay at Palais Royal and were somewhat limited since we had 5 people. We were thrilled with our apartment and recommend it. One of the reasons that we wanted to stay here was that our kids loved jumping on the black and white columns (Buren’s columns). We stopped there at least on the way home each day, but also on the way out some days to run, jump, and burn some steam off. It was a fun way to feel like we were “home” to play there. One fun thing about this apartment was that there was a door that entered into the actual Palais Royal. While you couldn’t enter from that door, you could exit the apartment into Palais Royal.

    I don’t know why the link is so long?

    This is a 2 bedroom apartment that with couches that also fold out. Honestly, I can’t imagine using this for 8 people, but for our family, it was ideal. The kids moved around each night with who slept where, but the couches were big and deep enough that we just put the kid on the couch without unfolding it. It was also nice to have 2 bathrooms – certainly not needed, but a nice convenience. The kitchen was great with a table in the middle. The fresh flowers lasted almost the entire week! Another thing we particularly enjoyed about this apartment was that there was space to put “stuff”. When traveling, we have a backpack and I don’t like to unpack suitcases (I left things behind in a drawer once and never again!), so having ‘floor space’ to put stuff was great (without tripping over it). There is also a little entryway, so there was a place to put our shoes, daypack, etc. I also appreciated the little supplies that were left behind – the detergent (laundry and dish), etc. We would stay here again and would probably be disappointed if we couldn’t.

    Overall, this day felt like we got less accomplished - that is the downside to moving between cities. You either take a brutally early train and then you are dragging, or you lose half the day in transit - no matter how "quick" it is. I now see why a day trip between London and Paris is not recommended, no matter how much you think you can make it work. After this experience, I'm now in the "too much hassle for a day" camp.

    Next: Did you know that one statue atop Notre Dame is looking the opposite direction than the other statues?

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    We stayed "upstairs" from you a couple of years ago. Loved the space, the views, and the private door out to the Palais Royal. We had the same experience where the person who came to meet us noticed one of the interior doors wasn't closing tightly and called one of their maintenance people to come over and fix it.

    I remember one night when the light bulb burned out on my bedside lamp, checking one of the closets and there was a full supply of replacements. Very convenient and thoughtful.

    You make a good point about losing a half day in transit. And you had an efficient transit. Moving between some cities would not be as easy.

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    cw, the upstairs apartment looked fabulous - we didn't need all that space, but if I had a large family, it certainly would be a top choice.

    jonesie, enjoy! You will have a wonderful time!

    grandmere, thanks for the push. Its been a crazy few weeks, so I'm going to push through and finish it.

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    Day 6 – Tuesday – Did you know that one statue at Notre Dame is looking the opposite direction ?

    We had scheduled a private walking tour with Paris Muse – this was the “If Buildings Could Talk” tour. We started off by meeting our tour guide at Place des Vosges at 9am. Since I didn’t know how long it would take, we were about 15-20 minutes early, so the kids got some time to play in the kids’ play area. Our guide was an American, who is doing her PhD in Art History. She had booklets and pencils for the kids as well as compasses for each. As she led us around, she told the kids interesting facts about some of the buildings. The facts we learned taught us about their occupants and the kids would fill in the puzzles and words in their booklets. Many interesting things were learned! (by both adults and kids). About part of the way through, everyone was cold (it was VERY windy!), so Mr. Surf, the Things, and the tour guide sat down in a café for a hot chocolate and tea break. During that time, I quickly hightailed it back to the apartment for another sweatshirt for everyone. (We had debated when we left in the morning and decided it would be warmer as the day went on – we were WRONG – it got colder and windier). I caught up with them as they were crossing from Ile St. Louis onto Ile de la Cite. (This is a benefit to an unlimited use metro pass – it only cost me time to get back to the apartment to do this. It is also a benefit of staying in a central location).

    So l got to hear all the neat things about Notre Dame – including why one green statue is facing the wrong way. At the back – on the spire, there are various statues of religious figures and apostles. However, Viollet le duc, the architect in charge of the restoration in the 1800’s, decided to leave his legacy. Instead of facing out, like the rest of the statues, he left one statue facing in – looking at his own work. And, in fact, he is holding a yardstick, like an architect might hold. I thought this was a neat little fact!

    We finished the tour by going into Notre Dame and finding a stained glass window. The guide explained to us how they tell stories and helped us decipher the clues of the window. All in all, it was a great tour, I would (and we did!) absolutely use them again – extremely family oriented and it made the morning interesting for the kids.

