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

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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 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.

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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.

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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. :)

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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.

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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.

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    I meant to say the boys were hoping to go clubbing - not hopping.

    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.

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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?

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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 :)

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.)

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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.

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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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    Really enjoying your report. I too laughed out loud at the part about walking down the staircase backwards!! Your lucky the boys decided not to spend the money for clothes in Paris, my 15 yo daughter doesn't quite see it that way - and truly enjoys shopping for clothes when travelling. Of course, it is quite easy to find things for teen girls that are different from here then teen boys.

    Also, you were brave to try the Chinese restaurant. My 11 yo son always wants us to find a Chinese restaurant when we travel in Europe - but we always just say to wait until we get home.

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    Thank you all for your encouraging words. I was very reluctant to start a trip report becuase I wasn't certain that I'd be able to convey things as well as the many fabulous trip reports I've read on fodors.

    LCBoniti - thanks. My sons are a lot of fun, and its good for me to remember that because there are certainly days that they are not so much fun too ;)

    I hope to post another day or two tomorrow evening. We are building an inground pool ourselves, and we are really pushing to complete it so that we can at least swim in it a couple of times before closing for the season. When I say "we", its mostly hours and hours of labor from my sweet husband.

    As I said, I'll try to post again tomorrow.

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    Enjoying your report! I have to laugh at the teenage boys hunger. Reminds me of the year I took my 13 year old son to Ireland. Every place we went, he would say..."the tea room here looks really nice!" He loved it when we would visit friends or relatives since the tea and sandwiches and cakes would invariably be brought out. How do they put it all away and stay so thin??

    It's great that you have the opportunity to experience this with your sons. Enjoy them while you can. Mine are grown up and moved out. But I still have a trip planned with my youngest and his girlfriend to go to Costa Rica next February. :=)

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    Sorry for the delay between posts. All the back to school craziness has hit full bore. I spent 3 hours last night filling out and signing paperwork – yuck :(

    I mentioned the previous post to my mom and she reminded me that part of her concern about getting back into the car at Mont Saint Michel was the fact that she was very cold and my husband had the keys to the car. I had forgotten about that.

    June 20th –
    As we had hoped, we awoke to a beautiful sunny day outside - the perfect day to visit the D-Day beaches. Before leaving for the beaches however, we were treated to another wonderful French breakfast – this time courtesy of Odile. Another unexpected treat that morning was the opportunity to witness a calf being born via a c-section. Odile came over to the cottage after breakfast to let us know what was about to take place. My husband and my 15 year old jumped at the chance to watch the entire birth. Others of us chose to head over to the barn after the mother cow was stitched up. :)) Creation is so amazing!

    We soaked in as much of La Ferme du Pressior as we could and then set off for the beaches, agreeing with one another that it would be lovely to go back to this B&B for a longer stay. We made the short drive to Bayeux and from there headed on to Vierville-Sur-Mer and Omaha Beach. On such a lovely summer day, it was hard not to just see a lovely French seaside town, yet the images from the D Day film and museum the day before were not far from our thoughts.

    Next we headed up to Pointe du Hoc. When we followed the path from the parking area out to the open area closer to the bluff – all of the boy’s jaws dropped. It was impossible not to be impressed by the enormous craters everywhere and the still predominantly intact German bunkers. How did any of those rangers survive the climb up the cliff to take this tactically important area? After the awe passed, then my boys crossed the threshold into the “COOL!!!” response. ( Kerouac, here’s your “teens go wild” section). As I mentioned in an earlier post, my boys are all history lovers and have a particular fascination with military history. They had a blast exploring every possible crater, bunker, and tunnel for well over an hour. Lesson#8 on the teen fast track is actually one the boys asked me to include – make sure that you always bring a flashlight, you never know when you might need one. We did not bring a flashlight, however they are all pretty good at creative solutions. In this case, they used their camera cell phone to help in 2 ways. First, they would take a picture of the area ahead of them in the dark, and then look at the photo to see what perils lay ahead and which way to go. Second, they used the LED display light to shed a little light on the area.

    Our final stop on the coast was at the American Cemetery. What a beautiful and serene place to pay tribute to the many that fought and died there for our freedom and the freedom of the French people. Several things happened on this visit that bear repeating. First, it was fascinating to discover that the land for these memorials has actually been given to the United States by France and is therefore US property – I didn’t know that. Second, it was interesting to hear several French people say that if the US hadn’t joined the War, that they know that France would have been no more – it would’ve become part of Germany. Finally, when we were down at the battle scene plaque near the cliff edge, there was an older gentleman standing and looking at the plaque and the area at the same time as we were. He just kept looking out toward the beach and then down at the plaque shaking his head. Eventually, he began to tear up a bit. My husband gently asked the man if he fought at the D-Day battle to which he quietly replied yes. My husband was formerly in the Navy as were both our fathers and other family members. We already have a sense of the great sacrifice made by those who serve in the military to defend the freedom our country enjoys. We have tried to communicate this same message to our sons. It was an honor to be able to be in that place at that time and offer words of thanks to this gentleman for his service. I’m not sure any of us left that area without being choked up.

    After we left the cemetery and headed on towards Bayeux. I had hoped that we would be able to see the Tapestry, however as noted in my first thread, I do not like to arrive to the airport late. With that in mind, we felt that it would be best to skip it and head over to the Beauvais airport. Of course, I still had my 3 teenage sons with me soooooo – we had to stop in Bayeux for lunch. This particular day, we made our second visit to McDonald’s while in France. (cost $52.10 or 38.10 euros for the six of us). With food out of the way, we were ready to make our way to Bayeux.

    As on our trip out to Normandy, the drive back to the east was basically quite easy. The only challenging part was around Rouen. In this particular instance, I was driving and my husband was navigating – usually he drives and I navigate. He did a great job of getting us through with the limited map that we had, we just hit some rush hour traffic and found the sign postings to be limited for the route we were looking for. We did have some delay getting through Rouen, but nothing major. The road from Rouen to Beauvais was a lesser highway, so our progress slowed down at that point. Eventually we arrived in Beauvais about 6:30 pm and our flight was scheduled to depart at 10:50 pm (cost $245.24 or 176.76 euros for the 6 of us).

