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France, Ireland and England on the teen “fast track” – trip report

France, Ireland and England on the teen “fast track” – trip report

Aug 22nd, 2007, 10:57 AM
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France, Ireland and England on the teen “fast track” – trip report

After hitting the ground running and trying to play catch up for the last seven weeks, I thought I ought to get my trip report written before the full speed school schedule starts again next week.

After years of thinking about a trip to Europe and months of planning for said trip, My husband, 3 teenage sons, 75 year old mother, and I went on an 18 day trip to France, Ireland and England this June.

Before I get into the details of the trip, I’d like to say thank you to the many fodor’s members who patiently answered questions I’m sure they’ve answered many times before and who generously gave of their time and knowledge to help with our trip planning.

I’m actually going to start on the day before our departure – June 12th.
As I mentioned above, I’d been planning for this trip for months, yet my husband and I still managed to have about 5 hours of errands to do the evening before the trip and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning trying to wrap up loose ends.

June 13th –
In our typical fashion we were still not really ready when our ride to the airport arrived. I’m the type who would prefer to sit and wait for a departure yet we always seem to be running around doing last minute things and checking our checklists when its time to go. Knowing that fact about our family, I always build in enough time to get to the airport and I won’t leave late when flying (I guess I had too many “OJ Simpson” moments during my college years – reference to a TV commercial from years ago with OJ running through the airport).

We arrived at Reagan National airport with plenty of time, checked in, and then headed straight to the gate (we all had carryon luggage only). Once at the gate we each grabbed some lunch (the usual airport expensive – about $60 for sandwiches and drinks for 5). The drive from home to airport was about 1 hr 15 min, check in and security was about 35 min so it was now about 1pm and our flight was scheduled to depart at 2 pm. Our flight was delayed leaving DC due to overcast/rainy weather; however we had plenty of time to make our connecting flight in Cincinnati. We were flying Delta using freq flyer miles for 2 of our 5 tickets (the other tickets cost us $1081 each including all fees) and the best connection was through Cincinnati. This actually worked out perfectly for us because my mother lives in Cincinnati, so we would meet here there and join up for the flight to London. As planned my mother was waiting for us at the airport.

My mom was the real catalyst for this trip. I come from a family of eager travelers and I have tried to travel as much as possible with my husband and sons. My mom really wanted to give her grandsons their first “taste” of Europe.

June 14th –
The flight over was uneventful though none of us really got much sleep. We had hoped to since we were up so late the night before. Our 9:00am arrival at Gatwick was also uneventful. We walked from the gate to immigration – about 15 minutes – we were at the farthest gate I think. We probably waited about 45 minutes total to be cleared through baggage claim (my mom checked a bag) and immigrations. There was a desk right outside of immigrations where we were able to purchase one way tickets on the Southern train from GTW to Victoria for $39.77 (NOTE: all prices include our credit card international transaction fee). This was 4.45 GBP for each adult and 2 GPB for each of my two sons under 16. We made our way to the train station at Gatwick – about another 10-15 min. of walking, easily found our platform and had no problems finding a seat or luggage space on the 35 min. train ride to Victoria.

Once at Victoria, we headed from the platform to the TI to see what the easiest way to Waterloo was. I had looked on the London transit website and no one option jumped out as the easiest to me. The man at the TI advised that we take the bus #507 (I believe) which was stopped right outside the door in front of us and would drop us right at Waterloo. I purchased 6 single ride tickets and we were off for the quick easy ride to Waterloo.

I think it was about 11:30 by the time we arrived at the Eurostar terminal (time was beginning to blur) and we found that we had to wait until about 1:00 pm as I recall before the lounge would open up for passengers on the 3:11 pm train to Paris. At this point we were getting pretty tired. There was no real place to sit down other than a small café next door to the Eurostar entrance. Needless to say, they only wanted their facility to be used by paying customers, so the six of us found 2 round tables, purchased a few drinks and snacks and sipped very slowly until we could get up and go check in to the lounge.

Once in the lounge, we purchased sandwiches and drinks again (oh – by the way, when I say drinks I usually mean a combination of bottles of water or soft drinks (coke, etc.)) at the Costa for about $50.00 (25 GBP) and settled in to wait for our train. The train tickets for all 6 of us cost $450.00 (I forget the break down, but we had 2 adults, 1 senior, and 3 teens). When we scheduled the Eurostar, a number of factors weighed into the decision. First, we thought that we would be meeting my father in law in London and flying back to the States with him from London so we wanted to fly out of London on our return. Second, The RT tickets to London + the Eurostar and Southern fare was less expensive by several hundred dollars per person than the open Jaw tickets. Third and finally, I thought it would be fun for all to travel on the Eurostar to Paris. In hind sight, we were all so tired by the time that we got on the train, that most slept for the bulk of the ride (except for my mother, who much to her chagrin did not have one of the window seats – the sleepers did so it didn’t really have the hoped for impact.