    After we said goodbye to our tour guide, we decided it was time for lunch, so we crossed back to Ile St. Louis to Brasserie St. Louis. We had eaten here three years ago and they were very kind to the Things, so we decided to try our luck again. Again, we weren’t disappointed and had a good meal (sauerkraut, pork, hamburger, and omelet – not all by one person!). Since we were in the area (and worried about the weather later in the week), we decided to climb to the top of the towers of Notre Dame. This was one of the highlights of our trip 3 years ago and the kids were very much looking forward to it. The line stretched out into the courtyard in front of Notre Dame, but we decided to wait it out. Unfortunately, the wind continued to pick up, and it was cold and windy waiting, however, the kids were troopers and did well (a lollipop or Jolly Rancher can do wonders when needed!). After almost an hour, we got to the front and started the climb – while the kids got tired along the way, I think the adults were probably more tired. After appreciating the view and taking the extra steps to the last tower, we made the trek down and decided to sit down for something warm again.

    While the cafes around Notre Dame are touristy, we went for the convenience factor and sat down for crepes, fries, and hot tea/hot chocolate. It was a great time since it was mid-afternoon and no one was in there, so we could spread out a little. The owner was very nice to us and was interested in the kids and it solved the problem of being cold.

    We walked over the Sainte Chappelle and while the sun wasn’t streaming through, it was still very pretty. We were happy to use the museum pass to bypass the line to purchase tickets (the security line wasn’t TOO bad). I had to go through the entire explanation, again, of how the King and his friends worshipped on the top floor and how the commoners and staff were only allowed downstairs. After our lesson in Notre Dame, we had fun trying to figure out the meaning of the windows.

    The Things were winding down, so we walked across the Seine and stopped at the double decker carousel in front of Hotel de Ville. This was also a highlight from the last trip and if we hadn’t found one, the littlest Thing would have been exremely disappointed. We took the metro back to the apartment and after the requisite trip to the Black and White columns, we had dinner in the apartment and called it a night.

    Next: Another windy day, but no rain!

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    Day 7 – Wednesday – Another windy day, but no rain!!!

    We had a bit of a lazy morning, but the kids got journal writing and homework done, so it was good. Late morning, we headed to Luxembourg Gardens. We had specifically planned to do this on Wednesday since we knew many schoolkids had Wednesdays off or half days and the kid-oriented things would be open.

    The first thing we did was rent sailboats and sail them in the fountain – the fun thing is that we were the first customers of the morning, so the kids got first selection of boats. Each boat has a different sail so you can identify which one is yours. The man gives you a big stick which you use to give the boat a good push across the fountain. You then run or walk – depending on the wind! – to the other side to send it back. Since there was a nice wind, the kids had fun running around the pond to get them and re-launch them back across the fountain. I don't think there were more than 4 or 5 other kids at the same time since it was still the morning and still a bit chilly. We were pleased how well Thing 3 was able to do it without assistance (so Mr. Surf and I could sit and watch rather than actively participate). We only did it for 30 minutes – I think Thing 3 would have stayed longer, but his sisters were ready to go.

    Next, we walked to the playground area in the Luxembourg Garden - and this one required payment (although the kids ran in the exit before we caught up!), so Mr. Surf and I sat outside the fence. (Yes, I did pay for the kids when I got there). The part of it that was most fun was a zip line that you hung onto and it went down and around. Thing 3 took a few tries to get it pulled up to the platform where you launched from, but he figured it out, and I was happy that his sisters helped him. They were also good sports and helped a few other littler kids. They stayed there quite a while and probably went around 10 (or more) times each.

    Of course, we all needed a little sustenance at this point, so we got fries (yum!) from the little stand near the playground. I’m a firm believer that food rules can be relaxed on vacation and happiness and family harmony is a better thing to strive for on vacation. So, fries as a late morning snack is absolutely a fun thing and probably keeps our attitudes better prepared for the unexpected hiccups!

    We had seen beehives on the map and Thing 3 was interested in seeing them, so we walked over there. We had convinced Thing 2 (who was being a drama queen and acting scared) they would be in cages, but they weren't... there were about 20 little wooden houses with lots of bees flying around - you couldn't get in the area, but could see them pretty clearly! It actually is kind of neat, but probably not worth a destination.

    At this point, we decided to head to Musee d’Orsay. We knew we were taking a bit of a risk since it was lunchtime by this point, but we decided to brave it. The kids had fruit (love the fruit stands all over Paris!) and we were on our way. Overall, we were extremely disappointed at Musee d'Orsay.

    Of the five levels, only two were open (major renovations) and there was a big Crime and Punishment exhibit which you had to pay an extra fee for. On the two levels that were open, it was very crowded since the normal sized crowds were compressed from all the levels. We tried to head down to the café and get some lunch, but the line was at least 20 people long and didn’t seem to move, so we decided to make do with a snack from the backpack. We saw a few things the kids were interested in – again, we were disappointed here.