    Our first order of business was to find a gas station and fill up the VW bus. We quickly discovered that we could not use our credit card in the unattended pumps at gas stations (I think it has to do with not using a pin). After 3 tries we finally pulled into a gas station that did have an attendant just as he was roping off the attended pumps. My husband raced out of the car and pleaded our case. The gentleman was very nice and did allow us to use one of the closed off pumps and then pay him directly with the card. Whew! – That was close :) (cost $115.40 or 84.39 euros)

    The next order of business was to return our rental car. This went smoothly and swiftly except for one thing. We were not given any paperwork, receipts, etc. That was a little disconcerting though we were assured that we would get the paperwork in the mail. We did get the paperwork just after returning home, noticed a mistake, called AutoEurope (our booking agent) and received the credit and corrected paperwork in short order.

    Once inside the busy airport, we staked out a table at the cafeteria and proceeded to pick out our dinners. The food was nothing memorable, though not bad. I do remember that the line was very crowded, they were short staffed, and they were running out of a lot of choices. It was about 8:00 pm I think when we finally sat down and ate our dinner.

    Per Ryan Air procedure, we checked in as soon as our flights check in opened about 8:30pm. Knowing their weight restrictions, we decided to pay for 1 checked bag each when we made the reservations. I think our 22” bags were slightly over the carryon weight limit. Our flight took off about 15 minutes late, so we arrived in Dublin at about 11:40pm vs. 11:30om. All in all, the flight was fine and we would travel Ryan Air again. Observations include the fact that you feel somewhat like cattle with all of the lines, being herded here and there and the fact that the amount of selling that their attendants have to do on these short flights is ridiculous.

    That night we had a hotel reservation at the Holiday Inn Express Dublin Airport. I can’t recommend this hotel enough for the convenience, service, and value. The free shuttle picked us up minutes after we called to tell them we had arrived. We had reserved 3 rooms with 2 single beds each to guarantee everyone a good night’s sleep (cost per room $91.94 or 67 euros). The hotel is very new and nicely appointed. There was air conditioning in the rooms and the rooms and bathroom were very comfortable. The price included a free breakfast buffet with lots of options (cereals, croissants, breads, cheese, yogurt, fruit, etc.). They have computers in the lobby for guest use or you can purchase internet connectivity in your room. We all collapsed into bed about 12:30 am and enjoyed a wonderful night’s sleep.

    Up next – The car mishap and the Cliffs of Moher

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    Thanks Mom, I love your report! (Laughing at the boys' antics-I mean this in a nice way- and crying at your descriptions of DDay beaches and American Cemetery.)

    Please keep going and SOON! I know you must be busy with family and work, but your report is just so fascinating, I am eager for the rest. Though I will be sorry when it is done, I guess.

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    One funny footnote to our stay at the Holiday Inn Express that I forgot to add. While still in France, my husband called to confirm that our rooms were being held for late arrival. When he got off the cell phone, he looked over at me with a defeated expression and said, "I was looking forward to being able to understand the language in Ireland after gesturing my way through France, but I couldn't understand anything the guy at the hotel said!" I then called back to confirm and to find out how to arrange for the van to pick us up after our late arrival. I couldn't help but laugh out loud after I had hung up from the phone call. As we discovered was often the case throughout much of Ireland and England, the worker at the Holiday Inn was from Eastern Europe and spoke with a heavy accent. :))!

    To my husbands defense though, he was using the cell phone in an area where the cell coverage was spotty, so he may actually not have heard what was being said.

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    Yes to Amorino gelato! When we were in Paris in 2006 with our two teenage sons, that was one of our favorite things. Excellent flavors, huge scoops, and really, really good. I'm enjoying the report.

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    Sorry for the week+ delay. It seems that it always takes us a about a week to balance out with all of the added time requirements once school starts. Thank you for your patience.

    June 21 –

    Our first full day in Ireland – Yippee! When we started planning this trip and asked the boys where they would like to go and Ireland was everyone’s first choice. My sons have grown up hearing the stories of family member’s visits to Ireland and the living relatives in Ireland. Now we were finally in Ireland ourselves.

    Since we were trying to cover so much ground on our trip, we decided to focus this trip on seeing County Clare and County Kerry, where both sides of our family hail from (several generations back).

    After our late night arrival on Wednesday in Dublin, we didn’t rush right off on Thursday morning. We took some time after breakfast to check our email and also check our cell phone SIM card credit balance. Eventually we took the free shuttle back to the airport to pick up our rental car from Europcar. Again we wound up with a Volkswagen Caravelle but this time it was brand new. The cost for this car was supposed to be about $817 usd per our Europcar contract. The actual rental cost, with all of the additional fees, wound up being $1038 usd or 771 euros – more than anticipated but just the beginning…

    Per the recommendation of so many wise members of this board, I made sure that my mom and I each checked with our credit card companies to see whether or not any of them covered the CDW insurance. None of my cards covered this in Ireland, and I was fairly certain that none of my mother’s cards would cover it either. Actually, when she called and asked about her platinum American express card, she was told that they would cover the insurance. Being the skeptic that I am, I know that I asked her several times to confirm this was accurate. She assured me that it was, unfortunately, however she had been given incorrect information. We would find this out later, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Suffice it say at this point, that despite the uneasy feeling that my husband and I had about this, we waived the insurance on the word of my mom’s credit card agent and headed out with the brand new van.

    The start of our drive was again quite easy on the M50 around Dublin and then on the M4 headed west towards County Clare (cost for the toll road 3.3 euros at the Castleknock toll and 4 euros at the Kinnegad toll). Our first stop was in the town of Kilbeggan for lunch. We stopped and asked a gentleman walking down the street where we could go for lunch and he directed us to the town’s big tourist attraction – Lockes’ Distillery museum which has a restaurant call the Pantry attached to the front of it. When we walked into the street side entrance of the restaurant, we thought that they food that they were just serving to several tables of patrons in the front room of the restaurant looked and smelled delicious. We were led to a nice table in the back half of the restaurant. This room was specifically designed to cater to bus tour groups. The service was good, and the food was mostly OK. Several of us ordered the fish and chips platter which we had seen up front earlier and thought looked so wonderful. The only difficulty was that we were not served the same dish as the one we had seen up front. The platters that we based our decisions on had thick, white, moist pieces of fish in a light batter. We were served thin, dry fish fillets. (cost for lunch for 6 $83.82 or 61 euros) When we left the restaurant we saw the waitress up front delivering orders to another table including what she called a fish and chips platter that matched the ones we had seen earlier. Upon further observation as we walked out, we noticed that the front room was full of what seemed to be locals (familiar with the wait staff, etc.). We think that we were tagged as tourists when we arrived and received the tourist treatment. Of course we couldn’t really prove this but, something did seem a little fishy. :) My recommendation if you stop there, ask for a table in the front room.