We arrived on schedule in Paris at Gare du Nord and promptly made our way to the taxi line, which was long but moving. We did realize that we would be a little late meeting the agent at our apartment so tried to call her with our new quad band cell phone purchased for $66.00 on ebay. I had tested the phone and activated our United Mobile SIM while still in the US, but something wasn’t working (SIM - $55 including $20.00 call time, shipping, etc.). We found out after several days of no service and a few emails to UM that somehow it had been deactivated and they had to reactivate it again – then we were fine. Anyway – after a quick taxi ride in two separate cabs, we arrived safely at our apt. 90 rue Quincampoix in the 3 arr right near the Pompidou center.

Our apartment (#1254 on parisattitude.com) was in a very convenient location in the Marais area, right around the corner from the Pompidou Center. The apartment was on the 1st floor (fr) – up one flight of stairs from a pretty courtyard. The apartment itself had a reasonably equipped kitchen, 2 toilets, 1 master bathroom with tub/shower, washer and 2 sinks, 1 bathroom with a shower and sink, 1 master bedroom with dbl bed, 1 other dbl bedroom, 1 single bedroom, and 1 dbl futon in a small library separated from the small living area by a curtain. The living area also had sectional sofa with a pull-out couch section. The kitchen, living area, library and one toilet were on the first floor. The bedrooms, bathrooms, and second toilet were down a flight of stairs on the ground floor. Although the apartment worked out OK – there were several things that we weren’t thrilled about. First, it was warm while we were in Paris and we had been advised that the apartment had air conditioning, which it did not. My mother a little uncomfortable using the small spiral staircase, so she wound up sleeping on the sofa. This meant she really had no privacy. The owner’s wife had many religious artifacts all over the apartment, including a shrine complete with many statues, offerings to the gods represented by the statues and incense that was not allowed to be disturbed. This really made us feel as though we were invading someone’s private space. Despite several large windows in the main room, the apartment was very dark. Both toilets were in very small closet like spaces. In fact, the downstairs one was under the stairs and you literally had to back in to the toilet because there wasn’t room to really turn around. Finally, the ground floor where most of the bedrooms were was very musty smelling and there was mold/mildew in the bathroom. Would I go back to this apartment again knowing what I know now – maybe. The location was good and we paid 1690 Euros per week for a 4 bedroom 2 bath apartment that slept six fairly comfortably. We had a hard time finding something in a reasonable price range, in a good location, with the sort of bed configuration that we were looking for (with 3 tall teenage boys, separate beds are very desirable ).

After getting cleaned up and settled in for a few minutes, we went out about 8pm for dinner. We found a small Italian restaurant just around the corner and through the passage Moliere on Rue Saint Martin. According to my credit card bill the name was Saint Mario (I really can’t confirm this). Anyway – after almost 33 hours of travel, it was delightful to sit and enjoy a simple, good dinner in Paris. Some dined on pizza, others chose pasta, and at least one enjoyed veal I think (I’m afraid although I enjoy good food, I’m not a “foodie” so I will forget the details). The service was also excellent - we almost had the place to ourselves. Dinner with one glass of wine for my mother cost $107.75 (79 euros) for six of us.

Following dinner we wandered across the street to a small market and picked up some jam, butter, juice, and apples to get us started with the fresh bakery goodies we planned to pick up the next morning (cost $27.92 or 20.47 euros – expensive). We wandered the area a little while longer taking in the neighborhood, returned to the apartment by about 10:00pm and everyone settled in for a full nights sleep.

June 15th –
We slept in until 9:30 or so today – we had all been exhausted. Two of my sons and I made the first of our daily breakfast runs to one of the local boulangeries to pick up wonderful chocolat and burre croissants. Yum! It took us a while to get going, but by about 11:00 we were off to the Rambuteau stop on line 11. We decided to begin our first day with a visit to the Eiffel tower so that my sons could get an aerial view of the city to orient themselves. We purchased 2 carnets of tickets ($27.92 or 20.47 euros). It wasn’t worthwhile for us to get the carte orange because we would only be in Paris Friday through Monday. It was fun to see my sons navigate the metro (we are from a rural area so not much subway riding). This is when the phrase “Europe on the teen fast track” was adopted by my mom. Lesson #1 of the teen fast track – the metro is a great place to have navigation/speed walking competitions.

One word of caution to others, there were gypsies all around the base of the Eiffel tower trying to get money from the tourists. I had already told my sons to just keep on walking and not to speak English around them, so they soon left us alone. The weather was beautiful as we set out that morning but had become slightly cloudy during our travels. Of course, being teenaged boys, my sons decided that they were starving not long after our arrival (I think it was about 1:00pm), so we opted to just get sandwiches and drinks from the snack shop at the base of the Eiffel tower. Expensive, I know, but convenient and the clouds were getting thicker. We all enjoyed simple baguette sandwiches with ham and butter or turkey and a few had French fries too. (cost $65.34 or 47.90 euros).

