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Trip Report Our family of 4 in Paris (plus a day visiting Vimy)

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I’m a great planner, avid doer, and terrible “completer-finisher” – typical quasi-documentation of a previous trip would be a box of non-chronological photos and a journal including pages of minutely detailed attempts at travel journalism covering the first 3 days… followed by a note dated a week later of “Bus 67 – 10:35am – transfer in Edinburgh”… followed by 100 blank sheets. I have been looking forward to being able to write this trip report because a) it means I have actually gone on my trip and b) because I am hoping that the Fodor’s community will provide me with some peer pressure to actually turn my notes into a coherent and complete TRIP REPORT! So I’m hoping this trip report will be a long one… so bear with me (or bail out now before it is too late!)

Setting the scene
We are… me, my husband (I’ll use the DH designation!), and our two boys "A" (age 11) and "B" (age 8). I grew up with travel – my parents are from the UK and avid travelers, so as children my brother and I would travel to England - plus usually a sniff more of Europe - every year or two. I love planning trips (even though most of them I have yet to take!) and if I won the lottery, would do nothing but travel. DH is more of a homebody – raised in a definitely non-travelling family… DH and I have gone on a couple of European trips together before having kids – we did the 6 months backpacking through Europe after university (which I had been planning since I was probably 13, and he followed me on in a cloud of 20-something ardour!), honeymooned in Wales, and took a driving holiday in the Scottish Highlands. But since kids, our disposable income has gone primarily towards hockey (and other kid related expenses) and the ‘luxury’ of having DH be with the kids as a stay-at-home-Dad. Our family vacations have involved very little ‘travel’ – usually renting a cottage on a lake for a week of swimming and hanging out, but I definitely wanted the chance to ‘plant the seed’ of European travel in the kids.

When my granddad passed away 3 years ago he left us little bit of money to with the specific instruction of spending it on something specific (i.e. not on car payments or the mortgage or skates the boys would outgrow!). My grandparents were also avid travelers, so using the money to take the kids to Europe seemed like an appropriate legacy.

The boys are both in French Immersion (an educational option in Canada where all their schooling since kindergarten has been in French) so France seemed like the right choice!

The overall itinerary
I got to plunge into ‘travel planning mode’ helped out in great part by the generous and knowledgeable folks here at Fodor’s, and worked the itinerary though several iterations, ending up with the following plan:

- 8 nights in a Paris apartment on Isle Saint Louis (including a day trip to visit Vimy Ridge)
- Train south for a week (with a car) in the Languedoc area in a rented house
- Train back to Paris for 2 nights in a different apartment

(I am just going to do Paris in this trip report, and then link off to a separate one when I do the Languedoc part...)

Departed on Thu June 4th from Toronto and returned home on Mon June 22nd. We were sad to leave France, but happy to be home - which is, I think, the best emotional place to be when returning home from travel.

So there is the backstory… now to start the trip report!!

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    June 4th/June 5th
    The Flight, the Eiffel Tower and the Apartment “This was the longest day of my entire life!”

    We flew over on Air France – paying 3K Canadian for the 4 of us. It was the first flight for the boys since the eldest was 3, so they were VERY excited.

    The main pro: it was cool to start off the flight “in France” by going Air France. The main con: The flight left at 4:40pm Toronto time, and arrived at 6am Paris time. My strategy had been that everyone should get up super early on the Thursday to help us sleep on the plane, as the flight was so early. In theory… not a bad strategy. In reality… not so much. Neither kid slept… at all… And I know that because kids who don’t sleep fidget too much to let the adults with them sleep :-( Other than that, it was a pretty standard economy flight!

    Getting to Paris
    The plane actually arrived early, so CDG was very quiet. We were traveling with a total of 2 roller carry-ons, plus a tote bag that sat onto of one of the roller bags, so we didn’t have to wait for luggage, so quickly made our way out. Customs was easy peasy (in fact it felt like I was walking around waving my passport looking for someone to ask me what the purpose of my visit was!). Got our tickets for the RER from the no lineup ticket office – I was all ready to use my French skills (consisting mostly of nouns and verbs connected by gestures rather than grammar!) but the ticket guy spoke perfect and patient English. I also bought Moblis day tickets for me and DH, and ticket Jeunes Weekend for the kids (3.20 E for a day pass for people under 26 –only available on weekends). Son B finally fell asleep on the RER into Paris!

    I had read some reports of people being disappointed or underwhelmed with the sites on the outskirts of Paris driving in, but to me it felt like going into a big and exciting city – with an excellent quality of graffiti!

    Storing our baggage and our first visit to a pharmacy
    We weren’t able to get into our apartment until 3pm :-( so my plan was to store our bags at the Fat Tire Bike Tour office (I had read on their website that they had baggage storage available, and we were planning to take a bike tour the next day) while we visited the Eiffel tower. Because our flight was so early, and the office didn’t open until 9am, we had time to chill in a park/square on Place Dupleix about a minute from the Fat Tire office. While the boys zombied on a bench, I went and bought my first baguette, pain du chocolats and Orangina!

    As we made our way out of the park, B (the 8 year old) pinched his finger in the park gate (ow, ow, ow…) Poor little fingernail starting turning a nasty purple colour…

    When we got to the Fat Tire office, they had just started coordinating the logistics of their Versaille tour, so it was a busy, happening place (though not particularly French feeling:-) ). When I told them of our plan to leave our luggage there, it was apparent that I had misread their offer of “storing your bags while you are on a tour” as “storing your bags”, so there were was a moment or two of awkwardness , but the staff were super friendly and let us keep our stuff there for until after lunch!

    At this point, B was still whimpering bravely in spite of his sleep deprived state, and his finger was not looking any better, so we decided to find a pharmacy to get some aspirin or something to “take the edge off”.
    The observation that is the point of this anecdote: while in Canada (and the US) we would have had a choice of a dozen children’s pain reliever manufacturers, 8 different flavours, in pill, caplet, liquid, or easy melt strip format, at the Paris pharmacy, there was one option – a powder that you mixed in whatever liquid. It just made me think… really, that one Parisian option was enough! The placebo or chemical effect of the medicine seemed to have the desired effect so we were ready to move on!

    The Eiffel Tower
    DH and I had put the Eiffel tower on our “don’t really care, but we should probably see it since we will be there” list of sites, and so had decided to visit that first morning, figuring that we were indifferent so it didn’t matter if we were sleepy. But honest to goodness, it was amazing! It was iconic, and surprisingly graceful, and impactful without being imposing. We loved it, and had not come prepared to love it! It was not even 10am, and while there was a sizable line for the elevators, there were just a couple of people in the line for the stairs. So what better cure for a sleepness night? A 700 stair climb!! Being at the tower gave us the adrenaline to do it though.

    Beautiful morning… beautiful day… a great start to our “sight seeing”. Didn't pay the extra for the 3rd level - weathered some pretty mild grumbles from the kids, but didn’t feel we missed anything as a result.

    … to be continued

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    Wandered down from the Eiffel Tower – we had taken a picture from the top of what looked like a fishpond near the base of the tower, so wanted to find the reverse angle to take up the tower. B had to find a washroom, so he and I went off to use the facilities. When we got back to DH and A, they told us of how they had had encounters with 4 different ladies in long skirts and headscarves asking them if they spoke English. While I had learned all about this on Fodor’s, I hadn’t given DH the heads up. His instinctive technique for dealing with them was
    1) First time the a tentative “yes” to do you speak English, then “no… sorry”, “no” with a head shake until they went away
    2) Second time… “Let me guess… your Mother has leukemia” when it became apparent that the script was the same
    3) Answering “actually, no, I don’t speak English”
    Question/Observation: Why do all the ladies doing this use the exact same story? Someone told us later that last year, there was a different story, but it was still the same across the ‘industry’.
    Interestingly, I was never approached by these ladies, though DH was in pretty much any situation or location where they were to be found. I wonder why?

    Paris is more confusing in 3d
    Time to find something to eat (according to our watches, though our stomachs were still pretty confused!) Decided to metro it to Saint Germain / Islands area and maybe check out the apartment location as well.

    The kids LOVED the Metro – in particular the machine that sucked in and spit your tickets back to let you through the doors.

    Took the metro to St-Michel/Notre Dame, but then got disoriented…
    Although I was very familiar with the maps of Paris from my endless research, and countless virtual tours on Google maps, the inexperienced traveler in me was not at all prepared for how the 2d map world and the unfamiliar 3d real world don’t always make sense seamlessly! Is that a road or an alleyway? Is that the right turn we want to take, or is that little street 10 yards in actually what is showing up as the right turn on the map? I also realized that I am used to ‘navigating’ in a Southern Ontario world that means if you are lost, you can always turn left, then left again, then left again, and you will end up where you started… I also realize how much you subconsciously use landmarks you may not be aware you are using and sun placement in familiar places to figure out where you were.

    So that was a lesson for me on that first day… Although I knew a lot of information about Paris, I didn’t have any ‘street smarts’ and our inexperience as travelers meant that we didn’t well refined skills and expectations about dealing with that element of culture shock. Fatigue was hitting in for all of us, and by this time we were all hungry, and it was a pretty disorienting and overwhelming point of the trip (on the first day!)

    Eating may be a challenge
    I love to eat anything and try new things and flavours. The boys (and DH)… not so much. B (the 8 year old) will generally try anything, and is more likely to like something new… eventually… but rarely love at first bite. DH and 11 year old A… not the most adventurous palates. I knew this would be one of our challenges in Paris, and especially at first, it was… especially with everyone so stoned on fatigue and jet lag.

    We were a pretty inefficient pseudo-democracy as we wandered around the St-Michel/Saint Germain area trying to find something quick and cheap to collectively eat. Lots of options for me, but challenges to the collective. Sandwich places were rejected because of cheese content by A and DH (our non-cheese eaters); kebab stands that put fries in the sandwich looked too weird; the little road of ’10 Euro tourist menu’ restaurants where every 4 feet someone from a new restaurant tried to talk us into stopping was ‘more’ then we wanted right then (specifically, making the decision was more then we wanted right then!). We eventually ended up at a crepe stand across from the Cluny museum that also had “hot dogs” on the menu, which worked out as a great compromise. Son A was put in charge of flexing his French muscles by ordering a goat cheese and walnut crepe for me (satisfying my need to get something I couldn’t have got at home!), and hot dogs for everyone else. He first ordered the hot dogs as “chien chaud” which was pretty cute (as apparently hot dog is a universal word!). When son B saw my crepe being made on the cool big circle griddle thing, he switched to a ham and cheese crepe.