    After lunch we headed on our way to Lisdoonvarna where we had planned to meet up with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. We followed the N6 towards Galway, and again we were pleasantly pleased with the roads and the progress that we were making towards our final destination. Throughout the day, we had been trying to reach my sister-in-law on her cell phone to update her on our progress. She and her husband had been staying for a few days in Doolin, so they were already in place awaiting our arrival. For some reason, we couldn’t get a call to connect from our cell phone. Finally, as it neared about 2:00 and we knew that we were going to be later than the 2:30 we had planned on, we tried a payphone in Craughwell and successfully reached them with the news of our delay.

    This is when we started driving on the Irish roads that I had heard so much about. Somewhere on the drive between Craughwell and Kinvarra we would have the experience that caused us to know that my mom had gotten incorrect information about the CDW coverage. As expected, many of the roads were barely wide enough for one car, our VW van, to pass through. Also, most of the walls were bordered on both sides with stone walls that were covered with foliage. Lesson #9 on the teen fast track – being a passenger in a car driving on narrow Irish roads with walls just waiting to jump out and hit you is a good exercise for teenage drivers or drivers to be. They all had a renewed healthy sense of caution, and learned how to offer constructive help without becoming “back seat drivers”. Anyway I digress, somewhere on that drive, we were on a section of road that was only wide enough for our van. Around the corner came a work truck that had no intention of slowing down. My husband pulled in as close as he felt possible to the wall and slowly crept forward while watching the truck barrel towards us. At the last minute, sensing that the driver’s side mirror was going to be torn off by the oncoming truck, my husband pulled just a hair closer to the wall. Unfortunately for us, the spot where he needed to do this was one of those spots where the wall foliage was not thick, but rather covering a rock that was jutting out from the wall. We wound up with a long scratch down the passenger side van door that would wind up costing us about $1000.00 usd in repairs. :(

    With the car mishap behind us, we continued on our journey toward Lisdoonvarna. This last leg of the drive was by far the longest and was probably double the estimated driving time I had gotten from Finally around 4:30 or 5:00 pm we were thrilled to pull into the parking lot of the Ballinsheen House in Lisdoonvarna and see my sister and brother-in-law sitting out front waiting for us. The Ballinsheen House was a beautiful sunny yellow house sitting atop a hill, surrounded by beautiful gardens. The inside of this older home was very warm and welcoming and the rooms were very tastefully decorated. Again we had 3 rooms, 1 single, 1 double, and 1 triple (cost for the double and the triple for one night $211.62 usd or 154 euros).

    After a some time to get settled in, my mother decided that she was going to stay at the inn and read while the rest of us headed off to the Cliffs of Moher, which were just a short drive away from the inn. The remaining seven of us loaded into the van and headed off.

    What a spectacular sight! Those dramatic cliffs rising up over the sea topped off by the rolling green hills of Ireland are just beautiful. Now, I had known from reading on fodors that new walls and walkways had been installed to keep tourists away from the edges of the cliffs. What I learned while there though, is Lesson #10 on the teen fast track – seeing the worn, gentle, yet forbidden footpaths on the other side of the walls was too great a temptation for at least one teenage boy. While the rest of the group began the climb up the steps toward the lighthouse, my 15 year old could no longer resist the urge to at least get those extra few inches closer by being on the footpath. What he didn’t know however, was that there were rangers on sight who blew the whistle immediately as soon as he ducked around the corner of the wall and stepped onto the footpath. ;) When he hurriedly rejoined our group and did his best to blend in with the rest of us in our black rain jackets, I knew that the whistle I had heard had been intended for him.

    Dinner that evening found our group at one of the local pubs in Lisdoonvarna. Unfortunately for us, there was no live music that night, however we did enjoy some good pub fare such as enormous servings of very good stew. It was probably just as well that there was no music, it gave us the opportunity to do lots of catching up and story swapping with my sister-in-law and her husband. We hadn’t seen them since July of 2006, when they left to go work in Cairo, Egypt for two years, so we all had a lot to catch up on.

    We managed a semi-early bedtime that night because we knew that we hoped to see part of the Burren the next morning before making the drive to the Dingle Peninsula.

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    I'm so glad your are able to continue this report. I really wanted to hear of your adventures in Ireland.

    Too bad about the rental car - and the lack of insurance. Yikes!

    Boys will be boys . . . :-O

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    Great report

    We were in Paris last year for only 3 days with our 15 yr old daughter. Xmas 2008 we will visit for a week with 3 families and 4 17 yr olds (2 girls & 2 boys). Lots of great ideas and memories. Thanks

    We're also looking at Paris Attitude as they seem to be the only agency with apartments big enough for us.

    I don't quite understand the cleaning bit. I asked PA to clarify if the apartment will be professionally cleaned before we arrive - she said yes but we should leave it clean and tidy. But she said there isn't a cleaning fee. Did you go to the extent of cleaning the bathrooms, oven, fridge, toilets etc.?

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    LCBoniti - hopefully the gap won't be so long before my next post, although I am swamped at work and its only Monday morning!

    Sarvowinner - we just used clorox type wipes in the bathroom, kitchen etc, however that was far more than appeared to have been previously done in the shower of the master bath. All appeared fairly clean when we got there, however when we used the squeege in the shower, that lots of that orangish mold that can grow in bathrooms (I know if I don't stay on top of it, it will grow around the seams of my shower curtain)came off of the tiles shower walls - Yuck!

    We got it cleaned up, but I don't think we should've had to deal with it (especially on vacation ;) )

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    June 22 – Friday morning started with a delightful full Irish breakfast. In fact, that breakfast was my mother’s favorite breakfast on the whole trip I think. In fact, I believe that the Ballinsheen House was my mother’s favorite B&B on the entire trip. After breakfast we checked out and headed out to see a little more of the Burren (we had driven through it on our way to Lisdoonvarna the day before).