My mother decided not to go up, so I stayed down with her while my husband and sons got in line to head up the Eiffel tower. The line wasn’t too long – however as they waiting the sky started to turn really dark. My mother and I scoped out a nearby phone booth and decided that we would duck in there. I walked over to tell my husband and sons and the sky let loose. It poured buckets of rain for a good 40 minutes. I happened to be under the awning of the gift shop when the rain started and my mother headed into the phone booth. My husband and sons were not so lucky – they were about 2 people away from being under the awning so they got soaked before they were able to move under cover. To make it even worse, when they finally moved a little, one of my sons wound up right under where all of the rain was pouring off the awning and he couldn’t move anywhere. They were good sports about it though. I got trapped under the awning with a large tour group of Italian tourists who were in some sort of a shouting match with one of the workers at the tower. I could see my mom, but she couldn’t see me. When the rain finally died down a bit, I went over to her and found that she had shared her phone booth with 2 college age girls from Canada and enjoyed a nice talk with them. Not long after, my husband and sons came strolling over talking non stop about how cool their visit up the Eiffel tower was. We were off to a great start and the sun had come back out .

We decided to walk down the Champs de Mars towards the Ecole Militaire and wander the Rue Cler area. Of course, my teenaged sons were insistent that they get photos of themselves “holding up” the base of the Eiffel tower. These were the first of many funny photographs taken on our trip. It was fun to see the world through the eyes of a teenaged boy.

We eventually made our way to the Ecole Militaire metro stop where we set off for our next stop – Palais Royal Musee du Louvre. It was now about 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon and we decided that we weren’t ready to be done for the day yet. We strolled through the Carrousel du Louvre underground shopping mall window shopping making our way to a Tabac. There we purchased 4 day museum passes for the 3 adults (cost 45 euros each – cash only as I recall).

Since it was Friday and the Louvre was open late, we decided that we would like to go and spend a little time. We entered from underground and were all impressed with the upside down pyramid. We had no line getting in since we had the museum pass. Lesson #2 of the teen fast track – don’t stand in any one place in a museum for too long. About 3 hours later we were all pretty exhausted but we had seen a lot of the exhibits on people’s wish lists. In that time we managed to see the Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, the medieval Louvre, most of the Egyptian antiquities galleries, many of the Greek antiquities, the large format French paintings, and some of the 16th – 17th century Italian paintings. Whew – I’m exhausted just typing them!

Dinner that night was at a Brasserie just down the street from our apartment. I can’t remember the name, but I do remember a little about the food. At first we were seated inside, which my sons found difficult. Although we live in one of the largest tobacco producing areas, they have grown up in a largely smoke-free world. We were seated right beside several smokers. Not long after our arrival, a table outside opened up and they graciously allowed us to switch tables. Several of us enjoyed wonderful, light omelets with boursin and mint for the filling. Several others enjoyed very good croque-monsieur and my husband enjoyed a tasty veal stew as I recall. All of the meals except for the stew were served with lovely, fresh mixed green salads. For dessert, we wandered around the corner to the Amorino Gelati store for our first but certainly not last taste of their Gelati. The flavors were so intense – just wonderful – and the servings were huge! What a wonderful way to finish our first full day in Paris.

I'll post more soon.
Momof3sons is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2007, 11:37 AM
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I forgot to add one thing about our visit to the Eiffel tower. While there, we noticed a large group of students with People to People. People to People is a student ambassador organization started by President Eisenhower to promote understanding, communication and world peace. My oldest son attended a People to People leadership conference in the summer of 2006. This was just our first such sighting - we found that we saw People to People groups every where we travelled in France and England. It kind of became a joke when we'd spot the group or their bus at each new place.
Momof3sons is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 05:40 AM
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June 16th –
Saturday, the weather was fairly nice, but a little overcast again. I made the breakfast run alone this morning and then my 15 year old and I walked around the corner to the Supermarche G20 for a few bottles of coke, water, fruit, and some snacks (cost $17.93 or 13.15 euros). My mom decided to take it easy that day and stay at the apartment, so we opted to visit Versailles, which she has already visited several times.

The five of us set off – traveling to Versailles via the metro and then connecting with RER line C5 to Versailles (cost $29.45 or 21.60 euros round trip for 5). Somewhere along the way on the ride to Versailles, a man got on the train and began to sing karaoke. He set up on the platform between the lower and upper levels. When we neared the Versailles stop, he walked through the car collecting money from the passengers. It seemed that most people gave him something, but I admit, I’m not one to feel pressured when I’ve been forced to be a captive audience.

Wouldn’t you know, when we stepped out of the train station, what was right in front of us but McDonalds. Of course my sons decided that they were hungry again, so we stopped for lunch. Lesson #3 of the teen fast track – plan on having to make lots of stops for food. Now I told you that I wasn’t a real “foodie”, well, neither are my sons and husband. That said, we don’t even eat at McDonalds at home if we can help it, yet here we were. I will say that despite the huge Saturday crowd, the service was great and the order was hot and correct.

After lunch we took the short walk to Chateau Versailles. My sons were quite impressed with the size of the Chateau as seen from the vantage of walking up the Blvd. towards the Chateau. Unfortunately, there seemed to be lots of scaffolding around that detracted from the exterior view. With our museum passes in hand, we walked right in through the pass holder’s entrance. Again following Lesson #2, we made our way through the Chateau – managing to see and enjoy but not stand still too often. I think this was hardest for my husband. I have been to Paris and Versailles before, but he has not and he loves to read all of the information and take it all in. Since this was Saturday, I was looking forward to seeing the fountain spectacles in the garden. We hadn’t purchased tickets for the gardens yet, and as we were standing and admiring the gardens closest to the palace, it began to pour again. This time we had come prepared with our waterproof jackets. The rain showed no signs of letting up for a while, so we decided to forgo the gardens and the other buildings and head back to Paris.