    We wanted to see Degas’ Little Dancer – we have a book about her and the kids ‘connect’ with a person their size. She was in the Crime and Punishment exhibit !!! I had asked a guard in French and translated for the family and they thought I must have understood wrong (me too, at this point), so we went and asked another guard, who confirmed it. Both guards cautioned us to beware the exhibit with kids, because there were some graphic paintings that might be mildly disturbing to little people. We weren’t sure of the connection between a ballet dancer and Crime and Punishment – other than the fact that we felt like the museum was trying to extract as much money as possible and honestly, it really annoyed us.

    Another element that bummed me out was the fact that the level where you can look through the clock and see the Seine was closed and no cameras were allowed. Three years ago, I had taken one of my favorite pictures – a silhouette of the girls holding hands looking through the clock. I wanted to re-create that picture with all three kids in high-resolution so I could blow it up for my wall. Not to be. Rats.

    At this point, we decided to bail since everyone was hungry. (Even though, from this trip report, it seems like we just had fries in Luxembourg Garden, it was probably 2 hours later by this point.) We stopped in a café adjacent to Musee d’Orsay, and yes, the prices were reflective of that! Thing 1 and Thing 3 shared a hamburger, I had steak frites and Mr. Surf had some weird meat thing (or at least that’s how I remember it!). Thing 2 ate fries, since she is our born vegetarian! Even though the prices were high, it was worth it, because we sensed a melt-down coming. (I forget if the melt-down would have been an adult or a child, but we were all annoyed at Musee d’Orsay.) We decided that an extra sweatshirt since the wind seemed to be picking up, so we walked home from there, played awhile in the apartment and took a nice break.

    We then went to the Outdoor Sculpture Garden, which was supposed to be large climbable sculptures along the Seine. It was somewhat disappointing since much was under construction and there seemed to be a lot of graffiti. We walked along and looked at things, but it just felt ‘off’ to us, so we didn’t stay long. So we crossed the Seine to Ile St. Louis, sat down in Berthillon and had ice cream. (I’m just now realizing that it sounds like we had fries and ice cream all day… there was actually more sustenance than that!) We walked through the island, got on the metro to try and go to the Eiffel Tower. However, the line at the Eiffel Tower was too long and again, we felt that pushing it was not a good idea. We decided to bail and went home and had dinner and bed.

    Going up in the Eiffel Tower was a priority - I had tried to get tickets online, but I was very hesitant since the weather makes a huge difference. Also, there were limited times and dates, so we had decided to work it into our schedule. In the past, we've tried to arrive when it opened to minimize the lines, so our plan would be to do that in the next few days.

    As it turned out, I was able to go back to the apartment, and find Saturday evening times available online and we decided that the weather was a lesser factor than getting timed tickets. The only hiccup was printing out the tickets in advance - our apartment didn't have a printer. I tried to go to an internet cafe, but the one I found was closed when I stopped by. I stopped into a nearby hotel and asked the women where I could find a place to print something - she was kind enough to allow me to use her computer to do so. I was able to jump on my email, bring up the email confirmation of our booking, and print it right there. I won't post the name of the hotel, because I don't want to get her in trouble, but I was very grateful for her kindness! It saved me a bunch of time hunting down a place to print.

    Overall, we felt like this was a day of “misses” – the crowds at Musee d’Orsay, the outdoor sculpture garden, the lines at the Eiffel Tower. Sometimes, you have those days on vacation – we were happy that Luxembourg Garden was so much fun and we had a good time there. Of course, ice cream always makes a day happier, too!

    Next: a day of tours.

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    Ada loved the zip line at Luxembourg gardens! The park was packed with kids when we got there; I loved watching all the Parisian children.

    This is fun, that we're writing our trip reports at the same time. :-)

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    Sorry you had an off-day (I think the thing about the Degas dancer may have been that, in his day, it would have been understood that the dancers probably had a [cough] secondary profession from time to time, so it's probably as well that you didn't see her in that context). But congratulations on taking it all on the chin, ice-cream and all.

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    mebe, it's fun to see what your kids did and what hits and misses were! keep plugging.

    Patrick, good point about the Degas dancer! I believe into every trip an "off" day must occur. The real test is how you deal with it (extra ice cream for everyone!) so it doesn't ruin things.

    analogue, we had crepes on at least one visit - but the kids never really got into them. Surprising, I know! Maybe next time ?

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    Day 8 - Thursday - A Day of Tours (no, not the city)

    We had made arrangements before we left to take the “Paris Muse Clues: A Family Tour for Young Treasure Hunters". We generally worked our way through selected rooms chronologically with the guide pointing out interesting facts along the way. The kids particularly enjoyed hearing about the Code of Hammurabi. Their favorite fact was if you hit your father, you would get your hand cut off. I’m not sure they exactly got the significance of it, but they still talk about that random fact!