    Our first stop was the Burren Center in Kilfenora. We decided not to pay the admission price to visit here, but we did pick up a good map of the Burren and Burren sights. From Kilfenora, we made our way first to Caherconnell Stone Fort and then on to the Poulnabrone Dolmen 1 km away. Caherconnell Stone Fort did charge admission, although I forget the actual cost. The displays were simple, but well done and very informative. The Poulnabrone buriel tomb did not charge admission and the boys thought it was cool because it looked like the stone table from The Chronicles of Narnia. We chose both of these sites because of their close proximity and we felt that they would show us a several glimpses into the lives of these early inhabitants of Ireland, as well as show us some of the varied terrain of the Burren. We were not disappointed with our selections. The land was so rugged, yet one patch could be slabs of solid limestone with beautiful flowers growing in the cracks, while an area just a short distance away could be a beautiful green hillside littered with only “smaller” rocks. I always love to image the existence of those who have gone before us.

    After our brief visit to the Burren, we headed south towards Ennis. One reason for the Ennis stop was to visit the ATM (FYI there are not many ATM’s in this region of Co. Clare. We also stopped for a bite of lunch in Ennis as it was now about 1:30pm. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of it, but there is a terrific Bagel/Deli place in town facing the car park (which cost 1 euro by the way for the time we were there). It is the last shop in the row that runs down one side and ends at a stream if I recall correctly. They prepare wonderful made to order sandwiches of all sorts.

    With out banking done and the boys fed, we piled back into the cars and headed off to catch the Killmer-Tarbert Ferry (single mini-bus 25 euro). What great choice that was – a relaxing but brief ride, a pretty and simple drive, and we saved time by not driving through Limerick -another great tip from Fodor’s posters. We arrived just ahead of a long string of cars, yet we were one of the first in line. Also the wait was only a few minutes, just long enough for my several of my sons to shop in the little gift shop where they found coasters with our family name on them. I wished I had learned and applied Lesson #11 on the teen fast track at this point – suggest that everyone take advantage of shopping for an item when you find it. There is no guarantee that you are going to find the same item again no matter how many places you look.

    After the ferry we continued on towards the town of Dingle enjoying the scenery as we drove. As we had discovered, time had a way of slipping away in Ireland, so although some would have liked us to stop at the windmill in Tralee, we did not (being the resourceful guys that they are, one of the boys still manage to get a few good photos from the car window of the windmill).

    Our real goal was to be able to drive the Slea Head Drive, and because the summer days were so long, we were successful. What beautiful countryside, I know our day was long, but we are all so glad that we didn’t miss this – it was a highlight! Before we drove through Dingle, we found a place to stop and park my sister and brother-in-laws little car (Oh what I wouldn’t have given to be driving in one of those instead of our big bus :) ).
    This allowed us to enjoy more conversation time and allowed my sister and brother-in-law to see more of the boys reactions to the land and the sites. We found the self-guided tour in Rick Steve’s Ireland to be very exact and informative. Our first stop was Dunbeg Fort and with its walls practically falling into the sea, my boys were in heaven. They climbed into every nook and cranny that they could find. I wasn’t so sure that they could get out of some of the tiny ones. They especially liked the ones that came out on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. As we discovered with many of these sites “in someone’s backyard” in Ireland, they also charged admission here (3 euros per person as I recall). Stop number two was the beehive huts 1km up the road. Again admission was charged (2 euros per person) and again, the huts were fascinating. Although we drove from site to site, there was a bit of walking at each of the site and in case anyone was wondering, my 75 year old mother didn’t pass on anything. From the Beehive huts, we made our way around the drive stopping at several scenic overlooks, including the one to look at the “sleeping giant” island out in the water – it really does look like a sleeping giant. Our final stop on the drive was the Gallarus Oratory. We were all amazed at the incredible stonework. How did they balance it just so?

    When we returned to Dingle Town, it was getting kind of late, so we opted to grab hot dogs at the hot dog stand across from the harbor. Just as the owner was finishing filling our order, the rain that had threatened off and on all day actually let loose. We weren’t sure how long the rain would last, so we decided to eat our hot dogs in the van while we headed on to our destination for the evening. We picked up the other car and made the drive along the coast from Dingle to Killorglin arriving at our B&B at about 9pm (we had spoken with the proprietor the day before and arranged a 9pm arrival time).

    Unfortunately, we would be staying at this B&B for two nights – it was not the best choice. We chose Killorglin due to its location because we wanted to use it as resting spot after our days visiting the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry. I had some difficulty finding accommodations in Killorglin that had any kind of reviews, so I took a chance on one that I found during my online searching. We had three rooms, 2 double ensuite, and 1 triple ensuite for 402 euros at the Torine House. (My sister and brother-in-law also had a double room ensuite). The price itself was OK and the hostess, Catherine was quite hospitable. The Torine House however, did not get a good review from us on tripadvisor. The B&B was dark, I do realize it was overcast, but there seemed to be no good sun exposure even when the sun did shine and lamps were not used much. The rooms were sparse with a tile floor. The linens were musty, mismatched, and the towels were ragged, mismatched and threadbare. The breakfast, though made to order, was just OK – it came out at all different times, was somewhat greasy, and even the toast was somewhat burnt. We would not try this location again. After getting situated in our rooms, we settled in quickly because we knew that we wanted to get an early start on our drive around the Ring of Kerry in the hopes of beating the tour buses.

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    Sorry for the typos above. I have been pressed to get another entry written and 10:00pm last night was the first opportunity that I've had to sit down and write. I guess my proof reading skills really diminish in the late night hours.

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    June 23 – The Ring of Kerry

    As planned, we awoke early that Saturday, had breakfast, and headed out on the ring road going on a counter-clockwise route. Before we left the B&B, we arranged for Catherine to make dinner reservations for us a Nick’s Seafood and Steak House in Killorglin. I had read great reviews for Nick’s, and the copy of the menu that Catherine had looked like it would have something for everyone. This was to be a special “splurge” dinner – more about dinner later. The other thing that we tried to coordinate before our departure was to find somewhere that we could do our laundry. Unfortunately, Catherine told us that there was no self service Laundry in town, and she informed us that if we dropped off our laundry, they would not have it ready until Monday since they closed early on Saturdays.

    Not long into our drive, we noticed that our hosts had not been quite right about the time that they told us we would need to get out to miss the busses (before 10 am). We set out at about 9:30 and there were plenty of busses already on the road, thankfully we never really got “stuck” behind any of them (they seemed to pull off at every overlook). We all agreed that the drive around the north side of the ring, from Killorglin to Cahirsiveen paled in comparison to the Slea Head drive from the day before. On this trip, we opted not to head out to Portmagee and the Skellig Islands. If we had more time, we would definitely have joined my sister and brother-in-law on their trip to Skellig Island the next day (It took them 3 trips to Co. Kerry before the timing and weather cooperated so that they could get out to the island. They loved it by the way).