Since we returned to the apartment around 4pm, and my mom had stayed in all day, I offered to walk the neighborhood with her for a while. We decided to head out and explore the area around Blvd. de Sebastapol. We happened upon a lovely little Catholic Church just off the Blvd. called Eglise Saint Leu . Outside of the church was a pedestrian area with more restaurants and some open market stands selling clothes mostly. During our stroll we picked out La Potee des Halles, a bistro several short blocks away from our apartment for dinner.

Dinner that evening was wonderful. It turned out to be our favorite dinner in Paris. The restaurant was a small bistro with beautiful tile murals on the walls. We got to dinner rather early by Paris standards – about 6:30 pm, so the bistro didn’t become crowded until well into our meal. They specialized in traditional Parisian cuisine and what they did, they did quite well. Several in our party had a terrific shrimp dish, two others had traditional French country sausages, and again, I can’t remember what the others had. I also remember that there were excellent desserts including my husband’s favorite, Crème Brule.

Again we capped off the day with a stroll around the neighborhood and then called it a night. I admit the fact that the sun stayed out until sometime between 9:30 and 10:00 pm was really advantageous for us. It meant that we could see and enjoy lots of Paris during our stay.
Momof3sons is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 09:12 AM
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June 17th –
We tried another neighborhood Boulangerie today and were equally impressed with their goodies. We all decided that we were really going to miss these breakfasts when we left France.

Today we decided to start the day with a visit to the open air market near the Place de la Bastille. I grew up going to a wonderful open air market and have been saddened by the fact that we don’t have anything like it close to our home. I was really excited for them to see all of the wares. I must say that even I was blown away at the incredible variety of products offered at each stand – I never knew there were so many varieties of olives! Needless to say, the market was absolutely packed, so we took some time wandering up and down the aisles. Teen fast track lesson #2 applied here too. As a result, my sons were done looking long before the rest of us were. As it so happens, there was a great entertainer at the far end of the market that held their attention while we continued to peruse the wares. This guy was a very talented juggler who juggled while balancing a fish bowl (complete with water and fish) on his head. As if that didn’t take enough concentration, he was joking and clowning around the entire time. The boys took some fun photos.

Next we made our way over to Notre Dame. In typical fashion, once we arrived, we were informed that the boys were hungry again! Lunch today was at one of the small restaurants that sit opposite Notre Dame. Again if my credit card statement is correct, the restaurant was Ombre de Notre Dame (I’ve notice the names aren’t always correct on the statement). Favorites here were the fresh lemonade and French fries. I had a salad that was quite fresh and tasty. My mom was not too impressed with her omelet. Unfortunately, the service wasn’t the best, so all in all, not one of our better meals (cost $105.77 or 77.30 euros).

Mass was going on while we visited Notre Dame, and I must admit that I was somewhat uncomfortable with that. I’m extremely grateful that we have the opportunity to see these beautiful places filled with so much history. That said, the commercialization that seems to be everywhere was saddening. I just don’t remember things being so commercialized when I visited 21 years ago. The beauty of Notre Dame has not changed, and the boys marveled at the size, the magnificent stained glass windows, and loved the gargoyles.

After touring the inside of the Cathedral, my 13 year old decided that he wanted to sit on one of the benches on the plaza outside and take a break. Several of us sat with him while the others spent some time in the Archeological Crypt museum (covered with the museum pass). When the three returned above ground, the next logical thing to do was to take a stroll down to Bertillon. The sun was out, so the stroll down and over the bridge was lovely. Again we ran into a street performer who was doing something on the bridge that involved lots of participants from the audience. We stayed around a while to see what he was doing, but quite honestly, none of us could really figure it out. Language difference perhaps – we are all limited to basic politeness, necessary phrases, and menu terminology in French. I know that I may ruffle some feathers here, however all 6 of us decided that we were much happier with our selections from Amarino Gelati several days earlier.

At this point, my 13 year old was “done” for the day and my 17 year old wanted to go back to the apartment to try and get in touch with his friend. Last summer when he attended the People to People leadership conference, his roommate was from Paris. They were hoping to connect while we were in Paris. We all headed over to the metro and my 13 year old and 17 year old took the metro back to the apartment.

My mom, husband, 15 year old and I headed to the Orsay. There were definitely lines waiting outside to get in, so it was very nice to walk right in with our passes. Our time in Paris was getting short and I wasn’t sure how many more museums we would get to. My 15 year old wanted to see works by the impressionists, my mom loved the Orsay on her last visit to Paris, and my husband wanted to see some of Rodin’s sculptures. Because of all of these factors we chose the Orsay vs. the Orangerie which was my first choice. The building was fantastic. I am enthralled with unique architecture and I loved the way they repurposed the building. Also in keeping with my love of architecture, I really enjoyed the model of the opera. Unfortunately, no one was as impressed with the impressionist paintings. Don’t get me wrong, the collection is wonderful, but some of what we hoped to see was on loan to other exhibits. In addition, many of the galleries seemed too dark and poorly lit to really see the works. We did finish on a high note though with the Rodin sculptures – how did he do that!