    We also visited the “big things” in the Louvre – Winged Victory, Mona Lisa, and Venus de Milo, however, we went through many other rooms and learned other interesting facts and details. Each kid gets an activity book where they have to fill in clues throughout the tour and at the end, they earn a prize. The clues were things that they had to find in paintings, on a sculpture, or in a room, but they also learned facts about art and the Louvre in the process. Another interesting thing we learned about was the Rose Line and the Arago medallions. What even made it meaningful for the kids is when they saw another one when we were walking back to lunch!

    The great things about these tours is that they are your family only, so you aren’t stuck dealing with some other families’ knuckleheads – only your immediate knuckleheads. They can also tailor them as necessary on the spot – move through things quickly, or give more details as kids are interested.

    When we finished our tour, we were hungry. Since we were near the apartment we decided to just go back there for lunch. (Also, I had found chicken nuggets the previous night at the grocery store and Thing 3 was excited to have them for lunch - frightening, I know). After lunch and a little break, we decided that since the weather was getting nice, we'd try to do the Fat Tire Bike Tour.

    We planned on doing this all along, but were waiting for a decent weather day. Since the sun was beginning to appear, we decided to take advantage of the break in the wind and do it. We called the office and made a reservation and confirmed that we would be able to use two kids’ bikes and the tandem for the 3pm tour. (they have them, but they are limited, so it is good to reserve them).

    We met at 3pm at the Eiffel Tower and walked to the Fat Tire office location. After getting everyone saddled up, bikes checked out, we were off! The kids did great - Thing 1 and Thing 2 were both on children's bikes and Thing 3 rode tandem behind Mr. Surf. My biggest concern with the kids was the starting and stopping. When we were riding in a line, they were fine with spacing, but at intersections, the group bunches up and everyone starts at the same time. They did a good job of waiting until it was clear and they could get a decent head start without starting a chain reaction of knocking other people off bikes! (and without getting too far behind that they'd get cut off from the group)

    Much of the riding is done without competing with traffic. There are bike lanes for some of the way, other places, you ride along the sidewalks, some of the way is through grassy (dirt?) space in-between the lanes of traffic. Some of the tour goes through the Tuileries where you have to get off your bike and walk it.

    The tour stops for about 30 or so minutes for a break in the Tuileries gardens, so the kids got their daily dose of ice cream. (And I got bonus points when the tour guide heard me order in French.) After the tour was complete (it ends back at their office near the Eiffel Tower), we stumbled onto a park on the way back to the metro, so they played for a few minutes and then we came home.

    We had dinner (noodles for the kids and I went out and found take out for us again) and headed to bed - I snuck out to take some sunset pictures (see my profile photo) at the Louvre while Mr. Surf put the kids to bed. All in all, a much better day than yesterday!

    Next: how do cars drive in that traffic circle?

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    Every trip has good and bad days. You and your family handle them well. I'm still following along and love your writing and sense of humor. For example: "you aren’t stuck dealing with some other families’ knuckleheads – only your immediate knuckleheads." Perfect!

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    cw, pavot, CarolA, thanks for the kind words.

    We all have our moments - good and bad. Upcoming next is one of my favorite memories of Paris - I still smile thinking of it!

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    Day 9 - Friday – How do Cars Drive in that Traffic ?

    We started the day by heading to the Arc de Triomphe – and climbing the stairs to the top. (I think the adults were more winded than the kids. ) The kids especially enjoyed watching the traffic around the circle. It seemed like we watched about 10 near- collisions, but none actually occurred!

    After this, we decided to walk down the Champs Elysees. Of course, we ended up stopping in the Paul bakery/restaurant on the Champs Elysees for … what else ? croissants, pain du chocolate, a baguette and a beer (the rule in our family is it’s okay as long as the breakfast dishes are in the sink – which they were – hours ago!). We opted to sit outside since the weather was decent and people-watch while we ate.

    After filling bellies, we headed to the Rodin Museum. The kids invented a game three years ago called “Silly Statues” where you have to imitate the statue at hand while I take a photo. Some were done well (The Thinker), others not so much (The Kiss), but it was fun! After some giggling and burning some energy, we headed to Les Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb. Nothing particularly noteworthy, except the annoyance of the tickets!

    We had a Museum Pass – which includes free entry to Les Invalides. However, instead of being able to show the pass to walk in the front, we had to go around to the ticket office, wait in line behind clueless Americans (oh, maybe that was me), and get our tickets. Only then could we go in. After we departed, we walked through the halls of Les Invalides to get out to the front of the building facing the Seine (the opposite end of the building). We were interested in stopping and seeing some of the collections along the way, but we ran into the ticket problem again. Since we would have had to backtrack all the way back to the ticket office (closer to Napoleon’s Tomb), we bailed and decided against it. In retrospect, we should have asked for a ticket for each collection/exhibition in the beginning so we could get into whatever collection appeared interesting as we walked along.