    The verdict on the hot dogs (which he successfully avoided getting topped with a thick layer of melted cheese) was that they were a bit weird (is this a chicken wiener?), but that the baguette bun was excellent, and it was better than starving. I loved my crepe…! We ate them in a little parkette/playground behind the Cluny museum. The kids played on the climber, getting involved with a little French boy (5 or 6) who started copying / joining in. (I guess 5 year olds the world over think that bigger kids who will let them play with them are pretty cool :-)) )

    By this point, we chose against further wandering to find the apartment, and metroed back to the Fat Tire office to get our luggage.

    (Thanks to those who may still be sticking with reading this long narrative!)

    A shout out to Robespierre and his “The shortest distance between Pointe A et Pointe B, c'est” thread.
    I probably wouldn’t have embraced the bus system as readily without it! I had printed out a number of key bus maps following Robespierre’s instructions, so my shaken navigating confidence was restored when, after we had collected our bags from the Bike tour office, I was able to pull out the bus 87 map and lead the family in the right direction. And Robespierre, you were right – taking the bus gives you a chance to look around and orient yourself (or at least it did for me… as the rest of the family immediately fell asleep at the back of the bus, and B in particular became the walking dead, pretty much falling asleep on his feet as we started to walk after getting off the bus!

    Getting to the apartment, and the second visit to a pharmacist
    So we got off the bus at Pont Sully, and I started to get that stomach in my throat feeling of “will the place I booked over the internet be what it seems, or have I made a terrible mistake!”. The apartment was at 40 rue Saint Louis en L’isle ( a couple of doors down and across the road from Berthillion) and we were met right on time at the door by Annie – the Parisienne lady who owns it. She was very charming, and the apartment was exactly what it had seemed on the internet. Big sigh of relief!

    It is essentially a big studio with a living area and big king bed in a room with 15 foot ceilings, and a mini kitchen and bathroom of that main room. On one side, there was a staircase/ladder which went up into a loftish area with a low ceiling (maybe 3 ½ feet high?) and two other twin mattresses. The kids were absolutely delighted with their little bedroom area.

    I had forgotten to bring a cheque for the security deposit (I had paid for apartment itself in full via PayPal before we came), so DH went off to get money from the bank. It was taking a bit longer then we thought, so Annie and I went down to the street to find him. He had apparently walked past the first bank machine onto a further one, but we soon connected, bid adieu to Annie, and headed back to the apartment to finally catch a much needed nap.

    All of a sudden I hear “Mum!! Mum!! Mum!!” and there is B in his socked feet running down the road shouting “HIS HEAD IS BLEEDING!!! A’s HEAD IS BLEEDING!!!”

    DH and I run up to the apartment and there is A in tears with his bloodsoaked hands on the back of his head.
    What happened???
    B spits out the story, apparently in the excitment of exploring their little loft room they were playing some sort of spy/hideout game and when A recoiled from the imaginary gunshot of his captor B, he forgot that the ceiling in the loft was so short and recoiled directly into the corner of the 17th century wooden beam on the ceiling.
    OK…. Check for concussion… do you feel dizzy and disoriented? (Actually, I feel dizzy and disoriented from lack of sleep… how do you factor jet lag into a concussion assessment??) OK he seems ok with that… just it hurts, and he's scared from the blood… let’s look at the wound. Like all head cuts… tons of blood, but the cut itself doesn't look TOO bad - about ½ inch long. Looks like it falls into the category of what at home we would go hmmm is it worth spending 4 hours in emergency – they will probably just put a staple on it, and would maybe go, but maybe wouldn’t. So how do you make that same decision in a foreign country? I pull out the only thing in my first aid kit – my tube of Polysporin – and goop up the wound like a boxing cut man to see if that will stop the bleeding, then we will make the decision on what else to do.

    How are you feeling? “OK” he says –“ I think I will just sit down. I lay down on the bed when it first happened”. On the bed? Our eyes swivel to the beautiful cream coloured duvet cover… now sporting a dramatic red bloodstain. Arghh!!! OK… onto the internet (apartment included a computer and internet access!). What is the best thing for taking out bloodstains??? Hydrogen Peroxide? OK… I run down to the pharmacy. (My research and my DK Paris book meant that I knew all pharmacies have a big neon green cross in front).

    “Bonjour monsieur. Je ne parle beaucoup de francais”.
    Patient smile from the pharmacist.
    Long pause while I search my brain for words… “Mon… “ (what is the word for son?… I have no idea) “petit garcon” (that should do)… “mal a la tete”. The pharmacist puts his hand to his head like he has a headache. “No.. no.. no” I say “coupe” (does that mean cut or cup?). “Sang” (I’m pretty sure that is blood… same root as sanguine…) “sang sur tout son vetements” Blood all over his clothes – that should paint the picture. “Les petit… “ (what do you think the French for bandaid is?) “…bandaids” spoken with a Pepe le Peu accent. The pharmacist pulls out some normal little bandage. What I was looking for was those steri-strip skinny bandage that we have used in a pinch for those “almost but not quite stitch worthy” cuts often found in our house. So I do an elaborate mime of cutting my arm, then repairing it with a long skinny bandage…. I think that was what the mime looked like. Apparently so as the pharmacist does the ah-hah finger point and comes back with the steri-strips!

    OK now, hydrogen peroxide. Again, lets go with the Pepe le Peu accent. And again he comes back with the right stuff.
    “Merci monsieur.” (trying to make smalltalk with the helpful pharmacist) “C’est mauvais pour le vacances” bad for the vacation – (in case my outstanding demonstration of the French language has him thinking I am a local… A girl can dream can’t she??)
    “Ce n’est pas grave” he says with a sympathetic nod of his head

    On returning to the apartment, find that there is no need for the hydrogen peroxide, as cold water and quick action by DH have completely removed any blood from the duvet cover. (Phew!!) Clean the bloody handprint off the wall. Check the wound… doesn’t seem to be bleeding any more. Confirm what any person with half a conscious brain would have already figured out… steri-strips don’t stick very well to a mop of blood-and-Polysporin-soaked hair. Deep breath… ok let’s have that nap we were promised.

    Wrap a cushion in DH’s conveniently red coloured fleece jacket, and settle A onto the leather/plether/non-stainable couch, B up in the loft and DH and I on the bed, set the alarm for an hour and crash!

    Still a bit more of this day to come (though nothing nearly as dramatic!)…

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    Dear oh dear, what a shock for you all.

    You may - at this distance of time - be relieved that your first pharmacist offered a soluble painkiller. I always thought the tradition in France was that to do any good a medicine had to be introduced, shall we say, at the other end, which wouldn't have gone down too well, I imagine. Salt, by the way, for soaking out blood, in my experience.

    But carry on, this is gripping stuff.

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    Thanks PatrickLondon :-)
    Well I imagine if the "non-soluble" option was the only one presented, then B would have found it within himself to bear the pain and we would have saved the 2E...
    And certainly this first day was our most "dramatic" - thanks for reading, and I hope I don't spoil anything by letting you know we suffered no further injuries or pharmacy visits over the remainder of our trip!

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    final installment for Day 1 - June 5th

    Apparently the alarm went off an hour later…
    Normally, I am the one who will wake up at the drop of a pin, but this time it was only DH who heard the chime and woke the rest of us up. Without the alarm, we may still have been there.
    I had read mixed recommendations about “to nap or not to nap” and I think for us the 1 hour limit was vital, and not too much.

    A bit more anxiety about food
    In my pre-trip fantasy plan, we would be traipsing up to a the Enfants Rouge market (open on a Friday) and wandering the stalls, with everyone stumbling upon an exciting something new or fresh to try, and we would bring them back to the apartment for a celebratory first night feast.

    The reality – and what ‘next trip’ I will be ready for – is that we were still tired and disoriented, and though we did metro up to the Enfants rouge market, nobody was feeling particularly creative or clear thinking enough to find be inspired (again, keeping in mind that I am was not travelling with an “experiment with food” crowd) especially since there had been a lot of seemingly aimless wandering to get to and through the market. I went into a rotisserie in search for the 8 or 9E chicken I had read about, but the only option seemed to be a per pound chicken that weighed up at 18E, so I chickened out (literary). We did get some fruit, but beat a retreat from the market. I don’t blame the market though, I just blame the timing relatively to our ability to process the stress (good and bad!) of settling in.

    Ended up at the Franprix near the St. Paul Metro, and grabbed some drink and snack staples, and the comfort food of spaghetti and pasta sauce, and then the first of our local baguettes at the bakery just downstairs from the apartment on Isle St. Louis. Very glad to be in an apartment – don’t think we could have collectively faced going out for a meal that evening! Early to bed - happy to have made it through this first day relatively in one piece...

    Our overall thoughts of the day and Paris (that had started with everyone getting up way earlier then usual in Toronto time the day before)
    - Eiffel Tower; exceeded our expectations in impact
    - Paris; a real city (no offense intended Toronto :-) ), and we were all excited to be part of it the next day, but that we were too overwhelmed by circumstances to gain a real impression that first day!
    - And from A… “This was the longest day of my life!”

    Our Paris Apartment also has the following website on Isle Saint Louis

    My most important criteria were
    - Central location
    - Good night’s sleep (which meant quiet location, and beds – no sofa beds - able to accommodate the two kids with a bed each, 5’11” me and 6’3” DH
    - Peace of mind with whoever I was dealing with (hard to quantify, but absolutely key!)