When we were ready to leave, it had started raining again so we decided to take a taxi back to the apartment. I’m glad we did, we drove over by the place de la Concorde which we hadn’t yet seen, so it was a fun ride seeing new sights.

That night we decided that we would try one of the Chinese restaurants nearby. Now in part, I pushed for this choice on behalf of my 13 year old son. He was being a pretty good sport about food considering that he is not very adventurous when it comes to food. Well, tonight was Lesson #4 – on the teen fast track – it is not wise to go to a Chinese speaking restaurant in Paris with 3 “starving” teen boys when you speak neither Chinese nor French. The service was great and the food was actually quite good, albeit different from what the boys are used to. You should have seen the saucer sized eyes on the wait staff and heard the shocked little laughs when we ordered 6 spring rolls! We were thinking typical “American Chinese” spring rolls - thin rice wrappers filled with veggies and then deep fried. These spring rolls were enormous wraps filled with raw veggies and not deep fried. They were quite good, but there was no way that we could finish all of them with the other dishes that we had ordered. Needless to say, in our ignorance, we ordered WAY too much food.

When we returned to the apartment, the boys were still trying to iron out the details of getting together with my 17 year old’s friend. It looked like plans were coming together for them to hang out on Monday. I think my boys were hopping to go “clubbing” with him – not because they drink, which they don’t, but just so they could go back home and tell everyone that they went clubbing in Paris.

That’s all for now – more to follow. I’m hoping that someone gets some enjoyment or information from reading this. I learned so much from the fodor’s contributors.
Momof3sons is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 09:26 AM
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Great report, its fun hearing what kids think of Paris. Your apartment looked nice, do you think the owners reside there, because it looked a bit full of things? Did your mother have any trouble with all of the walking in Paris? Can't wait to hear more.
happytotravel is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 09:50 AM
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I meant to say the boys were hoping to go clubbing - not hopping.

happy2travel,
Thank you for the kind remarks. I was beginning to think that I must have scared away any readers with my post title.

In answer to your question, yes, I do think that the owners live there when in Paris, it was full of LOTS of stuff. I think I'm more comfortable in an apartment that is used exclusively as a rental.

My mother actually did quite well with the walking. We did try to take the subway to and from most places and then walk around when we'd reached our destinations. The only real trouble that she had was aparantly something that has happened to her on other trips - she gets some mysterious rash on the area of her legs that her socks cover when she wears knee highs. Her Dr. said there was no cause for alarm - it sounds like it is some kind of heat rash almost and it goes away after a day or so. That is another reason why she chose to stay home the day we toured the Chateau Versailles.
Momof3sons is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 10:27 AM
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Nice report so far, I'm enjoying it - more please!
julia_t is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 11:02 AM
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I'm waiting for "the day the teens went wild" chapter.
kerouac is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 12:33 PM
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Really enjoying the report! We just returned from Europe in June, and I love hearing about everyone's reaction to Paris! Makes me think about my own trip!

After finishing my 1st trip report, I know how much time goes into posting one...along with all the "mother" things that you need to do on a daily basis! Please keep posting, as I love hearing about family trips to Europe!

By the way - what were the specific areas you went to in France and England?
Anna1013 is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 01:41 PM
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Thanks for the report. Teens are tough to travel with (just keeping them fed is a major undertaking!) and I only have one of them! Well done on doing such a great job!
highflyer is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 02:30 PM
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Thank you all for the encouraging words.

Anna - we were in Paris and then visited part of Normandy and Mont St. Michel.

Hopefully I'll finish another day or two later on this evening after back to school shopping
Momof3sons is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 02:34 PM
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Oops sorry Anna - rushing off to take care of dinner and I forgot to answer half of your question.

In England we based ourselves in Bath, visited Salisbury, Tintern Abbey in Wales, Bath, took a drive through the Cotswolds and visited Warwick Castle. Then we wrapped up our trip with a brief visit to London - but more on that part of the trip later.
Momof3sons is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2007, 02:35 PM
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Love hearing about these places from another perspective (i.e. with teenagers). Please continue . . .
LCBoniti is offline  
Aug 24th, 2007, 02:03 AM
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Sounds like a great family holiday with something for everyone.

I used to love travelling with my teen (he's too big now ). Much more fun than travelling with a little kid.
nona1 is offline  
Aug 24th, 2007, 02:04 AM
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...and more fun than travelling with my boyfriend, if I'm honest!
nona1 is offline  
Aug 24th, 2007, 02:18 AM
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ira
 
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HI Mom,

Whew, I'm tired.

>she gets some mysterious rash on the area of her legs that her socks cover when she wears knee highs.<

See if the socks have some sort of rubbery substance on the inside that keeps them from falling down.