    We headed on to Waterville, and Aunt Abbey’s house. Aunt Abbey is my husband’s great aunt (his grandfather’s sister) and she stayed in Ireland and lived out her years in their childhood home. Sadly, Abbey died several years ago, her niece now owns the house and keeps it as a holiday getaway, but in my husband’s family, this home will forever be referred to as Aunt Abbey’s house. My sons have heard tales about Aunt Abbey’s house for years from their grandmother, great aunt, great uncle, and aunt – most of whom had the pleasure of visiting Abbey in that house. The house itself is a cozy, non-descript Irish home. What really held everyone’s fascination was the barn beside the house where apparently my husband’s grandfather and the other older siblings of that generation slept.

    Our first stop in Waterville was at the Catholic church where many of my husband/sons’ ancestors are buried. Then it was just down the road to Aunt Abbey’s house. The house was set on a lovely slope, surrounded by fields, pasture, a few other homes and a view of the ocean. My boys enjoyed spending a few minutes exploring. I really enjoyed looking at the landscaping and gardens, apparently most of which has been added since Aunt Abbey died. Although I know it seems to have taken over much of Ireland, I was fascinated with the wild fuscia that we saw in hedges along the drive here as well as everywhere else on our drive – it’s just beautiful! Lesson #12 on the teen fast track – if something is built up in a teen’s mind for many years, it can be very hard to live up to expectations. Although the boys thought it was cool to see the house and property, the many renovations that have been carried out over the last few years caused the reality to not really match the pictures that they had in their minds of this great old Irish farm.
    Next, it was on to Staigue Fort. The drive around the southern part of the ring was just beautiful – some absolutely breathtaking scenery! In some ways, I think that Staigue Fort was one of my favorite sights in Ireland. We drove off the main road up into the hills. Staigue Fort is a large, nicely preserved ring fort nestled in a small pasture on the one of Irelands green, yet rocky hillsides (no admission here by the way). Just below the fort is a beautiful babbling brook and a stance of trees. The fort was surrounded by grazing sheep on those hillsides. What a lovely pastoral scene. By the time we got to the fort, the sky had cleared, the off and on mist was gone and the sun was shining brightly. Looking down from the fort into the valley, you are met with an amazing view of the ocean and coastline. Wow! Its funny actually, the boys took note of so many of the details of this place, yet they somehow missed the rather large sign just inside the fort that said “Danger stay off the walls.” As you may have guessed from the rest of our tales, this came as no surprise to my husband and me :).

    At this point, I think it was about 1:00pm, so we decided to make a stop in Sneem for lunch. Sneem was a cute little town – I can see why it is so popular with the tour busses. We actually arrived in town before the tour busses, and quickly settled on a sunny little restaurant just beside the stream that connects the two town squares. Although I remember that lunch was good, I can’t remember any other details about that meal.

    Back on the road again, we opted to head out of Sneem on the N70 and then take the R568 to the N71 through Killarney National Park. We were very happy with this choice because the park was beautiful. The Ring of Kerry drive was actually much quicker than we anticipated except that this last portion of the drive, with its twists and turns did seem to take a little longer than we anticipated. By about 4:00 pm as I recall, we were back in Killorglin.

    Several in our party decided to rest up at the B&B, while others explored the few streets that made up the town. Oh, and my mother and I worked on some of the phone calls trying to determine how to handle the scratch on the car – ugh! As I mentioned earlier, the B&B hostess, Catherine, had made 6:30 dinner reservations for us at Nick’s Seafood and Steak house. The only problem was, that when we arrived for our reservation and looked at the menu posted outside, we discovered that the menu copy in our rooms must have been very old. The prices of entrees averaged about $40-$50 versus the $20-$25 that we had expected. Serendipitously, these high prices caused us to cancel our reservations at Nick’s and head next door to a tapas and wine bar in a renovated church. We later found out that the same owners own the tapas bar and Nick’s. This wound up being one of our favorite meals on the trip and was definitely the favorite in Ireland! The name of the restaurant is Sol y Sombra and we would highly recommend it. The staff went out of their way to make us feel welcome, even though they had a full house and we were a walk in party of eight on a Saturday night. For $301.23 (219.20 euros) the eight of us had an extensive, varied and wonderful array of tapas – everything from a very large salad, to grilled asparagus, mussels, croquettes …(I forget them all), a bottle of wine, and many soft drinks. The atmosphere, the company, and the food made for a wonderful dinner. Everyone went to bed that night quite content!

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    June 24 –
    After an early morning farewell to my sister and brother-in-law (they were headed out to catch a boat to see Skellig Michael) we began our trip back to Dublin. We knew that we wanted to return our rental car and get back to our hotel in time for dinner, so we were very selective about our stops along the way.

    That being said, as I alluded to in an earlier post, my sons were on a quest to pick up some small souvenirs, specifically those coasters with our family crest on them that one son had purchased while waiting for the Tarbert-Kilmer ferry. We had been making a point to stop at the gift shops at every sight and town where we stopped (although I have spared mention of this until now). I was certain that the same touristy types of gifts would be everywhere, but as I noted in lesson #11 many shops later I discovered that I was very wrong. Today being our last day in Ireland the press was on. Of course they made a point to remind me periodically that I had assured them that they would find them in some other shop. When will I learn not to make these kinds of “promises”. ;)

    Our route that day was to follow the N72 from Killorglin through Killarney to Mallow. We made a quick stop in Mallow at the Tesco to pick up water, soft drinks, snacks, fruit and gum (cost 27 euros) and then took the N73 connecting with the N8 towards Cahir. All of the driving today was fairly easy.

    Aside from the aforementioned gift shop stops, our main stop in Cahir was to see the Cahir Castle (cost 7.50 euros for a family). This was yet another one of those wonderful tips from the Fodor’s forum members. My sons and oldest boy (husband) absolutely loved this castle. They explored and climbed every inch of the castle – periodically stopping to fill my mother and me in on some of their exploits. My Mom and I caught some of a very well done guided tour. The guide was a wealth of information – I would recommend the tour. Lesson #13 on the teen fast track – the knowledge that my sons posses never ceases to amaze me. As I mentioned earlier in the report, all of my sons are history buffs and apparently they have learned quite a bit about castles over the years. As I tried to share fascinating facts that the guide had shared with them, I discovered that they already knew why the castle was set up the way it was, what each area was used for, and what all the parts of the castle were called. Who knew! I actually got a good chuckle towards the end of our visit, when a family entered the castle with their two or three preschool aged boys. Almost instantly one of the boys had escaped the mother’s sight range. Much to his mother’s horror, his aunt found him climbing up the stairs to the outer wall of the castle. She has no idea how much climbing will be done in years to come. :)) I think that this may be my sons’ favorite castle that we visited partly because it was the first one they have ever visited, but also because of the amazing condition of the castle and the freedom that they had to climb to their hearts content.