    Next, we headed to the Pompidou Center. We took the escalators to the top to see the view, but decided against exploring inside. Another benefit of the Museum Pass – otherwise, we wouldn’t have paid to go to the top since we didn’t visit any exhibitions inside. The kids (and me, too) had hit the wall with museums, so we skipped and silly-walked around the Stravinsky Fountain and each picked our favorite sculpture (are they still sculptures if they’re made of metal?).

    Since we were on our quest to find the best ice cream in Paris, we stopped at Amorino and sampled their flavors. All was well again! Walked through Les Halles on the way back and did a little shopping there.

    Sidenote: We found a great kids store – Okaidi – kind of like The Gap – affordable everyday cotton clothes. We ended up with a few shopping bags full of clothes from there. It’s been about a year, and the clothes have held up extremely well. I think the French sizing is smaller than US standards – I have skinny kids and we still ended up a size or two larger than our US equivalents. Fun colors, cute pictures/sayings on the clothes – probably more girl-oriented than boy-oriented, but we have a few sweatshirts from there that have turned into Thing 1 and Thing 2’s favorites. End sidenote.

    We had made reservations at one of our favorite restaurants – Chez Francis, on the corner across from Pont de l'Alma. It has great views of the Eiffel Tower. It isn’t that it’s particularly fancy or has the best food, but we enjoy sitting on Pont de l’Alma with a great view of the Eiffel Tower and watching it twinkle! I had called in advance and requested a table next to the window – which was waiting for us when we arrived.

    Two years ago when we ate here, they had just run out of ketchup. Thing 2 (5 yrs. at the time) didn’t complain, but her face fell and she was obviously disappointed. A few minutes later, the waiter reappeared with a small bowl of ketchup – he had gone next door and borrowed some (or so he claimed). He lit up when she turned her big blue eyes on him, gave him a smile, and responded ‘merci’. This is one of the reasons that I like to go to Chez Francis.

    The kids just wanted penne (sense a theme here? When in doubt as to a menu, order pasta) and the waiter had to call the kitchen to ensure that they could make it for us. No problems and we had a wonderful meal. We started telling baby stories about the kids – things they liked when they were little, things they would say, silly things they did. While they were all things they’ve heard before, we don’t usually do it in one sitting. We were having so much fun telling stories, the kids wanted to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle again, the weather was warm, so we decided to walk home. For those of you not keeping track, we walked from Pont de l’Alma to Palais Royal – mostly along the Seine until the end when we cut through the Louvre. I think it was 11:30 when we got back and into bed, so there were lots of tired people! (little AND big).

    Thinking back, it is one of our favorite memories of Paris.

    Next: the French version of a kids’ amusement park!

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    Day 10 – Saturday – the French version of a kids’ amusement park

    Today, we had planned to go to the Jardin d'Acclimitation, but I didn’t tell the kids that it was on the agenda. I was hoping we would get all of the “must do’s” out of the way to allow time in the schedule for this.

    After getting off the metro at the correct stop, we floundered about finding the correct road to go on and the first few people I asked didn’t know what I was talking about (or maybe that was just my poor French ?). I finally followed the time-honored rule of asking the correct audience – a mom with kids in a stroller – and she pointed the exact road. Bingo!

    We arrived at the ticket booth and bought tickets for the little train – we were a little hesitant when no one else was waiting, but eventually we figured out that we must have just missed the prior train, since there were about 20-25 people waiting by the time the train returned. We all boarded the little train to take us there – the adventure begins!

    We got off the train in an exhibition area – at this moment, it was a Russian theme, so the booths had Russian foods, Russian wares, etc. On the way out, there were even Russian dancers on the stage.

    There is no entrance fee, however, all the attractions have ticket requirements – with a different number of tickets depending on the level of ride. We decided to go for a big pile of tickets since everything x3 adds up quickly. We ended up having about the right amount in the end.

    One of the things that Thing 3 was looking forward to was the little cars you could drive – we had read about them in a book and he was excited about them. However, we discovered that the kids weren’t tall enough to drive alone, so it required quick thinking. I quickly “challenged” Mr. Surf to a race to see who could win – so he and I took three turns driving. The kids each had two turns – one each against the other sibling, and Mr. Surf and I drove each time. (I remember that I won all three races, but Mr. Surf doesn’t agree with that memory. I *know* I was faster when I had the smaller kid with me – clearly, the lighter you were, the faster you went. One or two of the cars was definitely quicker, too.) I’m not sure what the French kids thought as these crazy Americans were challenging each other and driving as fast as possible yelling, "ha I'll beat you!", but I can report there were no crashes and the Things thought it was fun.