If so, get rid of them.

It's probably silicone rubber, which causes rashes, and can even make blisters.

ira is offline  
Aug 24th, 2007, 05:11 AM
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Mom of 3,

I have been enjoying your family adventures. Looking forward to more installments. Thanks for sharing.

PS. I have nothing but admiration for moms and dads who do all sorts of family things, and include grandparents as well. What wonderful memories your children will have for the rest of their lives. (I am single and childless--probably for the best in future gene pools.)
teacher33 is offline  
Aug 24th, 2007, 05:12 AM
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Thanks for the tip Ira - I'll check with her on the silicone.
Momof3sons is offline  
Aug 24th, 2007, 05:15 AM
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June 18th –
Our last full day in Paris…what to do? Oh I know – laundry . Well actually, we had planned on doing laundry, however we didn’t think it would take as much time as it did. Our apartment did have a washer but no dryer. Since I own a front loading washer at home, I knew that the washer would remove most of the water, thus making the laundry easy to transport to the nearby Laundromat we had found for the clothes drying. I chose what I thought was the “normal” setting on the washer, but it unfortunately turned out to be some marathon setting (it took about 2.5 – 3 hours!). Needless to say, I managed to figure out enough with the operator’s manual (written all in French) to select a shorter setting for our second load of laundry.

Earlier in the morning after breakfast, my mother, 15 yr old son, and I went to the Supermarche again to pick up the laundry detergent, paper products for our planned picnic the next day, and food, snacks, and drinks for lunches that day and the next. (cost $43.30 or $31.62 euros). Given the length of time the first wash cycle took, we were still in the apartment at lunch time, so we prepared our lunch and enjoyed it “at home”. My sons just commented, as they knew I was writing this, “That you can’t beat ham or turkey sandwiches made on a fresh baguette!” YUM!!!

Everyone seemed to be moving a little slowly that day, so there was no real push to get out the door. The two things left on people’s “must do” wish list were to go to the Arc de Triomphe and to go shopping for clothes. Oh – I almost forgot. Sometime in May, as I was already trying to gear the boys up for packing in one bag, my 15 year old told me that he didn’t need to pack anything in his bag because he was going to buy all new clothes in Paris. The other two boys chimed in that they felt that was a great idea too! Needless to say, I made sure that they were aware of the current exchange rate and convinced them to at least pack enough to get by.

Part of the reason that my sons weren’t too pressed about getting out early, is that they were still waiting to make the final plans with my oldest son’s friend. As it turned out, the timing didn’t work out, so they weren’t able to hang out in Paris with a local or go clubbing after all. I really wish that they had been able to get together – I think that would have been a fantastic experience for them.

When we had finally finished washing the two loads of laundry, I suggested that we take the loads down to be dried and then head out and do a little shopping. My husband quickly volunteered to stay while the clothes dried and then take them back to the apartment. My 17 year old and 13 year old decided that they really weren’t interested in shopping after all, so they bowed out. I guess that my exchange rate talk scared them away. My mom wasn’t up for a long walk so just my 15 year old and I set out in the late afternoon. We wound up walking around to the other side of the Pompidou and then traveled towards the Hotel de Ville down the Rue de Renard. On the street, we mostly passed shops with purses – not something my son was interested in. It was vaguely reminiscent of the many purse shops in the Chinatown section of NYC. We did eventually get to BHV and checked out the main store and the new men’s store across the street. Lesson #5 on the teen fast track – your 15 year old son does not want to wait for you while you look for pajamas in the ladies pajama/lingerie department to replace the ones you left at home (luckily my husband had an extra t-shirt he let me use). I also discovered that all of my finance lessons have not been in vain. When my son started looking at the tags on the men’s clothes and realized that he could purchase the exact same styles and often the exact same brands of clothes at home for 2-5 times less than they would cost him in Paris, he quickly decided that he was not in a buying mood. I think he was glad that I urged him to pack something in his suitcase after all. )

We stopped by the Laundromat on our way back to the apartment, but my husband was long gone. Stopping by the Laundromat did put us in close proximity to the Patisserie that we had seen earlier with the terrific looking fruit tarts. We picked up a few to take back and share as we thought that they would make perfect before dinner appetizers.

Dinner tonight was sort of an “every man/woman for himself” deal. My 17 year old and my 13 year old had wanted more pizza from the first night restaurant, my Mom and I had not yet had any crepes, and my 15 year old really wanted to try the falafels and other goodies from a shop beside one of the neighborhood Boulangeries. My husband was undecided, but he finally decided on crepes too. Everyone purchases his/her food and then we all sat together at the Creperie which was right beside the falafel place. My 15 year old chose a selection of small noshes – most of which he wasn’t thrilled with. The other 2 were content with their pizza. The filling in the crepes was ample and quite good and the crepes were enormous in size. Again in our ignorance, we ordered too much based on what we expected. I’m more familiar with small, very thin, delicate crepes. These almost resembled giant pancakes – far thicker than I am accustomed to. All in all, not the best group of meals.