    The apartment was perfect for what we needed, and inexpensive (900E for a week). A couple of key things
    - Isle St Louis seemed perfect for the first time visitor. Easy walking distance to several metro lines and neighbourhoods; easy walking distance to several key sites, and reasonable walking distance to several more. There was a boulangerie, fromagerie, and boucher, just outside the front door. The kids would go down for the morning baguette/croissants by themselves.
    - If (when?) we come back, I probably wouldn’t stay on the island again, because I would be more comfortable ‘risking’ choosing a specific neighbourhood, but if I were coming back for the first time (if that makes sense) I would definitely stay there again.
    - The apartment was up 1 short flight of stairs and on a courtyard. Therefore, there wasn’t a view, but I wanted a quiet nights sleep more then a view, so it was perfect.
    - I am a fussy sleeper and our bed was big (one of those king beds that are technically two singles pushed together) and wonderfully comfortable. For the kids, once they got over the whole head injury thing :-(( they loved having their own ‘private’ area.
    - Annie, the owner, was very pleasant quick to respond via e-mail, and easy to work with in terms of things like using Paypal
    - There was a computer with internet provided, which was INVALUABLE for checking bus routes, museum hours, weather forecasts, movie times, and e-mail (though we didn’t do too much of that!)
    - The shower was great - not just a handheld shower head in a bath
    - She provided one of those wheeled shopping bag/cart things, so we were able to get our groceries like a local!

    This first day will probably be the longest entry :-) Thanks for your patience!

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    Now that's what I call a first day!

    I returned from Paris the end of May and rented an apartment with computer/internet. I agree--it makes things a lot easier and you don't have to deal with the hassle of lugging your laptop, etc. I stayed on the island once in the past with my mom. She likes it because she is directionally challenged and feels she can never get too lost as long as she can find the river. I'm going to bookmark your place for her.

    I'm enjoying your report. Absolutely no need to skimp on the details.

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    Thanks for leaving your comments (I have now built up the peer group I need to make sure I finish my trip report!)

    I'm so excited to know that my trip report is being read by people whose trip reports I've read and enjoyed!

    Surfmom - we ended up on both the day and night bike tours with Fat Tire; number one is coming in the next installment about our first full day in Paris.

    Leely2 - I didn't get to flirt with any waiters (though I virtually flirted with yours when I read your report!) though I was hit on mildly by a tipsy frenchman while waiting for a crepe that was outside a bar/restaurant one night (which interestingly seemed to impress my kids :->

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    Am enjoying your report very much. My husband and I are making our 4th trip to Paris in September and for the first time we are staying in an apt. on the Ile. We stayed at the Hotel Lutece on the Ile on our last visit and really enjoyed the location.

    Your first day was a tough one so hope things get much better as your report goes along.

    Looking forward to hearing about your Fat Tire Bike Tour.

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    I am thoroughly enjoying your report:) We first took our kids to Paris when they were 5 and 8, so I can relate. DD (18) and I just got back from Paris on Tuesday and can also relate to trying to speak with the pharmacists, lol! I can't wait to hear more about your trip:)

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    Day 2 – Saturday June 6th
    Settling in and the Fat Tire Bike Tour

    Right from the start I had planned that we should do a bike tour on our first full day in Paris. Figured it would be good to get out and about in the fresh air, and that it might be a good idea to let someone else plan the specific logistics of a decent chunk of the day. The tour met at 11am, so that also seemed like a safe target given I didn’t know how long the family would need to sleep in!

    In our household, I am the early riser. During our stay in Paris, this worked out perfectly. On this first Saturday, I woke up at around 8:30am – tiptoed around the apartment so as not to disturb the hibernating boys – and made my way outside. Well rested, I got to start absorbing the fact that I was in Paris, and started walking around, just checking things out. It was raining out – not heavily, but enough that about half the people walking in the streets had umbrellas, the other half just walking quickly…

    I really enjoyed walking around by myself – I found the Monoprix a bit further down the road from the St Paul Metro and bought shampoo, a “string bag” for groceries etc (that came in very handy!), and two little umbrellas. When I was looking for shampoo, you Canadian’s might appreciate that I found myself automatically turning the bottle over to “read the English side” (all our products in Canada have both English and French information, so we’re used to seeing the French, but my brain expected to also see the English!). I had successfully used my bank card at an ATM with no problem, and had just received a new card with a chip, so I tried to see if I could use my bank card directly in the Monoprix… but no such luck... so paid cash. Grabbed a baguette and pain du chocolat at a bakery near St Paul and went 'home' to drag the reluctant crew out of bed!

    An aside about weather
    In a European context, Southern Ontario weather is actually pretty darn predictable. Being in Paris reminded me of coming to the same conclusion when travelling in the UK. If on Sunday there is a Toronto weather forecast that shows sunny and warm on Monday and Tuesday, 30% chance of rain on Wednesday, 60% chance of rain on Thursday, then sunny on Friday, odds are you are probably going to get something that resembles that… maybe the rain will come a bit earlier or a bit later, but the overall pattern will probably be something like that – it will be sunny, then a rainy weather front will come through over the course of 1 or 2 days – then it will be sunny again.

    When we left Canada on the Thursday, all of the various weather sites I obsessively checked in the couple of weeks leading up to our departure showed sunny and warm for the whole week in Paris – no sign of rain. By the time we had landed, got into the apartment, and I checked the weather again, the week was now showing cool and damp for the whole week :-o And every day that we were there had a bit of cool, a bit of rain, a bit of sun, a bit of heat, then a bit of everything again. And every day the forecast for the rest of the week changed dramatically to a totally different pattern.

    Don’t get me wrong… I’m not complaining in the least. Although it rained a bit every day we were in Paris (except for the very first day when we arrived, before we had the apartment to go to – it was beautiful all day… perfect timing!) it didn’t interfere significantly with any of our plans or activities. When it did rain, it didn’t last more than 10 minutes or so at a time. The only thing I would say is that we didn’t end up spending much time early in the week in parks or playgrounds (something I had figured we would do). Though if I had to choose, I would pick the just a bit cooler then expected that we had, rather than a bit too hot – especially with all the walking and public transit riding that we did… The only thing we were aware of was that we had only brought one ‘warm’ sweater/jacket equivalent each, and one pair of long pants/jeans, and we ended up having to wear them every day except for the last Friday. So any time we paused to take a “group picture” we tried to remember to peel off that top layer so that it wasn’t obvious we were wearing the same clothes in every photo!!

    The Bike Tour
    DH was pretty skeptical about the bike tour – not convinced that it would be a good thing to do the first day, wasn’t sure if it would fit the kids etc, but the division of labour for the trip (by mutual choice, preference and agreement!) had been that I did the research and planning, and the rest of them replied to direct questions with snippets of preferences and information which I would work into the plans - and all the information I had found supported that this was a good idea, so he deferred and off we went.

    By the time the family got on the road we were cutting it pretty close for making it to the Eiffel Tower for 11am, so we figured we would go straight to the bike tour office (since we had scouted it out the day before, and we knew they had to come back there to get the bikes. Again the office was abuzz with activity – lots of “young person energy” dealing with logistics of coordinating tours starting, issues with bike locks, chatting with us etc etc. They phoned the guy at the tower to let him know he had 4 more people joining the tour. It was drizzling rain, but the tours go rain or shine! As a result though, our tour was nice and small  There were maybe a dozen people in our group – all adults except for one little guy around 2 years old on his dad’s bike seat. Mostly Americans, plus a few from Ireland/England. We bought stylish plastic rain ponchos (ok... maybe stylish is an exaggeration…) for a Euro at the bike office, met our tour guide Rohan – an enthusiastic energetic student from Alabama who had been working there since February and would be going to medical school in July, picked out our bikes (big comfy seated touring bikes for us, and a choice of mountain bikes for the kids), and got ready to go.

    The weather in Canada hadn’t allowed us to get out on bikes at home yet this spring, so B in particular was a bit rusty and initially not very confident on his bike – Rohan was very patient with making sure everyone was comfortable and ready to go. There is just one tour guide with the group, but to make sure to keep track of everyone, the guide finds a volunteer to be the last person in the group (in Fat Tire parlance… the “Ass-man”). DH was asked if he would like this honour I think perhaps in part because he is a relatively big guy wearing a red shirt, so pretty visible to begin with. Because DH was hanging with the semi-confident B, he figured he’d be bringing up the rear anyway so it worked out – he got the reflective yellow vest and was saluted by his peers (well… he got the vest). So we set off – and then B remembered that he could ride a bike, and so ditched Dad to his Assman responsibilities, and sped to the front to spend the rest of the tour up with his brother riding shotgun to Rohan.

    to be continued… but don’t worry, no stories of injuries to follow!

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    I'm really enjoying your trip report! I keep checking back to see if more has been posted!
    My DH & I went to Paris for the first time (first time to Europe) in October 2008. We had the Fat Tire Bike tour on our list of things to do but never got to it and we still regret not doing it. We were going to do the night tour. I am hoping to get back to Paris maybe in 2010.
    Love your report!

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    I think if this had been me going through all those tribulations on my first day in Paris I would have been in tears and probably saying we have to go home. My hats off to you for keeping your cool and surviving that first day.
    I'm loving your report--it is making me smile! I too await further installments.
    (I'm also from Canada and we are off to Paris in September-no kids though).

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    I enjoy taking bike tours when we visit new cities. We have done a Fat Tire tour in both Paris and Berlin. We have also done a bike tour of New York City. We will go to Montreal in mid-July and will do a bike tour there. It beats walking everywhere and gives a good perspective of the city and what you might want to see more of. I travel with my two children, now ages 16 and 20.

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    Thanks so much to everyone for letting me know you are reading!

    The bike tour
    The bike tour was a great orientation to the city. The biking was not at all strenuous – there were definitely a very wide range of fitness and “when was that last time I biked” levels within the group, and everyone kept up. Basically, we biked for about 10 minutes – usually in a bike lane or path, but sometimes in a well orchestrated maneuver down a narrow road or across an intersection – and then stopped somewhere for a smattering of history or local interest, then biked another 10 minutes or so to another “history lesson”. And the delivery style was laid back and accessible – the kids are still able to spout back facts about Paris that they learned on the bike tour. The only negative feedback I have ever read about the bike tours is the thought that they may be too “American” and not particularly “Parisian”, I mean, it is hard to pass as local in a group of people with matching bikes! Also I think because of the very "non-europeon ness" of the organization, it helped make a easier transition from home to being away and dealing in a foreign language etc.