    The other fun thing was the Hall of Mirrors. We heard lots of “bonks” against the glass when we were outside and wondered how kids could be so clueless, but after going inside, we realized! In addition to the mirrors, there were also clear glass panes – so if you weren’t paying attention, you could walk into them headfirst. We finally instructed our kids to put their hands out when they were walking around – we didn’t feel like visiting a French dr. with a possible concussion! Ironically, there were a few panes that were taped – clearly, some children had won those battles. It wasn't as easy as we thought and took us longer than we expected to get out, but it was fun to do.

    We had lunch at the ubiquitious amusement park café – they actually had chicken nuggets. The kids rode some more rides, we drank some more beer, and we ran out of tickets. We took the little train back to the station.

    However, Thing 2 decided that we hadn’t had enough drama for the moment. Last spring, silly bands were all the rage – kids would trade them, bargain with them, collect them. Each kid had a handful of silly bands that they put on each morning for the day. Thing 2 was playing with hers – holding it, looking at it, dangling it over the side of the train... yep, you know where this is going. The silly band ended up in the grass as we were chugging along. Of course, we had tears. “But Mom {sniffle}, it’s my favorite. {sniffle} It’s the glow-in-the-dark {sniffle} dog bone {sniffle} and it was my only one {sniffle} and they are IMPOSSIBLE {sniffle} to find.” Being the sap that I am (either that or I knew which battle to fight… and this was one I would LOSE), we waited for the train to re-load and go back to the park and we decided to go for a walk through the train track area.

    The train actually went through a grassy area with a few trees and when she dropped it (she called out immediately), I tried to mentally mark a tree. Kind of like playing golf – you note the specific landmark or tree where your ball enters the woods? Well, apparently, my golf game isn’t so good, but my tree-noting skills are, because I walked back to a specific tree and told everyone to look around. In about 3 minutes, we found it! This is a silicone thin band – the size of a rubber band, and we actually found it! I looked at her – “Thing 2, you owe me. BIG. You better be on your best behavior for the rest of the day. You are so lucky that I’m a bad golfer.” (well, maybe I didn’t say the part about being a bad golfer, but I certainly thought it). Mr. Surf just shook his head, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’

    After lots of “Mommy I love you.” ’s on the metro on the way home, we took a break, had some dinner and got ready for the Eiffel Tower. After the mis-hap earlier, I was able to book tickets online for Saturday night, so we headed there.

    Somehow, I became the lead blocker as we fought the trinket sellers from the Trocadero down to the Eiffel Tower (wow, they are aggressive, aren’t they?). I was amazed how they lined up alternating and staggering themselves so that you literally couldn’t walk straight without going through and over them.

    We were happy to avoid the line for the first elevator and use our timed tickets, however, it didn’t help for the line to the top. We still waited at least 30 minutes to get from the 2nd level to the 3rd level. While the rest of us wouldn’t have gone, Thing 3 absolutely had to go. He would have been disappointed since Things 1 and 2 had gone up three years ago. By this time, the sun was gone and the drizzle started – not heavy rain, but enough that I put my camera away and hoods were up. Finally, we made it to the top – everyone said, ‘it’s too high, you can’t see anything, let’s go back down,” so we did – after another wait for the elevators down. We stopped in the self-service café for sustenance – what else but fries and ice cream ?!?

    We all agreed that we should walk down and that waiting in the line for the elevators down was insane, so we happily went down the stairs from Level 2 to Level 1 and then from Level 1 to the ground. By the time we got down, the vendors and hawkers were gone, so it was an easier walk back to the metro.

    We stopped for our last visit to Buren’s black and white columns in Palais Royal and headed back to the apartment to pack up, get organized, and mentally ready for our trip home.

    Next: You were on the plane HOW MANY hours ?

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    Hi, Surfmom!
    Enjoying your report and taking notes since I leave for Paris in less than two weeks with my grandchildren and their parents. We did some of the same things you did when there two years ago when my granddaughter was 6. Her brother is very excited to be celebrating his 5th birthday by going up the Eiffel Tower; we have tix and hope to get to the top. They may do the Fat Tire Bike Tour, and a return to the Jardin d'Acclimatation is planned--the USA was the theme at the time of our '09 visit. I like your idea of the game at the Rodin; sounds like fun for all. Chez Francis sounds like a great place for us; we may try that. We're staying in an apt. in the 6th.
    Thanks for all the good ideas and tips, both times!

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    hi grandmere! too funny that you are a year behind - AGAIN! Glad to hear that you can take grandchild #2 also - will you be my grandma ?

    Chez Francis is a great place - not too stuffy, but formal enough the kids will be on their best behavior. Reserve in advance for a window seat - and be prepared for a late night - it stays light until late in Paris.

    final installment imminent.

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    Next: You were on the plane HOW MANY hours ?’