I should add that although my family in not made up of foodies, my mother is a foodie. A part of her gift in bringing the boys on their first trip to Paris was that in addition to the apartment, she paid for dinner each night we were in Paris. I know that she would have been happier with some different choices for our dinners. Unfortunately, despite all of my planning, we sort of wound up approaching Paris with a somewhat serendipitous approach. This worked out great on most levels, but our evening meals suffered a little because of this approach.

Since the dinner was a bit of a bust, we all certainly had room for more gelati from Amarino – Yippee! Their flavors were amazing, there was never a long line like at Berthillon, they let us taste as many flavors as we wanted, and their servings were huge! I also loved the way they made a “flower” out of the gelati on the cone.

The night was still young at this point and we hadn’t gotten to the Arc de Triomphe. My 17 year old wasn’t feeling great, and my mother wasn’t up for a nighttime “run” through Paris, so they went back to the apartment. The rest of us set off taking the metro to the Arc. We quickly stopped by the ticket office to get the no cost tickets for my sons (we had the museum passes) and then began the trek up the stairs. I for one was glad when we got to the middle area with a few benches to sit on – I knew I had gotten out of shape with the long hours I’ve been putting in at work and this confirmed it! Of course, I was here with my teens so rather than stop, we continued on to the top. The view was spectacular. We enjoyed a long time at the top looking at all of the different sides of Paris. Unlike on their trip to the Eiffel tower, this time the boys had fun picking out places that they had been. I think that doing an “aerial” visit on the first and last day was one of those great serendipitous events. Seeing Sacre-Coeur off in the distance, I felt a little tinge of regret for not having visited it, yet I knew that they couldn’t see it all. Now they will just have to travel back to Paris one day. Lesson #6 on the teen fast track – the Arc de Triomphe is a great place to have a contest to see who can walk backwards down the spiral stair case the fastest. There was no real winner – the competition was called off by me when they decided to add the twist of not holding the railings. With three boys, I am far from skittish, but I couldn’t take this one.

On our way back to the apartment we decided to stop off at the Place de la Concorde. When we emerged from the Metro, night was just descending. What a magical place to be when Paris “lights up” for the night! My husband got a great shot with a lamp post on the left, in the center the obelisk as it was just lighting up, so the light cast a green glow, and the lighted Eiffel tower on the right. The three objects were lined up so that they formed a perfect perspective line as well, each object appearing larger as you move from left to right. The three guys had a blast capturing shots of Paris by night.

One observation from our metro ride home – if you didn’t have a watch to look at, you would have thought that it was rush hour in the evening. It was almost 11:00pm at night on a Monday night and people were everywhere. I’m not talking about tourists either. Most of the people we saw on the metro were clearly residents of Paris (still dressed in work clothes, fluent French – you know some of the dead giveaways). Fascinating.

What a wonderful way to spend our last night in Paris.

Tomorrow it’s on to Normandy.
Momof3sons is offline  
Aug 24th, 2007, 01:31 PM
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June 19th –
We had arranged to check out of the apartment around 9:30 am that Tuesday morning. All of our packing had been completed the night before. One of the boys made the boulangerie run while the rest of us worked on getting the apartment in order. We had decided against paying the extra fee to have the apartment cleaned. (I forget the exact amount but it was expensive) Frankly, I don’t think that the apartment was well cleaned when we arrived. With 6 of us we were able to make short work of the cleaning and I felt good knowing that it was much cleaner than it had been when we arrived. We made fresh baguette sandwiches for a picnic that day and then awaited the arrival of the agent. When we had arrived in Paris we talked to her about calling ahead to pre-book taxis to take us to the car rental agency. She assured us that she could make the call for us on that Tuesday morning and we would be fine. Well – that didn’t quite work out. Every agency that she called said that they couldn’t send over a van or the 2 cabs that we would need because all of their cabs were out with fares. Check out was swift and easy and we received our deposit back on the spot.

We gathered our bags and headed down to Blvd Sebastapol to see if we could hail several taxis. Thankfully we easily hailed 2 cabs within minutes of each other and we were off to the Europcar Paris city office at 8 Avenue Foch. I was glad that on the ride over my oldest, who had stayed in the night before not feeling well, got a good look at the Place de la Concorde, the Champs Elysees, and the Arc de Triomphe since he had missed them.

Our taxis arrived at the address about the same time and let us off on this residential street just beyond the Arc de Triomphe. At first we weren’t sure where the rental agency was, but then I noticed a sign for Europcar in the entrance to what appeared to be an underground parking garage. We had a bit of a wait at the agency since 2 parties were ahead of us, but before too long we were all buckled up in our GIANT 9 passenger Volkswagen Bus (cost $630.77 or 488.85 euros) After just a short drive down Ave. Foch we hit the expressway ring around Paris (there was no need to navigate through the busy Parisian traffic). Again, after only a short drive on the ring, we were on the A13 and on our way to Caen.