    For us, the kids loved it (I can’t stress how nice and “cool” Rohan was with them), and the initially unconvinced DH loved it, it was an excellent first day activity to get out and about and definitely helped us reset our internal clocks. Especially because the weather wasn’t particularly nice out – it certainly wasn’t unpleasant enough to ruin the bike tour, but it was probably miserable enough that without the tour we probably would have stayed indoors too much (if that makes sense…)

    Based on the tour and the enthusiastic commentary from Rohan, we decided to add Napoleon’s tomb (intrigued by the story of the false dome) and Napoleon’s apartments in Louvre to our places we planned to visit.

    After the bike tour, we walked over to Ecole Militaire to check out the bullet holes from WWII that we had learned about on the tour. Amazing - the layering and layering of history. Here is a building built 300 years ago, with bullet holes from the last world war layered on. Just the ability to randomly stumble across history – it is hard to tell how much of all that sunk in with the kids, or if it is something that when they are in a place to really understand and appreciate they can draw back to when they were actually there.

    The walking after the tour, and now the day was getting later, was starting to wear on us, so we metro’d it back to Isle St Louis.

    Chillaxing and dinner at home
    The apartment definitely felt like home – and we crashed and read for a bit. A’s was reading a book called “Skybreaker” by Kenneth Oppel, which was the second in a series, that coincidentally included lots of parts taking place in Paris! B had just started “The Goblet of Fire” on the plane over so was eager for the reading break.

    We split into two groups after our break – DH and A went up to the St Paul area in search of that 8E rotisserie chicken, and B and I went for a wander around the island, with the specific task of getting bread and some sort of cold cuts to go with the chicken for supper.

    When he and I got to just behind Notre Dame, it was all blocked off with an very visible police and ‘army guys’ presence. We found out that it was because Obama was/was going to shortly/had just visited Notre Dame.

    As we wandered back over the bridge there was an accordionist playing, and B asked for some coins to put in his hat. I only had something like 25 cents, so B put it in, and pledged to bring some of his own money that was still at the apartment to put in his hat next time (and he did remember to do that and followed through on his word!).

    B and I went to the butcher just below our apartment and they very patiently let me order my slices of ham, various sausage, and country pate. B was intrigued by the fact that all the meat still had it’s head and feet on, and that there was no disguising the fact that the ham was part of something’s leg! Intrigued… but partway through my purchases decided he was more comfortable waiting outside. So he went next door to the bakery, and was very proud to purchase the baguette himself.

    DH and A had also not been able to find the cheap rotisserie chicken, but did come back with a 16E “poulet de fermer” or something like that – which turned out to be very tasty, and to stretch into being part of 3 different meals. They had also picked up some curried rice and salad rolls from a Chinese traiteur. So we had a great apartment meal of tomatoes, strawberries, salad (though the salad didn’t go over as big with the kids, because of the ironic inability to find French dressing, which is the kids' salad staple), the chicken and cold cuts and pate, and of course, the bread.

    After eating, we wandered around the perimeter of the islands – DH and I walking along the top and the kids running along the lower level riverside, then up the stairs etc. etc. Back in the apartment at 10:15pm! Way past normal bedtime – but it isn’t normal… It’s Paris!


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    Oh my god, I just got down to this last bit about the price of the chicken! In my neighborhood, you get TWO roasted chickens for 8€. ('Farm' chickens 2€ more) I can't believe what they are charging in the tourist neighborhoods! :(

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    Thanks again everyone :-)

    You know kerouac, as I was planning this trip, in my mind we were spending lots of time wandering around off the beaten path neighbourhoods and finding those cheap chickens (and all that sort of thing!). I came away from our visit with the absolute conviction that Paris would be the perfect place for that kind of experience - and a belief that I could go back to Paris for a visit every year (or like you... be there all the time!) and never run out of new experiences and places to try.

    What I underestimated in that fantasy was that there are skills involved in actually travelling... In getting your logistical bearings in an unfamiliar place etc. I used to have some of those skills :-) but never the variation of those skills that involves travelling with a family of 4... Like jazz or Picasso - you really need a solid foundation of the fundamental elements before you can improvise off them!

    The 11 year old said at one point "When we go to the cottage" (our standard summer holiday)"that is a vacation... Coming to Paris is an experience". What worked for us I think was the fact that Paris has the 'tourist infrastructure' that helped us find our footing, but then were lots of opportunities to inch off that tourist infrastructure as our confidence grew. In a week, we weren't able to inch off too far or too many times, but we all (kids included!) came away with a desire and conviction to come back to Paris to work off the footing we had found.

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    Canada_V, by coincidence, we were in Paris the very same week as you! We also left Toronto on June 4th but on a later AC flight. I'm really enjoying your report. It brings back memories of our previous visit to Paris, more than 20 years ago, with our two children. They have children of their own now but still talk about their Paris experiences.

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    Thanks again to everyone for their comments...

    moolyn - small virtual world! Are you going to do a trip report - I'd love to read about things happening at the same time as we were there - would be cool

    kerouac - we were in Paris for a week, then down south for a week, then back in Paris for two days - and when I get to that part of the report, on those last two days we were all full of the confidence and relaxed confidence of returning to a an old friend! We all felt like Paris veterans - it was amazing and wonderful :-d

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    Day 3 – Sunday June 7th
    Going to the top and bottom of Paris

    While I did internet research, forum question asking and ‘take out every single Paris guidebook in the library’ research, the boys most consistent research tool were the DK Eyewitness guides to Paris and to France that I left… um… in the washroom. For the past several months, every now and then there would be a flush -> followed by “Mum, when we are in Paris, can we go and see…”. Our Paris tourist sight strategy was for everyone in the family to pick 2 “must see” things, and we would make sure that those were in the definite itinerary, and anything else was in the list of options depending on how things went.

    The top of the list for all three boys (DH included) were the catacombs…

    The catacombs are not included in the 4 day museum pass that were going to get starting Tuesday , so they were a perfect thing to schedule for this Sunday morning.

    So the schedule for today…
    Montmartre (Salivdor Dali museum?)
    Scout out Gare du nord in preparation for our early morning train trip the next day to Amiens.

    For transportation, we again picked up Moblis and Jeune Weekend day passes. note of correction: when I talked about our first Friday, I said that we got Jeune weekend tickets for the kids, but I was confused We actually got Moblis tickets for everyone – because the Jeune weekend tickets aren’t available on Friday…

    The Catacombs

    This morning everyone had to be awoken by the alarm at 9am. The boys fought over who got toit was to go down and get the baguettes and croissants for breakfast (they managed to come up with their own solution where one got to do the talking and the other got to handle the money!)

    Headed out to pick up the bus 63 behind the Institut du Monde Arabe.

    Side note about public transit
    The kids loved the public transit -it was a big part of their Paris experience. We live “in the country” outside a small town, so we have no regular exposure to public transit, outside of occasional visits to Toronto. And even then… I find that Toronto is still just as car friendly as transit friendly – odds are driving is going to be just as convenient if not more so.

    They loved
    - The ticket sucker in and spitter out machine I mentioned before
    - The “next train/bus will arrive in x minutes” signs
    - The scrolling displays in the bus that told you which stop was next
    - The fact that you had to physically open the door from the subway (we often had to exit a metro car through 2 doors so that they each were able to be the opener!)
    - Figuring out where we were and were we were going on the transit map on the wall, bustop or inside the bus or metro car
    - Doing the stop count down. “Where are we getting off?” ok 6 stops…. Ok 5 more stops… OK 4 more stops…
    - The ‘fold down’ seats by the doors in the metro
    - Raised up seats at the very back of the busses
    - Pressing the “stop requested” button in the bus when we were ready to get out
    - Switching from line to line within the metro

    Loved it!

    Sorry about the digression… back to the catacombs
    We arrived at about 10 to 10 – there was already a bit of a line, but nothing too major, and we were inside shortly after 10am.
    We add to our growing collection of ‘steps and stairs in Paris’ by taking the 130 steps down into the catacombs.
    The total ‘journey’ underground is 1.7 km, with the first half being just tunnels, and the second half being tunnels full of bones. We walk through the first half – taking the time to read the various “info plaques” on the walls, wonder at the simple fact that the buildings on top of the ground were built by digging rocks out from under the ground, check out the underground carvings made by workers in honour of one of their own who died below ground and consider the ‘coolness’ of being under the busy streets above. We do keep finding ourselves in danger of death by trampling from the groups of visitors coming in behind us. Everyone seems to be in a hurry to get through (I suppose rushing to get to the bones part). I think maybe because we do linger a bit more then it seems most people do looking at one of the carvings, the security guard sitting by it strikes up a conversation with us, and then proceeds to walk with us through the rest of the non-bones section giving us additional insight into the history, the engineering etc! We got our own mini-private tour...

    Got to the bones parts – I found it amazing rather than creepy. The idea of emptying the cemeteries and moving the bones at night through the city really caught the imagination of the kids. And the fact that the individuals doing the macabre and undoubtedly low prestige job of stacking the bones in the tunnels took the time to include some creative and aesthetic arrangements of the bones we all found intriguing. The pile of people and lives those bones represented – thought provoking. None of us found it depressing though, I think because in the back of my mind these were the bones resulting for whatever natural cycle of life these people found themselves in. I did find, however, later in the week when visiting the Deportmentation memorial behind Notre Dame, and looking at the wall of crystals representing deported citizens of whom only 10% returned, that this visit to the catacombs gave me a tangible and disturbing visual in absorbing that fact.

    So we had gone to the catacombs with pretty high expectations, and nobody was disappointed. I don’t know as it would necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was a highlight for our family.

    Next - looking for lunch

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    I am so envious! The catacombs were on our list of things to do, but after I fell stairs were not an option for me the rest of the trip. Guess that means we need to plan another trip? ;) I love how you described them, not as being creepy but as thought provoking. Please keep writing:)

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    Day 3 – Sun Jun 7th continued

    So we exited from the catacombs (after adding the 85 spiral stone stairs up to our overall “steps and stairs in Paris” count!). I know I had read it, but I had forgotten that the exit to the catacombs is a totally different place – on a random backish street. So pulled out my Moleskin Paris map and tried to figure out where we were.

    side note on maps and guidebooks
    I had the Moleskin Paris book where I had some notes, and also used as my journal/note recorded, and found the maps in that useful – mostly because the book was small enough that I always had it with me, and because it includes removable ‘Post-it note’ type tracing pages, so I could ‘draw’ on the map without ruining it. The downside of the Moleskin was that the writing is TEENY TINY which made me realize that perhaps I have now come to the point in my life when I need to consider investigating reading glasses! The 11 year old wears glasses, so there were occasions that I actually borrowed them for magnification purposes!