    Day 11 - Sunday - departure

    We sadly woke up, got motivated, and got ready to leave. I had spent the previous night figuring out how to pack all those extra clothes (extra duffel bag purchased!), washing our traveling clothes, and making sure all electronic entertainment devices (ipods, etc.) were charged and ready to go.

    The representative from our Paris Vacation Apartments met us about 15 minutes before our taxi to check us out of the apartment – makes it easier not to worry about leaving keys behind. I had previously asked them to arrange a taxi, however, their regular service couldn’t guarantee one for 5 people, so I had booked one myself. The PVA representative was kind enough to wait around until the taxi arrived and confirmed that it held 5 people – I was very pleased that he made sure we were taken care of getting to the airport. We knew if there was a problem, he would be able to help us easier and more quickly than my fumbling.

    We ordered the taxi for 8:30am and the PVA rep was there at 8:15am – I was very pleased that he understood the concept of “traveling time” and that it is very different than “Paris time”. The taxi arrived, as scheduled, at 8:30, and was big enough to handle all five of us! We waved goodbye to our apartment and central Paris and headed off for what would be a long day.

    Our flight was scheduled at 11:20am, so we had plenty of time, but we were also apprehensive about traveling after all the volcano nightmares. Unfortunately, we knew the volcano was acting up again, but we didn’t know what that meant (if anything) to us. When we arrived, we discovered that our flight was delayed about 3 hours, but once we arrived at the gate, they announced that they would be boarding as scheduled as if we were taking off without the delay.

    We were confused as to why, but the Captain explained that if a slot opened up before our scheduled (delayed) time, if we were boarded and pushed away, we would take priority over another plane that still needed 45 minutes to board. He wanted us to be ready if something opened up earlier. We did end up taking off after only a 2 ½ hour delay, but was the extra 2 ½ hours sitting on a plane better than an extra 30 minutes delay ? Not sure. In addition to the delay, the flight routing was changed to fly further north – over England, Iceland, and Greenland to avoid the volcanic ash and fallout. This contributed to making the flight even longer. Yippee.

    Mr. Surf had warned the kids that the hardest part of international traveling is the flight home – you are disappointed that the trip is over, you’ve read everything you brought, and you are awake the entire flight. He told them that how well they did on the flight home determined the probability of traveling to Europe again in the near future. (in other words, “behave!”)

    One thing we lucked into was with books – we had the kids each choose their favorite two books and I put them away in my suitcase until the flight home – so they had something to look forward to. I didn’t even get them out of the bag until we had taken off, so that also helped since we were almost 3 hours into the trip at that point. The littlest Surf really enjoyed watching the map feature on the AVOD – he sat and watched it alternate between the large map, the close map, the airspeed, and whatever other information it shows. We couldn’t believe how long he just sat and watched that! We were thankful for the AVOD – for movies, and music. The kids didn’t sleep at all, but we got the first “Are we there yet?” as we were touching down in PHL. Woohoo. Looks like Daddy is ponying up for another trip!

    We landed about 5pm US time – since we had boarded before 11 am Paris time, with the time change, we ended up being on the plane almost exactly 12 hours. Yuck. We collected our bags (couldn’t do carryon-only this direction!), and headed home. Unfortunately, all that travel was difficult for the littlest Surf (and it was midnight according to his body’s clock), and we couldn’t keep him awake on the drive home. We were yelling at him, opening his window, trying to get him to talk to us… we finally gave up and let him sleep the last 15 minutes in peace. We were happy that he didn’t continue to sleep as we arrived home and unpacked the car.

    Up Next: Lessons Learned

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    Lessons Learned

    => Annual Passes (Paris Museum Pass, Historic Royal Palaces) have more value than just the monetary value. For example, other benefits include being able to go into a museum, exhibition more than once to break it into manageable chunks (ie. Tower of London), you can leave quickly if things aren’t working well (Musee d’Orsay) without feeling committed because you paid for the ticket, and you can use the building for the city view (Pompidou Centre).

    => Jolly Ranchers solve minor and major problems !

    => Wait until the kids are older for the Cabinet War Rooms.
    They don’t like stinky and confined.

    => Take all opportunities to eat ice cream!
    => Go to the Brass Rubbing Centre at St. Martin’s in the Fields and allow the adults to enjoy their beverages while kids do tracing.

    => Books from London are fun and unique and different.

    => Hooded sweatshirts on overnight flights are conducive to kids sleeping.

    => Buy Eiffel Tower tickets in advance but still be mentally prepared to wait for the 2nd set of elevators. Walking down is much easier than waiting for the last set of elevators.

    => The London Eye at dusk is a great time to go!

    => Avoid the London Transport Museum for kids. Grandparents are probably more interested in seeing the old trains, trams, and buses than kids who can't climb IN and ON them.