I don’t think that we could have had an easier trip getting out of Paris and within about 2 hours, we were parked in front of the Caen Memorial Museum. It was now about lunchtime so keeping Lesson #3 in mind, we broke out the delicious picnic lunch that we had packed and enjoyed a picnic under the shade of some trees. As I mentioned in an earlier installment, we were very aware that we kept seeing People to People groups whereever we went. Well no where was this more prevalent than at the Memorial Museum. Actually, the museum was filled with many groups of youths. There was one group in particular that seemed to keep showing up in whatever part of the Museum we were viewing and it was no accident either. A group of French, teenage school girls kept following my teenage sons around the museum giggling, trying to get the boys attention, and blowing kisses at the boys. Now my guys definitely like girls but they were downright embarrassed by this attention and did their level best to stay away from that group. Surprisingly enough, even with the unwanted attention, teen fast track Lesson #2 did not really apply here. All of my sons are avid history fans so they poured over the exhibits. We started off our visit to the Caen Memorial Museum (cost about $98.75 for a family of 6 as I recall or 72.60 euros) by viewing the Jour J movie. The movie was superbly done as was the entire museum. I’m so glad that we chose to go to the museum before visiting the battlefields.

It was about 4:30 or so when we finally left the museum. Afternoon clouds seemed to be rolling in, so we decided that we would “hit the beaches” the next morning. Somehow, in our attempt to get out of Caen, we wound up in quite a predicament. I think that I must have tried to block it out of my mind because I can’t remember why we were looking for the TI, but we were. Following direction signs to the TI and the encouragement of my husband, I reluctantly pulled the VW bus into the entrance to an underground parking garage at the base of William the Conqueror’s Chateau. First we went down into the parking garage and then began to head back up one of the ramps to hopefully get ourselves closer to the still invisible TI. Luckily as we headed up the ramp, my 17 year old told us to stop – he was sure that we didn’t have enough clearance, and he was right. I felt like an actress in one of those old comedy shows where the actors don’t say anything, but you just see them measuring and eyeballing trying to fit something in a space where it clearly won’t fit. I kept having visions of us emerging from the garage having had to have the roof taken off the bus. After some time of walking through the garage, my husband and 15 year old did find someone who worked there. They tried to explain to the French speaking gentleman with what little French they did know and then resorted to using hand gestures. Eventually, he understood the problem, came down to the lower level of the garage, and arranged for us to drive out via the entrance. Whew! Needless to say, I was done driving after that.

We eventually made our way out of Caen and headed down the A-84 towards Villers Bocage where we would spend the night at La Ferme du Pressior (cost $183.60 for a room for 5 people or $135 euros – my mother’s single was 60 euros for one night). What a beautiful B&B and the hostess Odile was so sweet and helpful. The grounds are covered with lovely gardens and the B&B is on a working farm where they produce among other things their own cider. The rooms are beautifully appointed and look as though a designer was involved, however it was my understanding that the transformation of parts of the old farmhouse into a B&B were completed only by Odile, her husband, and their adult children. We were made to feel most welcome, Odile offered us some cider and cheese and was most gracious as we tried to communicate with her in our minimalist French.

After settling in a bit and getting washed up, we were talking with Odile about dinner options and our plans for the next day. We were already sad that we had only arranged to stay for one night. Upon hearing that we were not planning to make it down to Mont St. Michel on this trip, Odile suggested that we should do our best to try. We knew that we had plans to see the beaches the next day and then head back to Beauvais in order to catch our flight to Dublin, so the only way that we could see it was if we made the drive that night. At that time it was about 6:30 or 7:00 pm. I had ruled it out altogether even though I have always wanted to see it because I already knew that we had packed in so much. Odile told us that A-84 made the drive an easy one of about an hour and said that we should go to Mont St. Michel for dinner and assured us that it was OK if we did not arrive back until 11:00pm. We took a vote and everyone was up for it, so off we went – I know, we’re crazy

How happy we are that we decided to go! Mont St. Michel was breathtaking. Of course we arrived in the evening so there were very few people there. Most of the tourist shops were closing up as we strolled through the lower part of the city, so we were able to really see the loveliness of the city. For dinner, we found that many of the restaurants were thinking about closing up too. One that was open and had a charming, half-timbered interior was the Auberge Saint-Pierre. We weren’t honestly expecting much for dinner, because it struck us as a bit of a tourist trap, and dinner wasn’t much. I really can’t remember many specifics other than it was somewhat pricey and all of the food was just OK. I’m not sure that any of us really cared though – the five of us were all so excited to be at Mont St. Michel (my mom has already been there). While my mother and I waited for the check, the guys all took off to spend a few minutes exploring up on the city walls. I went up to look for them when we were finished but couldn’t find them. My mom was starting to get a little antsy because it was nearing 10:00pm and she wanted to be sure that we were back to the inn by 11:00pm. A few minutes later they descended talking non-stop about how wonderful it was, all they’d seen, and the view of the beautiful sunset from the wall. Lesson #7 on the teen fast track – there will sometimes be communication differences with a multi-generational group. My mom found it difficult to share in the boy’s excitement because she really wanted to be sure that we were being courteous and got back by 11:00pm. Thankfully, we did just that, and quietly slipped in for a great night’s sleep in the sumptuously appointed beds.


Next up – the closest you will get to "the day the teens went wild" chapter Kerouac.
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