    We also had the Knof Paris map book, the small format one where you fold out the map for an individual area. That was nice and portable and easy to read, though there were some areas that ‘fell off the edge’ of what was covered on the map. It also had a metro guide in the back, so that was great.

    We also brought the DK Eyewitness Paris, expecting to use it as a reference, but I discovered that we weren’t really “on-site guide book” people. I was glad we brought the book – because we would do ‘pre-reading’ in the apartment about where we were going, and ‘after-reading’ about what we had scene, but even the couple of times I did carry it with me, I never found myself referring to the details on-site.

    We were next heading for the Tour Montparnasse – planning to get there via the Monparnasse cemetery and by walking through an art market that I had read was on Sunday’s “in the shadow of the tower”. I hadn’t been able to figure out where we had popped out of the catacombs, but we wisely decided ‘why don’t we just follow where everyone else is going, and figure out where we are when we get to a main street’.

    It was around lunchtime and we had decided that we wouldn’t search for the perfect lunch, we would keep our eyes peeled as we walked for something the kids would like – then worry about us depending on what we found for them. When we got to a main street, we looked both ways – still quite disoriented. In Southern Ontario “down” is “south” which is toward Lake Ontario (even if you are several hours north of the lake) and so I orient everything that way, but I never ended up with a consistent picture of ‘which way was up’ in Paris – maybe because I was usually working with little ‘sections’ of map rather then an overall map of the city. Clearly a failure on my part, that will only be able to be addressed by increased exposure to navigating around Paris… (see… I will HAVE to go back!)

    So we picked a direction, and started walking with our eyes peeled. Down one street we saw a Pizza Hut. Pretty much the opposite of Parisian, but we figured that a chain like that would produce pizza the kids would be comfortable with and since we were planning even more walking today, thought a full tank in the kids would be a good thing!

    Speaking French in Pizza Hut
    As mentioned at the start, one of the reasons that we chose France as our European destination was because the kids are in French immersion at school, and we thought it would be a great chance for them to get some experience. Most people in Paris that we encountered (who would have primarily been in the tourist industry) spoke at least some English, and I often found that my French “un baguette, s’il vous plait” would be met with “ninety cents please” (clearly my accent wasn’t as good as I thought at disguising my ‘out of town’ status!) But any time the kids spoke to people in French, they were VERY patient and appreciative and friendly. This Sunday was one of the best ‘speaking French’ days for A – the 11 year old.

    The Pizza Hut was just a tiny counter that looked like it was just really a pickup/delivery office, and the young man working the counter did not speak English, so it was a great experience for A to order the pizza. “Pepperoni only… don’t go heavy on the cheese… yes, thin crust please… plus a big Orangina… oh, it’s 2 for 1 on the weekend? Make that two of the same please… can you please let us where we are on this map?” (turns out we were going in the opposite direction from what I thought we were…). He did really really well 

    I was taking a photo outside of the “delivery motorcycles” and a dog who had been parked outside waiting for its owner (that was a regular Paris site… A dog patiently waiting outside a little shop) I was observed by a smartly dressed lady (60ish?) who asked in French if it was my dog. I said “No, mais il est beau” (trying to say I thought it was a nice looking dog). She then started chatting in English… she had apparently gone to university in Pennsylvania back in the day, and was very interested in hearing about the kids speaking French at school. She asked them to talk to her – complemented then on their French – was super friendly!

    We took our pizza and sat in a little square just behind the entrance of the Catacombs (and noticed that the lineup was quite long now… so it was well worth us planning to get to it just as it opened). So pizza certainly wouldn’t rank as my first choice of Parisian lunches, but it served as comfort food for the kids (and the Orangina made it a list slightly ‘continental from the norm!)

    The cemetery and the tower
    We walked to the tower through the Montparnasse cemetery. We weren’t looking for anyone famous in particular, but I always find it intriguing to look at family plots – see little family histories captured – wonder about the stories behind them.

    Behind the tower was a little art market – though the only thing that specifically caught our eye was a gentleman who did large and very expressive drawings/paintings of cows and bulls that for some reason looked specifically European. But, as usually, we had better taste then we could afford…

    We were glad for the trip up the tower, and are happier that we chose it to choosing to go to the top level of the Eiffel tower. I’ve heard it before that the best thing about the view from the Montparnasse tower is that you can’t see it , and to our admittedly tourist eyes, the view was much better with the Eiffel Tower in it! There was no lineup and a great view all over the city. It was even better because now that we had the bike tour under our belts, it was getting easier to pick out meaningful landmarks and to give the view more meaning.

    next… to Montmatre

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    Great report CanadaV! This trip we missed getting to the catacombs once again! There was a political disturbance going on and the whole area outside was full of police in riotgear - plus the line outside was sooooooooo long!

    Well, it will always be there - We will give it a try next trip most probably!

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    Hi Canada_V,

    Like everyone else I'm really enjoying your report. When you're wiping off bloody hand prints from the wall on your first day, you know it's going to be an exciting trip! Poor boys, both getting injured on the first day- they sound like great kids and obviously they had a blast.

    I agree with you about the graffiti you see from the train coming into Paris- I love it. I also love the Paris metro- one of the more depressing aspects of coming home to Toronto is the dingy old decrepit subway.

    Oh, and I love the catacombs. I thought they were very creepy though- I got cold shivers down my spine. The catacombs have a very interesting history, but they are also interesting in a more grande guignol sort of way.

    Looking forward to reading more!

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    I'm really enjoying all the details you've included, especially the parts your children enjoyed. I'm sure your boys liked being able to buy their pizzas and getting bread on their own.

    We took our now grown children to Europe and that was an experience, rather than a vacation- your son is insightful!

    Looking forward to hearing more,

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    Thanks again to everyone for their comments, and for letting me know you are out there :-)


    Side note on Orangina advertising
    Nothing says pulpy orange pop to me more then random sexy animals in bathing suits… well, I guess that is true now! I don’t know if this is just a France thing, or it if how Orangina is always marketed, but while we were there, there were pictures of sexy giraffes (is sexy giraffe an oxymoron?), zebras, bamboo (yes I know bamboo isn’t an animal) in swimsuits, saucily perched on ice cubes, advertising Orangina. I must admit, don’t really get it… but we do now have an Orangina photo essay (including a series of smart cars with these comely creatures)

    Onto the Metro to the Montmatre – DH was interested in the Dali museum and it wasn’t on the museum pass either, hence including two areas sort of on opposites end of Paris in the same day. Though, realistically, we confirmed what I had read in several places on this forum, but maybe can only REALLY sink in once you’ve actually been there, but it is a compact city with lots of efficient transportation options, so really even ‘far apart’ places are close enough together.

    Getting out at the Abbesses metro, we saw a bunch of people waiting for an elevator on the metro platform. An elevator? How lazy can those people be?!?! Losers… OK... after what seemed like 100’s of steps later… “Why are we such losers…? There is no such thing as laziness in Parisian design… if there is an elevator, there is a reason!”

    Made our way following the signs to the funicular passing lots of very ‘tourist oriented’ shops. Have to admit that Montmatre was our least favourite stop in Paris. It seemed the most ‘spoiled’ by touristy-ness. Now granted, we were there on a Sunday afternoon and we only went to the ‘signposted’ tourist section; on a Sunday afternoon the only people on Isle Saint Louis seemed to be tourists too, but we had the chance to see it early morning and late evening as well, so maybe it isn’t fair to poor Montmatre. At the funicular, both DH and I were approached separately by men looking to tie string around our fingers. I smiled; made eye contact; said no monsieur and kept walking; shared a laugh when he ‘guessed’ Nigerian when I didn’t initially respond to his question about what nationality I was (I think Japanese is probably the only ethnicity that would be a worse guess then Nigerian for me…); and kept moving. DH looked irritated and said NO in a loud voice. Both methods appeared equally effective :-)

    The lineup for the funicular was a big crush of tourists. We played the game of ‘no I will not be intimidated by your attempts to cut in front of us in line’ with a group of large (Italian? Spanish?) sisters/cousins/friends-who-look-alike. Irksome. Being almost 6 foot tall helps avoiding being pushed around too much, but it isn’t a hobby I engage in by choice…

    Followed the signs to the Dali exhibit, walking through Place du Tertre and all it’s ‘obviously only there for the tourists’ restaurants and caricaturists. I was under no delusions that other places in Paris that we had been or were staying were ‘off the beaten path’ neighbourhoods, or that we were anything but tourists, but that main part of Montmatre didn’t seem to be pretending that it was anything BUT for tourists. The shape of the buildings, the view, lots of things had great charm, but this was the first place that I found the charm was totally spoiled by the ‘amenities’. When we found the Dali exhibition, we decided that the entrance price was too much to take the chance. Maybe if we hadn’t had that initial impression of the area we might have been more willing to take a risk – or if the weather had been nicer (it had just started to rain fairly heavily) DH might have gone in, and ‘come and gotten us’ if he thought we would have liked it. So we decided to leave Montmatre.

    We decided to stop into Sacre Coeur on our way back. There was a mass going on, and I found that sort of strange – people in the centre participating in a religious service, and then a circuit of tourists walking around ‘sight-seeing’. We aren’t a ‘church going’ family, and even though there were obviously lots of tourists walking around, it just seemed disrespected or wrong or maybe just awkward, to eyeball the stained glass while people were worshipping, so we just looked briefly from the back and moved on.

    Although the kids wanted to go back down on the funicular, neither DH nor I wanted to go back that we, so we looked on the map for a nearby metro in the opposite direction, picked Chateau-Rouge and headed off. Apparently by going ‘behind’ Sacre Coeur we stepped through some sort of force field that marked the edge of tourist books, because in one minute we were in a crush of tour groups and the next we were pretty much alone, and the next we were somewhere completely different.