    Next we made the short drive to Cashel. We decided to eat lunch first and discovered that Sunday noon was a very popular time to enjoy a lunch out at a restaurant. After a short wait, we were seated at the Lady’s Well Restaurant, just a short distance away from the Rock of Cashel. Although I remember that lunch was fine, no specifics stand out in my mind (cost $98.86 or 71.95 euros).

    After lunch we headed over to see the Rock of Cashel and the on again off again rain that had really been a part of our whole trip was on again. My mother has seen the Rock of Cashel (cost 11.50 euros), so she decided to stay in the van while the rest of us went on. I have to say that although this sight is intriguing, it just didn’t capture us the way Cahir Castle and some of the other sights from the last two days had. I know that the rain wasn’t helping either. We made a relatively quick loop through and headed back down the hill to the van. At the base of the rock was yet another gift shop. Although the boys could not find the coasters that they were looking for, they did find a few other items that they decided were pretty cool. Whew – I could finally stop looking for gift shops to stop in. ;).

    The drive back to Dublin was no problem. We turned in the car and were told that the appraisers would look at it the next morning and they would get back to us (FYI – they never did send us any paperwork. They just billed us for the repairs. We had to get the repair report via Auto Europe with whom we had made the reservation). For what its worth, the Europcar office at the Dublin airport was very efficient for the pick-up and drop-off process.

    A quick free ride on the shuttle back to the same Holiday Inn Express (we had stayed there our first night in Ireland) and we were all settled in to the hotel. Since our flight to Gatwick was at 8:00 am the next morning, we decided to have an easy low key evening. We ate dinner at the bar restaurant at the Crowne Plaza Hotel - sister property right next door to our hotel (cost $102.98 or 75.95 euros). The food and service were actually quite good. Our meal was basic burgers, salads, sandwiches….

    Tomorrow – England! The beginning of the last leg of our trip.

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    LC -

    Thanks for the continued encouragement. I have really appreciated the many encouraging comments people have left me.

    I know that I've had big gaps in between installments, so I appreciate your messages even more.

    I received so much helpful information from the posters here, that I wanted to make sure and "give back". Writing this has been very fruitful for me (even if it has highlighted my failing memory :)) ). I just hope that someone else is helped by this information and/or that someone enjoys "seeing" this part of the world through my family's eyes.

    Well - gotta go now - off to two soccer games.

    I'm hoping to finish at least a few more days this weekend.

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    June 25 –
    We were up and out bright and early, caught a quick breakfast at the free continental breakfast at the hotel, and grabbed the free shuttle back to the airport. Our Ryan Air flight was scheduled to depart at 8:00am and as I recall, it left just about on time (cost $247.07 or 178.08 euros for six tickets). After an uneventful flight, we arrived at Gatwick airport at about 9:30 am as planned.

    Once at Gatwick, we made a quick stop at the ATM to get some pounds and then picked up our car at the Europcar desk. This time, we chose a smaller 7 passenger van (cost $546.50). We knew that we would not be spending lots of time in the car with our luggage on this trip, so we felt we could make do with the smaller van. Each one of the six of us had a 22” wheeled carryon bag. In addition, my mom had smaller wheeled carryon bag and the rest of us had small day bags for books, jackets, etc. Using one of the passenger seats for luggage, we managed to get everything and everyone in. If anyone travels with more luggage, there is no way that a party of six could manage with one of the 7 passenger vans.

    From Gatwick, we followed the M23 to the M25, joined up branched off onto the M3 over towards Salisbury. I do know that it was around 11:00 am by the time we headed out on our drive, and at that time of the day, the entire drive was completely without traffic or incident.

    Once in Salisbury, the rain that had been ducking in and out our entire trip was back out again. It was about 1:00 pm or so, so of course, the boys were hungry. We stopped in a J D Wetherspoon Pub for lunch. Overall, lunch was OK the cost was about $60.00 or 30 GBP for five of us. One problem was that despite the advertisement of being a family friendly pub, the emphasis here was definitely on the pub (the floors had that sticky beer feel and the smell permeated the pub).

    Now that all were fortified, we could go on to the Salisbury Cathedral. I really think that after our days of travel, people were beginning to tire at this point. Our visit to the cathedral wound up being fairly brief as the “teens on the fast track” raced through the cathedral in a matter of minutes and then pestered us to leave. It really is a beautiful cathedral – perhaps someday they’ll get back to it when they are in more of a mood to look.

    Next stop Stonehenge. Now I have to say that this stop was a bit of a disappointment to me. The last time that I was there was back in 1986, when you could still get up close to the stones. I understand the need to preserve the stones, but it seems that some of the significance of these great stones in the middle of a field in England gets lost when you are too far away to really see how large the stones are. For 20.50 GBP I felt that this was a bit of a rip off. I almost wish that we had chosen to do what others did, and stop on the roadside and view the sight through the fence. Anyway – enough complaining. It is still a fascinating place and one the boys are glad to have seen.

    On our way to Bath, we were rerouted due to a traffic accident. It was on this leg of the trip that my sons saw their favorite road sign. Road sign you say? Yes, lesson #14 on the teen fast track – the eyes of a teenage are much sharper and more easily pick up the funny things in life that an older person might overlook. On one of the detour back roads we passed a military installation. Somewhere on a stretch of road in that vicinity, we passed a “Tank Crossing” sign. They thought it was hysterical and needless to say, took a picture.