    => Fat Tire Bike Tours are very fun!

    => If Musee d’Orsay (or any other museum) is under renovations, skip it – it's crowded, cameras aren’t allowed, and many of their works were an additional fee.

    => Baguettes and scones are a good thing!

    => Save a few favorite activities/books for the flight home – it will give kids (and you) something to look forward to.

    => At Les Invalides, get tickets for all the exhibitions when you are at the ticket window - even if you don’t use them (assuming you have a Museum Pass and aren’t paying individually for each). It can be a long walk back to the ticket office for a ticket if you are wandering around.

    => KinderSurprise eggs are very fun!

    => Let the kids figure out the best way on the metro or tube – they had a lot of fun navigating and figuring out which line, which stop, where to transfer, etc.

    => Ask if there is a kids’ packet, activity book, guide when you go in – you might be surprised!

    => Happy bellies make happy kids!

    => It’s never too early for ice cream (or a beer).

    => Tailor your trip for your interests and needs.

    => If traveling with kids, rent an apartment - it makes life so much easier! With regard to apartments, we believe you get what you pay for. We loved the location, the amenities and the service of Paris Vacation Apartments and would (and hopefully will!) rent there again.

    => Personalized tours (kid-oriented) are very fun and reduce the pressure on the travel planner to deliver all the time. (ie. Paris Muse tours in our case).

    => Don’t visit the grocery store on Monday night at 5pm. If you do, be prepared to fight the crowds and everyone get annoyed at you when the watermelon won’t ring up correctly.

    => Find a special night to do a special dinner (ie. Chez Francis for us).

    => Watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle!

    => Take every opportunity to skip.

    => Don’t play with silly bands on the open air train and drop them over the side. If you do, use your best marking technique so you can walk back and get them again.

    => Take an extra duffel bag for those fun purchases. : )

    => Our travel strategy is to do less and have happy people rather than "doing it all". Figure out what works for you and your family. Don't get talked into doing something you don't want to do - you'll regret it when you don't have fun.

    => Be ready to bail on an activity if it isn't going well. Better to admit defeat, re-group, and have fun with something different than stick with a miserable activity/event/museum.

    => Eat ice cream early and often.

    have a marvelous trip!

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    so inspired by you, surfmom! We just have one kid and we schlepped him through our Scandinavian trip, but have not taken him to London or Paris. Once he is just a tad older (4 years old now), we are planning to go. I am bookmarking your trip report for all the tips. Have fun in Scandinavia and please post a trip report when you get back!

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    => It’s never too early for ice cream (or a beer).

    Best vacation advice ever!!! Thanks for the great report, I really enjoyed your wit and your family practicality.

    Don't know if you've watched the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn movie "Charade," but one of the last scenes is under the arches/arcade of the Palais Royal before the black and white pillars were installed. I love to watch it because it reminds me of our great stay there.

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    Thanks for a great TR surfmom and all the advice. My husband and I will be going to Paris and London this summer with our son. We will definitely do the amusement park! Sounds like you had a great time. I cant wait to do a similar report myself when we get back :)

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    Love, love, LOVE this trip report! Not only is it a great, humorous read but it is FULL of wonderful tips for traveling parents. And the Lessons Learned section is an ADDED BONUS. Wonderful, really wonderful!

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    Surfmom - are you still around?

    Well, regardless, I wanted to send this compliment and thankyou out to you. Thanks so much for this FABULOUS Trip Report. The "Lessons Learned" was VERY MUCH appreciated. I love all your stories too! The one about your special dinner in Paris and walk back to the apartment was very heartwarming. These are the joys of traveling with kids, I guess! Somehow makes up for the mishaps (like the time your daughter lost her band....oh my!)

    Thanks again!

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    A really great report and especially helpful to people travelling with children as it highlights that what adults think might be fun/informative/worthy and what children actually find enjoyable can be worlds apart. Love that your children took charge of things like the tube train route organisation. Btw, your husband was very clever to use behaviour on the flight home as leverage for future travel. Bravo! :-)

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    LOL, just realized that I had posted on this last year and now again this year. I remember loving it last year and bookmarking it and going back and reading it this year and enjoying it even more :)

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    hey guys... thanks for the shoutout! Kids are older and this summer we are planning another great vacation - although, in full disclosure, I never posted last summer's trip to Switzerland.

    I go back and re-read what I've written when it comes planning time - since they were my impressions just after each trip. Helps me remember what works... what doesn't... what to waste time on... and what not to waste time on!

    One of the things that makes me feel good is that our kids love our trips and we could probably do it a lot cheaper and easier since they always say the most fun part is family time. (how about a staycation then?!?) With everyone pulled different directions on a daily basis, it is fun to re-group and spend time as a family unit.

    happy planning all!
    {and go post those trip reports - they do help others!}

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