    Down the hill into a different Paris
    We walked down some crazy quirky streets, looking at houses a all angles that looked like they had grown there organically like magic crystals or coral. The kids showed that they had adjusted to being in Paris by suddenly shouting out “I smell bakery!” so they popped in and got us an afternoon snack of croissants/pain du chocolat.

    Turning the corner, we noticed that we had just passed our third hair styling place with, based on the pictures in the windows, and the people getting weaves and braids inside, a black clientele. And when we got to the metro station, we were clearly in an African neighbourhood. It was absolutely thronging – looked like it there was a Sunday market going on. We weren’t able to spend too much time looking around, but Kerouac – I thought of you and thought this needs to be a place to come back to when we had more time to add new layers to our experience of Paris!

    Test driving tomorrow’s train trip
    Monday we were going to be catching an 8am train to Amiens for our day trip to visit Vimy Ridge, so we thought it would be a good idea to stop by Gare du Nord to get oriented (so we would know how early we needed to get up :-) ) We looked at the schedule board, and none of the trains seemed to have platform numbers. Eldest son A went to the information kiosk to ask about how it worked, what we were supposed to do with our tickets, etc. And once again, not only was I proud of him and how he was able to communicate, but I was very appreciative of the info kiosk staff – who could probably speak English – who were patient and appreciative of his efforts, and of what looked like a Parisian businessman type who was in line behind A, who was watching the whole discussion not with a look of irritation because he was being held up, but with an amused, warm smile…

    An early night
    We took the metro back to the Cite stop (again to make sure we had the timing right for the morning), and to prove that we are able to learn... when we saw the elevator at the platform of the Cite metro... we took it! and avoided a whole bunch more stairs ;-)

    Picked up a baguette (boy, do I miss the ability to pick up excellent, fresh bread at any time… any where!) and had supper of the leftover chicken, pate etc.

    After supper, went across the street (literally!) for some Berthillion ice cream. There had been lineups about a dozen deep anytime we came or went from the apartment, but perhaps because it had been raining on and off, and was still spitting, there was no line, so we were able to just step up to the counter.

    A = Raspberry and Pistachio
    B = Mango and Caramel
    Me = Rhubard and Earl Grey Tea

    I really enjoyed the Tea flavour in particular, and B really liked his, but A said his raspberry tasted too much like real raspberries for his liking!

    Getting up early in the morning, so early to bed!

    Tomorrow – Remembering WWI and Private Norman Goodwin Broughton

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    Hey, and just want to give a quick thank you to the fact that I have this forum in which to give this trip report.

    This trip was (obviously!) very important to me, and I am very excited to be talking about it. Friends and family are interested and patient about listening - but I know that there are limits... Like the friends with the new baby... I am happy to hear about all the nitty gritty baby details, because they are my friends, but perhaps I no longer really share their obsession with all that new baby minutia. But, I will listen to them about their baby because I care about them (and then they in turn will listen to me about my France trip ;-) Isn't that one of the ways that balanced friendships work?)

    So I am really glad that on this forum I can go on and on and feel that any of you reading are actually interested (because you are under no social obligation to me!) and because I know that I love reading trip reports so I realize that it IS possible for there to be someone out there genuinely interested, because I am genuinely interested in all the reports I read and commented on!

    So thank you!


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    A lot of the billboard ads that you see in France are tie-ins with the television commercials.

    For the full Orangina experience, go to YouTube and search for the Orangina commercial. Warning: your eyes might pop out of their sockets. (I would have put a link here for you, but my office does not allow access to YouTube.)

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    Hey Pat - glad I wasn't the only one :-) It was fun playing "collect the Orangina ads"... Oh happy day when we spotted the elusive "cat in a bathing suit", though that one was appealled to the contest judges, as the cat was apparently only for Orangina rouge, so there was some debate as to whether it counted... we decided that rarity made it eligible for bonus points only...

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    Canada in WWI history lesson - background
    When doing our initial France trip training, the Vimy memorial was the one thing that topped the list for DH – for it’s specific Canadian historical significance, but also a visit inspired by Jane Urquhart’s novel “The Stone Carvers” which develops a fictional story around the impact of WWI on the ‘home front’ of a new Canada, as well as around the creation of the monument itself.

    So we planned a day trip to the area where we would take a train into Amiens, rent a car, visit the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial just outside Albert, then drive to visit Vimy, returning the car to Arras and taking the train back to Paris from there.

    In addition to the ‘official monuments’ I wanted to find a way to make the visit more personal. Every small town in Ontario has a war memorial that serve as a poignant reminder of the impact of this war so far away from these small, rural communities. We live just outside one of those small communities, so the boys and I visited the war memorial and wrote down the 16 names from WWI. We were able to then look up those names on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website ( Thanks laverendrye for the link…) to find out where they were buried.

    We found one person who was buried in a cemetery that was not too far from Hamel, in the direction of our drive to Vimy. Norman Goodwin Broughton, was the son of a farmer who lived within a couple of miles of where we live now. He was 18 when he died on Oct 21, 1916. His birthday showed that he was born almost exactly 100 years before my eldest son. At 18, I think it was especially easy for the boys to visualize him – he was the same age as that guy who used to babysit… he was the same age as that guy who refs your hockey games. We collected a couple of small stones from the area that we believed his farm had been located and brought them with us from Canada.

    The trip
    Everyone was up early, and on the road in time to catch the train from Gare du Nord to Amiens at 8am. Our ‘pre-scouting’ of the previous day helped us out! Upon arriving at Amiens, we had about a 10 minute walk to the Avis office (we could have picked up the car directly at the train station, but there would have been a 25E surcharge for doing so). As it turned out, we had to walk past the Amiens Cathedral in order to get to the office, so we were glad we had to make the walk.

    The Amiens Avis staff were very friendly – had some limited English language, so we again made use of a combination of A’s French and our high school ‘nouns and verbs’ to successfully communicate. Discovering we were from Canada was met with “Ah!!! Celine Dion!!!”.

    The basic “tourist map” of the area that we had picked up from the Amiens tourist information centre was more than adequate for the basic navigation we needed to do, and so we easily made our way out of Amiens to the Beaumont-Hamel memorial.

    This memorial commemorates all Newfoundlanders in WWI (technically Newfoundland wasn’t actually part of Canada at that time) but of specific significance the 1st Newfoundland Division who fought at Beaumont-Hamel, where on July 1 1916 "of the 780 men who went forward, only 60 were available for roll call the next day".

    The memorial site has a visitors centre with well presented information that was accessible and understandable to all of us – both kids included. There is the memorial itself - a caribou on top of a rocky outcrop overlooking the battlefield, and the battlefield and trenches themselves. We were able to walk around the battlefield from the British lines to the German lines, overlooking no man’s land from both sides, see where there trenches were laid out, etc. While most of the trenches and battlefields were ‘fenced off’ so you could see them, though not walk in them (to preserve them, but also because there is still a risk of coming across unexploded armaments.), there was one section of trenches that had been 'restored' so that we were able to walk through and experience that way. The book I had brought to France was “Birdsong” by Sebastian Faulks. I had known that there much of the novel took place in WWI battlefields in France, but I didn’t realize that the battle of Beaumont-Hamel was portrayed in great detail. As I got to those sections over the course of our trip, having been at the physical location made those passages more tangible.

    My boys were, I felt, appropriately respectful and moved by the what they were seeing and learning. But they were still 8 and 11 year old boys, and they naturally ‘played battle’ when going through the trenches. It made me think that whatever it is that had my boys feeling that ‘excitement’ of war (and we certainly aren’t a very ‘warrior-like’ family…) has to be the same root that meant those young men not too much older would have signed up 100 years earlier, and now lay buried in those cemeteries dotting this area of France. How important and exiting it would have seemed to a from small town Ontario to travel to Europe and be part of the war. And how many of them really expected never to come back and die the way they did.

    N G Broughton’s grave
    Norman Broughton is buried at the Adanac cemetery near Miramont, which was about a 15 minute drive from the Beaumont-Hamel memorial. This area of France seems to be dotted by these small cemeteries – just appearing at a roadside, in the middle of a farmer’s field, at the edge of a village. We found the cemetery, and used the grid coordinates from the war graves commission information to find the grave. We took photos, and placed the stones we had brought from Canada. What we realized that we should have brought with us was paper and a crayon to do a rubbing of the gravestone. There were the gravestones from all over the commonwealth – Brits, New Zealanders, Canadians, and most poignantly “A solider”. The boys seemed particularly moved at the idea of an unknown soldier, and that that family would have received a telegram that the solider was missing and presumed dead, but that they would never have known for sure.

    The Vimy Memorial
    We went straight to the memorial itself – an impressive and imposing structure. It is a very moving monument – almost overwhelming especially after the more intimate memorials at Beaumont-Hamel and the cemetery. 11,000 names of soldiers with no known grave are engraved on the memorial. The kids realized that these names would have matched up with some of the un-named soldier’s gravestones we had seen earlier.

    We then went to the visitors centre to have the tour of the trenches and the tunnels. It was pretty drizzly out, and it was still early in the season, so we ended up with a tour of just us 4. It was very interesting and informative, and the Canadian guide was very knowledgeable. We ended up having to cut the tunnel part of the tour short because of lightning, and the risk of the power going out while we were in the tunnels. It was well worth the visit – though we were glad that we had visited the Beaumont-Hamel site first as it was a more ‘personal’ experience, rather than a museum experience (if that makes any sense). Both sites were very excited to have Canadians visit – at Vimy they said that around 10% of their visitors are Canadian. I definitely don’t think you need to be Canadian to find it impactful.

    Returning home
    Drove into Arras and dropped off the car. Interestingly, I didn’t have to pay any kind of surcharge for the ‘one way’ drop off. Also interesting the price to rent the car for the day through was less than half the price of renting it through (and none of the ‘consolidators’ like AutoEurope would quote a rental for a single day).

    As we got on the TGV train back to Paris, they made an announcement that our 1 hour train trip was going to be 50 minutes late (in arriving in Paris, not in departing from Arras). I guess there was something wrong that meant the TGV couldn’t GV… When we arrived in Paris, we were given an envelope with which we could send our tickets in to receive a full refund because it was a late TGV train. So we sent it in… I’ll let you know if we get the refund!