    That brings up the subject of our camera. Although I knew it was an ill advised move, we purchased a new digital camera the night before we left on our trip. We had a small very basic one that only took OK pictures before. The unfortunate thing was that when my husband packed the camera, he only brought the instruction manual that was written in Spanish. My oldest is in his fifth year of Spanish, so he was able to translate enough that we did manage to get OK pictures. While sitting in traffic in the car on this delayed leg however, he experimented quite a bit with the camera and the wonders of our new camera were “unlocked”. If only he’d thought to play around with it on the plane ride over from the US. :)

    Our accommodations that night, and for the next two nights after that were at the Eagle House in Bathford, just on the outskirts of Bath. We couldn’t have been happier with the location. We found the traffic in Bath to be just awful, yet this was a quick five minute drive away but removed from all of the chaos. The host and hostess, John and Rosamund do a lovely job with the hotel. It should be noted that the Eagle House is also home to the Inn keeper's family, so you will find games and reading material in the living room and you may hear someone playing the piano in the afternoon. In that respect, it is actually more like a B&B than a hotel. The rooms are nicely decorated in a "Laura Ashley" coordinated style with nice bed linens and towels. The teenagers in our party were especially delighted with the chance to play on the lawn tennis court for several hours each evening. This was especially fun for the boys since Wimbledon was going on at this time. We would definitely go back to the Eagle House.

    Dinner that night and for each of the three nights we stayed there was at the Longs Arms tavern 5 - 10 minutes away in South Wraxall. The food was fabulous! John highly recommended this pub and his recommendation was absolutely accurate. This is a small country pub and they pride themselves on creating their menu daily based on what is available and in season at the local farms. Over the course of our three nights we enjoyed some amazing lamb chops, pork chops, beautiful salads, wonderfully tender steak, fresh bangers, delightful desserts. There was not one thing that we ordered at that restaurant that we didn’t absolutely love. We were so impressed the first night, that we couldn’t bring ourselves to pass up any other opportunities to eat dinner there. Just Wonderful!!!!! Dinner for six, including non-alcoholic beverages for five and a nice wine for one, averaged about $240.00 or 120 GBP per night.

    Next up – Tintern Abbey and the Roman Baths

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    I just wanted to say that I did the same thing as your husband: I bought a new camera for a trip last year, and thought I could read the instruction book on the long international flight. Too bad it was in Spanish! D'oh. Boy did I feel dumb for not noticing the "Instructiones." So let your husband know he's not the only one to do that.

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    Same for me -- I just grabbed the wrong one and left the English one in the box. It just never occurred to me that there would be TWO instruction books, so I grabbed the first one I noticed and threw it in my carryon without a second thought.

    I'm enjoying the rest of your trip report, btw. I just didn't have any other comment. :)

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    So glad that you have had a chance to get back and work on this report some more. I am enjoying it still and look forward tothe next installment.

    Thanks for a fun and informative report.

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    When I started this trip report in August, I had no idea that the writing was going to be spread out over so much time. I’m sorry for all of the delays and will do my best to complete my report before the 22nd (the two month mark – yikes!).

    June 26 –
    Occasionally in this report I have mentioned the fact that rain seemed to be a constant threat on this trip. With few exceptions, we really avoided many lasting downpours. However, the area of the UK we were visiting could not say the same thing. Our arrival in the area was just after the flooding rains of this summer and that fact would affect travels.

    On this particular day we had plans to make the relatively short drive into Wales to see Tintern Abbey. I had visited the abbey on my travels in 1986 and remember being so struck by the rustic beauty of the abbey. As it turned out, our short drive actually became rather long due to the road closure of the main road leading from the M4 to the abbey. We wound up enjoying an unexpected lovely drive through the Welsh countryside and then down through a majestic old forest into the tiny picturesque town of Tintern.

    The windy back roads had added so much time onto our travels that it was now time for lunch. We decided to have lunch at the Abbey Mill restaurant where we enjoyed a very pleasant lunch. For the most part we stuck to a ploughman’s lunch and several types of sandwiches, however the menu did have a nice variety of food types and everything was quite fresh and made in house. Following lunch we milled about the shops on premises briefly and then headed to the abbey.

    Just as I remembered it, Tintern Abbey (cost 3.5 GPB each) was a fantastic sight set against the green hillsides of the Wye Valley with the blue sky overhead. They have done a wonderful job with their simple plaque system of providing a vivid picture of life at the Abbey during its operational days. We all spent lots of time exploring the Abbey grounds. The boys also spent lots of time photographing themselves jumping all over the Abbey – jumping over streams, jumping off walls….Ahhhh the energy of youth. Again we perused the wonderful little gift shop. My mother purchased two beautiful pewter and pearl celtic pendant necklaces – one for me and one for herself (I forget the exact prices but I remember they were quite reasonable – maybe about 10-15 GBP each).

    When we were finally ready to head back to Bath, the main road was open, so our return trip was quick and uneventful. I neglected to mention that on our way out of Bath in the morning, we had dropped our laundry at Speedy Wash on the edge of town. John had recommended them when queried about laundry options. I remembered that there was a laundromat in Bath, I just couldn’t remember where. We also decided that we didn’t want to spend half of our day doing laundry. Well – I’m not certain if we made the right choice. It cost us 20 GPB to have 2 loads of laundry washed. When we dropped the laundry off, we were told that it would cost 10 GPB per load and the lady who took our laundry was fairly certain that she could fit it all in one load. Apparently she could not. To add insult to injury, my 15 year old swears that all of his bright clothes came back faded. Now I will say that the laundry was ready when we went back in the late afternoon – cleaned and folded. However $40 for two loads of laundry was difficult to swallow. Lesson #15 on the teen fast track is actually more of a confirmation of a lesson learned at home – insist that teenagers take care of their own laundry. Then if its “not right” they have no one to blame but themselves. (I just couldn’t seem to convince them to wash out their clothes in the sink ;) ).

    Our next stop was the Roman Baths (cost 29 GBP for a family ticket). We parked around the corner and arrived just before 5:00 pm (the last entry time for visitors). The free audio guides were quite well done and afforded each of us the opportunity to learn more about the areas of the museum that most interested us. We were able to see all of the museum in the remaining 1 hour before close without feeling really rushed. However, I would recommend that others plan a little more time if possible. It is really a fascinating place. The boys were actually appalled at the money thrown into one of the pools by other tourists until they saw a sign actually encouraging people to make a contribution by throwing it into the pool – they still felt it would have been better for the collection to have been made some other way.

    During our walk back to the car, we passed a Subway sandwich shop. The boys had been chomping at the bit to get back to the hotel to play lawn tennis all day, so they suggested that they buy dinner at Subway and the adults could go out to dinner. In the end, all of my guys (my 3 sons and my husband) opted for the Subway dinner and tennis. My mom and I returned for our second dinner at the Longs Arms Tavern.