    For us, it had been a well worth it day trip. I am very glad to have been able to make the pilgrimage myself, and to expose the kids to the history. I remember going to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam at a similar age, and finding real value in that ‘physical memory’ as I matured and my understanding and perception of the story and situation evolved, and I hope that some of what my boys had seen might stay with them in a similar way.

    Next… first day of the Museum pass

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    What wonderful memories you are creating for your boys. I'm sure that this tour will remain with them always. And for you to bring some rocks from home to put on the gravesite is so thoughtful!!! I would think it would have been very moving to be there--so much history and sadness in one place. Your story gave me goosebumps as I read it! Thank you for passing on this part of your journey.

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    hi canada_v,

    fellow canuck here...

    i'm loving your trip report ... i especially liked the section about your vimy day trip.

    DH and i will be in paris in october and we're also looking at doing a day trip ... we're toying with a chateau somewhere (other than versailles) but DH has expressed an interested in vimy. you're one of the few folks on this forum who have first-hand experience of a paris-vimy trip...

    some quick questions:

    1. how much were your train tickets?

    2. how much was your car rental? were you able to get an automatic?

    3. what time did you arrive back in paris?

    4. how much driving did you do for the day? and was the route fairly easy to navigate? (we drove for a week in provence last year and found it easy-peasy).

    thanks so much!!

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    Visiting military cemeteries were an important part of my childhood, as the French side of my family had been both in the military and/or refugees during both world wars.

    I am still moved whenever I visit any such cemetery, no matter what army was involved. I find the military cemeteries in Vietnam just as tragic as the ones in Europe.

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    This episode is interesting. I didn't know the history at all, but have seen a WWI memorial in almost every town in France no matter how small. It is hard to imagine so many deaths.

    I think one of the reasons that I love France was hearing about my father's trip there in 1918 by ship into Brest via Liverpool. Lucky for me (I wouldn't be alive), my father landed after the war was over, but not before he saw many of his comrades' bodies thrown overboard when they died of the flu of 1918. My dad was twenty at the time. He told me that they had good bread in France and I think he liked the girls there.

    I'm glad you were able to find a reasonable car rental. This trip must have been meant to be.

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    Lilaki - I would definitely recommend doing the Vimy day trip, and including the Beaumont-Hamel part, especially if your DH has expressed an interest. Here are the details of our day trip...

    I bought Prems tickets via the site. I bought them pretty early, but there seemed to be Prems tickets available for both routes for quite a while after the initial 3 months out date (as opposed to our tickets to Montpellier, which went up in price pretty quickly).
    Trip from Paris to Amiens was 10E each and we left at just after 8am.
    The trip from Arras to Paris was 12E each and we left at 6:30pm (and should have been back by around 7:30pm except for the problem with the train).
    We rented the car through and it was 79E for the day including tax (but not including CDW, which was covered under our credit card). I'm sure we could have got an automatic - they had them there - but we were ok with a standard. If we had picked it up at the train station it would have been more, but the walk was no problem.

    The car rental company in Arras closed at 6pm, but if it has just been DH and I we might have taken a slightly later train back and poked around Arras a bit and eaten there before going back.

    The driving was VERY easy - we didn't have a 'real' map, just the tourist board one of the Amiens region, and we would have had to try pretty hard to get lost :-) The Beaumont-Hamel cemetery was on an historical route that was well signposted with poppy signs and arrows. We didn't drive more then 1/2 an hour at a time, so maybe a total of 1 1/2 to 2 hours driving in grand total - probably less. We had to do a bit of driving around looking for the Adanac cemetary, but we were working only with our tourist map and the instructions from the veterans site. If I had actually printed off the google maps map I had created, we would have been able to find it immediately. Even that though was no real problem.

    The only thing that I would have done differently was lunch - we should have brought a picnic with us from Paris. As it was, on our way between Miramont and Vimy, the only place that we found was a "Frititeria" which was sort of a road side 'chip truck' and sandwich place. As it turned out the sandwiches and fries were both great, but we sort of lucked upon it.

    (I would also recommend reading the Stone Carvers and Birdsong to accompany the visit.)

    Kerouac - I have a strong memory of visiting an American WWII cemetery near Cambridge as a young teenager - there is something about the rows and rows of headstones, all the same in aggregate, then each unique when you look at them one at a time. I have a great grandfather buried in Belgium, but we didn't get that far this trip. If we had had more time, I would have also liked to visit a German cemetery, because that kind of loss of life is tragic for both sides, and in some ways more poignant for the individuals on the 'losing' side.

    European WWI trench warfare seems so horrible, and in particular from our Canadian perspective, but also overall, it seems like such a 'loss of innocence' war I find it especially compelling. Being on the actual soil where those young men fought and fell, and in some cases still lie... tragic.

    From Birdsong
    "Price was reading roll call... He hurried from one unanswered name to the next. Byrne, Hunt, Jones, Tipper, Wood, Leslie, Banres, Studd, Richardson, Savile... Names came pattering into the dusk, bodying out the places of their forebears, the villages and towns where the telegrams would be delivered, the houses where the blinds would be drawn, where low moans would come in the afternoon behind closed doors; and the places that had borne them, which would be like nunneries, like dead towns without their life or purpose, without the sound of fathers and their children, without young men at the factories or the fields, with no husbands for the women, no deep sound of voices in the inns, with the children who would have been born, who would have grown and worked or painted, even governed, left ungenerated in their fathers' shattered flesh that lay in stinking shellhoes in the beet-crop soil, leaving their homes to put up only granite slabs in place of living flesh, on whose inhuman surface the moss and lichen would cast their crawling green indifference"

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    But one last thought before I leave Vimy and the WWI sites - as I re-read my last post, I don't want it to seem as though the trip was completely 'dark'. The overall feel of our visit was reflective rather then sombre.

    Maybe it is travelling with kids, or maybe it is just appreciating the 'luxury' of having a chance to step back and see that history. The energy of the new generations fills the gaps left by the sacrifices of the earlier ones I suppose. :-)

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    Miss V!!!!

    I am glad you took the advice of "doing" The Tower to kill time: I'm even more glad you found grace in the lines and contours of the old iron design. I was pleased that you made it to Tour Montparnasse too... these were two things we posted about weeks ago.

    From the ground my jaw drops in front of the Eiffel Tower... From 56/59 floors up on Tour Montparnasse, my jaw drops again... breathtaking on all on 3 of my trips!

    Glad the kids loved the metro... they aren't the only ones! When I first get to Paris, I swear 1/3 of my time is spent riding the metro for the first few days, riding and ppl watching. I grew up in Santa Barbara, CA, USA and we had nothing like it - it is amazing. I love the fact that i just pop out of holes in the ground and I am in a new Parisian Village each time - LOVE IT!

    I am impressed by your detail of your TR, and very impressed that you let your kids do things on their own; I know waaaaaay too many parents that would have FREAKED OUT at the gypsy moment!!! And I know many of my friend's kids who couldn't buy a loaf of bread on their own in the USA, let alone France! Props to your boys. You should be proud.

    I LOL @ the whole French Dressing thing... too fuuny! :)

    A+ Trip Report!


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    What a great experience for your children--all of it, of course, but also the trip to Vimy. My sister was sitting with my three-year-old niece reading her a Madeline book this weekend. I heard my sis say, "This is Paris." And my niece said, "Yes, auntie's going to take me there." Gulp.

    I'm not a “on-site guide book” person either and I do try. I just can't seem to get the hang of it. Hence my audioguide addiction (when available).

    More, please.

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    CanadaV, thanks so much for the trip report. I am really impressed by how much preparation you must have done to maximize your trip, especially for your sons. They sound like enthusiastic travelers as well.

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    Thanks again to everyone for your encouragement - and for adding your little insights and tidbits!

    I am going with the philosophy that I am "writing this for myself", and I am thrilled that it is sitting well with some other people as well!

    Day 5 – Tuesday June 9th
    Day 1 of the Museum pass
    We bought 4 day museum passes (one each for DH and I)

    Let’s we start with the question, was it worth buying the pass?
    I added up the total we would have spent on entrance fees, and with our 48E pass, we visited what would have cost us 102E! Now that figure includes the fact that we did two visits to the Louvre on two different days, and DH and the boys made a second visit to the Musee d’Armee. We also visited museums that we wouldn’t have without the pass. (note the kids were free in all the museums we visited, except for the sewers) When I added them all up, I was actually amazed at how many “museum and monument” visits we actually did! At no point did any of us (kids included!) complain about being ‘over museumed’. When we added up the bare minimum that we figured we would have visited, it would have been 46E.

    I think the real freedom that the pass gave us was that every museum we entered, we agreed that if we weren’t enjoying it, we would bail (easier to do because we hadn’t invested 18E to be at that specific museum at that specific time). We also imposed a 2 hour limit on ourselves. We made sure to slot in the things we definitely wanted to see in the first 3 days, and agreed that if any place was making us want to stay longer then the 2 hour limit, we would go back on the Friday. As far as saving with lineups, we noticed it specifically at the Musee d’Orsay and the Arc du Triomphe, but overall the other places didn’t seem too bad (we did the Louvre in the evening so that might have helped there.)

    So I would say that it was absolutely worth it for us, both in the pocket book, but most importantly in the freedom.

    Early morning walking around
    I woke up before the rest of the family (around 7am) so went out to walk around. I looked up what market ran on Tuesday mornings and saw that the Maubert Mutualite Market started at 7am on Tuesdays, so I directed my stroll in that direction. When I got there though, apparently that 7am was more of a recommended start time then an actual one :-) as most of the stalls were just starting to get set up. I wandered around a bit more – just soaking up the essentially tourist free early morning – back to the market where there were still only a couple of stalls looking fully set up and ready for business. I bought some strawberries and raspberries, but still had yet to have my ‘fantasy market experience’. Picked up some bread and croissants from a boulangerie off to the side of the market square, and headed back to rouse the family…

    I had a chance to do this sort of “hour and a bit to myself in the morning” on several mornings… and I loved it. Don’t get me wrong… I love my family ;-) but I also really enjoyed that private time exploring and discovering the city on my own.