    On our drive out of Bath, we did drive up and around the Circus and the Royal Crescent. Given that most of our group was also fascinated by architecture, my sons included, we drove slowly through both areas in order to more fully appreciate these great examples of Georgian architecture. Bath really is a lovely city.

    Next up – our “Disneyland” experience in Warwick

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    Thanks LC - you are a faithful encourager.

    June 27th –
    Today we were off to visit Warwick and the Warwick Castle. I also secretly hoped that we would be able to visit a little in the Cotswolds. In order to optimize our day, we elected to make the relatively easy drive from Bathford to Warwick via the M5 and the M40. The drive was quite easy with the only stress coming just south of Birmingham when we were afraid that we would not find one of the easy auto stops before we ran out of gas. Thankfully, just as we were about loose all hope (Ok- this may be a slight exaggeration) we found an easy access auto stop in the Alvechurch area (cost for a tank of gas $61.29 or 30.01 GPB). With the threat of running out of gas removed, we completed our drive to Warwick.

    Once in Warwick, we disregarded the signs for the castle parking and headed closer to the castle. Success! We found a parking place just outside the wall beyond the stable entrance. Parking on the street is free for 2 hours. Cost for six (or maybe just 5 – I can’t remember who paid for my mom’s ticket) for Warwick Castle was $146.16 or 71.70 GBP. Although this isn’t quite as steep as Disney tickets, the price did compare to the prices of amusement parks in the US and this isn’t where the comparisons end. Upon purchasing the tickets we were given a schedule of the “shows” that were scheduled throughout the day – things like the trebuchet demonstration. We only sat through one full demonstration, but it really was a well scripted show, right down to the expected response that they directed from the audience. Given my sons ages this was a little too “cutesy” for them. They would much rather just have seen the trebuchet in action and moved on.

    Throughout the castle, there were exhibits. My Mom and I checked out the Royal Weekend Party created by Madame Tussauds while the guys checked out the Kingmaker and Dream of Battle exhibits also with Madame Tussauds wax figures. These two exhibits were a big hit with the guys and they have lots of funny pictures capturing the exhibit. The Royal Weekend Party on the other hand was a bit of a snooze and I’m glad that the boys did not spend time visiting that exhibit. In addition, there were costumed workers roaming about the grounds and acting as guides as well (reminiscent of the costumed Disney characters). Although the castle is beautifully preserved, I guess that it was just a little too commercialized for our tastes. That said, the visit was successful and enjoyed by all.

    Just before the 2 hours of free parking was up, my mom and I went out and moved the car into one of the paid parking places just outside of this same gate (cost 1GPB for I believe 1 hour of time). I walked back in to meet the guys and they decided that 2 hours was a long enough visit for them. It was about 1:15 and they were most interested in finding a place for lunch. Now that we had our parking secured, we walked up the street, past the TI, crossed the street, and stopped at a small restaurant that specialized in organic foods. The menu was limited but there was something for all. As I recall, some of the food was quite good, but the chili that was ordered by several members of our party was a little too hot for our mild palettes. In fact, now that I think about it, I gave my lunch, probably a sandwich of some sort to my youngest son and ate his chili. He is the least adventurous eater in our family, yet also the one who is the most affected when he gets hungry. As such, we are always mindful of Lesson #3 of the teen fast track – plan on having to make lots of stops for food.

    Warwick itself was a lovely little town with several beautiful examples of more traditional half-timbered buildings. From Warwick we made the drive on to Stratford and had hoped to continue on visiting Chipping Camden on our way back to Bath. Unfortunately the traffic was quite congested in Stratford and it began raining just as we were making our way into the town. Lesson #16 on the teen fast track came into play there – once teenagers have seen something (i.e. thatched roof cottages and half-timbered houses in quaint little towns) once, it looses its appeal. With the rain dampening our visit time the boys were not up for exploring Stratford or Chipping Camden. My mom and I have visited this area before, so we weren’t pressed about walking around in the rain and my husband was not particularly pressed either. We made our way out of the Stratford traffic as quickly as possible and got back on the road to Bath.

    We returned again to the Longs Arms tavern for dinner that night. Part of the reason we chose to return again was that my husband and I were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary that day. :) We always like to celebrate with a special meal and we knew that we were guaranteed that at the Longs Arms. We were not disappointed. The owner and his wife have done a lovely job of creating a warm and special atmosphere in a beautiful, historic pub. Primarily the patrons seemed to be locals from the neighboring towns enjoying this well kept secret. By the end of our visit, we were made to feel as though we were now part of the “family” as well. I think that I can safely say that this was everyone’s favorite restaurant from the entire trip. We were sad that we would not be returning again the next day.

    Next stop – on to London.

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    Happy Anniversary (belated)!!!

    I love to hear of people celebrating a significant anniversary in a special place. You will always remember this one.

    I can't remember if I already said so, but my sisters and I are in the planning stages of a UK/Ireland trip and this information is especially helpful.

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    Thank you for your anniversary wishes - we feel very blessed and hope to celebrate many more years together.

    No - you hadn't mentioned your trip planning. I'm glad the information is helpful. I always have lots of fun planning for trips, and one with your sisters, that sounds wonderful!

    If you have any specific questions please ask. I know that my memory isn't always the best, but I'm certain that between the six of us, someone may be able to come up with an answer.

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    Thanks for a great report. I so enjoyed reading about your adventures.

    As a high school teacher, I can say that your boys sound like wonderful young men with great attitudes. I love the story about them using the camera on their phone as a flashlight!

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    Thank you for your kind words BlueSwimmer. My boys are great kids, but definitely teenage boys and all that term entails. Fortunately for us however, they all seem to do their best to avoid a lot of the "teen drama".

    We've told them since they were little that one day they will be each others best friends - "the people who know you best" - so they'd better live with that in mind. It seems that they are on track to fulfull this expectation that we have voiced for so many years.

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    I've just read your report about the europe trip.
    came to it cause once and then i surf trough the net looking for independent reviews about our restaurant.
    To make it clearer i'm the headchef from the Sol y Sombra Tapas and Wine Bar in Killorglin Co.Kerry
    So i simply wanted to thank you for the good review and i'm very pleased that you and your familly had a great evening at our beautyfull location.
    If ever back in Ireland, it would be our pleasure to serve you again.
    Thanks again from the whole Sol y Sombra team.

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