    Rodin and Rain
    Our first stop was the Rodin museum. The bus that the website chose when searching for a route from our apartment to “Lieu Musee Rodin” was in hindsight, not actually the closest stop we could have ended up at, but a (not really that long… let’s stop complaining!) walk we got there right at 9:30am and there were only a couple of people in line ahead of us. We bought our museum passes and made our way into the gardens. At which point DH realized that the camera battery was sitting in the charger in the apartment… much low-pitched under-the-breath swearing ensued… and DH headed back to metro it back to the apartment.

    There are actually worst places in the world to be stranded for an hour :-) So I splurged on an audio guide, and gave the kids the freedom to check out the gardens on their own. There were at least two school or tour groups in the gardens, with kid chatter and running about and energy, so my boys were able to play their sort of elaborate hide and seek type game (oh yes… and appreciate the art…) without disturbing anyone. I did get them to search out and tell me their favourite statues. A picked “Ugolino and his children” and B picked the “Burghurs of Calais”.

    All of a sudden the skies opened and we experienced the heaviest ran we had all week. Luckily, we were looking at the Burghurs of Calais underneath a couple of the densest trees I’ve ever seen – it was pretty cool staying dry under the leaves watching the rain contemplating sculpture. When DH arrived it was still raining so we went into the museum itself. I think because of the rain, the museum was very busy inside. We didn’t stay too long as a result, as we were getting the feeling of “consuming a checklist of information with the horde” rather than “experiencing art”. We “checked off” the Kiss, each found one sculpture inside to “show” to the other three, and then went back outside (the rain had stopped) to take the requisite “pretending to be the Thinker” pictures (and take pictures of 3 different couples/families in front of the Thinker as well)

    Napoleon’s tomb and the Musee d’Armee
    Neither of these sites were on our initial short list, but on the bike tour, Rohan had raved about the tomb in particular, and told us the story of the ‘false ceiling’ as well as the time when Hitler was below looking at the tomb, and two British airmen were hiding between the ceilings above – unbeknownst to either party. The tomb was pretty impressive, and I particularly liked the giant statues that stood in a circle around the lower level surrounding the tomb, but I think the kids were expecting ‘more’ (not sure exactly what more) because Rohan had been so pumped.

    We hadn’t really planned on visiting the Army museum, and so figured we would just pop in and check it out quickly before finding some lunch. We went straight to the WWI / WWII sections, and all four of us immediately found it much more interesting than we thought, so we ended up ‘restarting’ our 2 hour limit again. The WWI section was another layer and revisit of what we had been seeing and talking about the day before. (Though I won’t pretend that my pre-teen boys are anything but what they really are… and they found the guns to be pretty awesome as well…)

    The WWII section was new to us – with the exception of the WWII bullet holes on the Ecole Militaire that had come out of the bike tour. While my default WWI perspective is the soldier, when it comes to WWII, I find my interest is with the civilians and how they cope/behave/experience the war.

    The WWII exhibit at the museum has a lot of information about the occupation of Paris and the resistance. It also talked about Hitler and had a film and section about the concentration camps. This exhibit had the greatest impact on 11 year old A. I found out that while he basically knew who Hitler was, his perception was that he was an individual “serial killer” who had personally killed 6 million people. The reality was harder for him to absorb. I could see him thinking and digesting – the whys and hows and the inkling of the ‘what would I have done?’. The exhibit provided a catalyst for discussion around how it could happen, and what choices people would be faced with, the idea that it wasn’t like someone all of a sudden came to you and said “kill this guy”, but that there needed to be a build-up of small decisions, including individual decisions to keep silent, or to decide that speaking up on behalf of the family next door might be detrimental or dangerous to your family etc. About the idea that if he had been German during the late 30’s, that his hockey team would have all been members of the Hitler Youth, and if he is currently a leader on his hockey team, then he would quite likely been a leader among his peers… and what kind of decisions would he have made then? And about the idea that permitting big intolerances start with ignoring or propagating small intolerances… The thought that if we had lived in Paris in the 40’s would we have stayed? Left? Collaborated? Resisted? It is so obvious from our year 2009 Canadian perspective what the decisions would want to have made, and what we think we would have made – but can we honestly know how we would have behaved in the shoes of anyone – on either side - at that time, without the luxury of our modern perspective?

    We did stick to our 2 hour time limit, but A said that he would definitely like the chance to visit this museum again.

    Lunch stress again
    Because our “2 hour visit” had rebooted after leaving Napoleon’s tomb, we were now past ‘should have eaten’ time. We made the, in hindsight wrong, decision to bypass the museum cafeteria (which looked fine, but didn’t appeal strongly enough to anyone to chose) and walk around to find somewhere to eat. I don’t remember which direction we headed off in, but it was the wrong one  No bakeries, sandwich shops etc. Eventually ended up getting paninis at a café (that nobody really enjoyed…). Lesson learned; we were just looking to ‘be full’ and should have stuck with the bird in the hand!

    Going below Paris again
    B really, really, wanted to visit the sewers, and this was definitely a time when the Museum Pass had value. I don’t know as we would have gone without the pass, and I don’t know if we would have thought it was “worth the price” if we had paid for it on it’s own, but it was definitely worth the ‘free’ visit on the museum pass. (Actually, I say free, but this was the only museum where the kids had to pay). Even at that, it was certainly interesting enough, and unique enough that we were glad we had done it.

    I think we were actually all surprised at how ‘industrial’ the sewers were. Though if we had actually thought about it… it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I think we were all imagining rat infested, ‘carved in the rock’ tunnels along the lines of the catacombs or the tunnels at Vimy, or dark “Oh look, there’s Jean Valjean” shadowy caves. So B’s impression was “this isn’t as cool as I thought it would be… and it’s smelly”. But he’s a good, open minded kid, and as is typical for him, was able to move beyond any initial disconnect with his expectations and figure out what it did have to offer him. The smell wasn’t actually that bad, and the information was really quite interesting. The mechanics of how they clean the sewers out; the history of both the sewage and water systems – until that tour, we had never thought about the reason why there are so many water fountains in Europe wasn’t artistic but that they were the places that people came to get their water! Now maybe that is obvious or common knowledge, but it wasn’t something that we had really given any thought to and was a real “ah-ha” moment for us. The guys were also fascinated about the idea that at one time there had been gutters in the middle of the road where you tossed your… leftovers… and it would just run down the middle of the road to get to the collection sewer. There were several times that found our way on older roads (especially when we went down to the south and stayed in the medieval town of Agde) and they pointed out ‘that is where the poop would have flowed’. On all of the exhibits, ‘the present’ seemed to go up to 1977, so I don’t think that the information is all that current… but I also don’t think there have been dramatic innovations in the field in the past 30 years, so I don’t think we were missing out on anything!

    So overall, we would recommend the sewers to anyone with a museum pass, (or intrigued civil engineers) as a unique and surprisingly interesting stop that took us less than an hour to digest…

    Next - the scarf

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    OK, so we are working our way through our thousands of photos...

    Here are a couple from the first 2 days - the tower, the bike tour and the catacombs

    Days 1 and 2

    And here are some from our trip to Vimy etc.
    For ones at the Vimy memorial, I have included some details from the official site as the title, but it makes it too long to display on screen, but if you 'hover' over the title you should be able to see the full text.

    Vimy pictures

    Let me know if the links work :-)

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    Your photos are great. I need to visit Vimy one day. Your report is one of the best I've ever read- I like the ideas you use to keep your children interested in what they are seeing.

    Looking forward to hearing about the scarf!

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    Thanks very much to everyone :d

    Kerouac - you are absolutely right - and I think DH did a great job of making use of our new "bought specifically for the trip" camera. I think the Vimy pictures come across a bit darker on the internet then on my system, but I think some of them are very striking, and I liked his choice to go black and white for some of them. It rained for about 1/2 an hour late in the day while we were doing the tour of the trenches and tunnels, was the sunniest when we were walking around Beaumont-Hamel, and had dramatic clouds all day. Perfect weather for what we were there for!

    SallyCanuck - I have to admit, our first reaction to the name "Adanac" was that it was a bit silly, but I think that is just being more 'sophisiticated' 100 years later. Interestingly there were more British soliders then Canadian in the Adanac cemetery.

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    The scarf
    I am the opposite of a fashionista and shopping in general ranks slightly above root canal on my list of things I would choose to do (only slightly…) and the fact the 4 of us were able to travel for 2 ½ weeks with 2 roller bags in total attests to the fact that “clothing” is not really on my family’s collective radar. So I was surprised that two of the men in my life – 11 year old A and my DH – both individually observed and commented on the fact that ‘all ladies in Paris wear scarves’ and how they were able to elevate a simple t-shirt to be an “outfit” whether they were in their 20’s or 70’s or anything in between.

    So it was decided that our mission would be to find me a scarf… I protested, but the die had been cast.

    Upon returning home from our museuming, we saw a shop just down the street from our apartment on rue Saint Louis en l’isle that as well as clothing, had several racks of scarves, so the boys hustled me inside. I did a quick scan and said, (as is my usual first shopping reaction) no there isn’t anything good here, and started for the door… this was not to be allowed. I then went to the first rack and grabbed an inoffensive plain brown one “I think this is nice… let’s go”. Again, this was not acceptable to my posse. So A was dispatched by DH to get the assistance of the shopkeeper.

    She was large ladu, though not very tall, sporting her own elegantly arranged scarf. She gave me a discerning up and down look, asked (essentially) if the clothes I was wearing were the types of clothes I was looking to coordinate with (in particular, I think, the jeans), nodded slowly and gently removed the scarf I had chosen and put it back… She paused for a second and thought, and then went over to a rack and pulled out one with blue stripes. My first instinct was… um… no, I am not a blue clothes person, but I put it on anyway, and surprisingly (to me) the colouring actually worked very well! And my helpers (who are always supportive in this kind of situation, but can be counted on to be honest /:)) thought so to. But I wasn’t at peace with it. So she now went over to what I viewed as the sparkly rack. Now I am definitely not a sparkly person… but she pulled one out anyway… and I loved it \:D/ It is mostly greens and browns, but with some pinks and purples and a silver thread running through it. It was now my scarf, and I never would have chosen it without the assistance of our shop keeper. 11 year old A took the lead again and asked her to show me how to wear it, and so she demonstrated a couple of different tie/wrap/drape options (which all the boys – DH included – tried out in the store as well, though DH thought that shopping for a man-scarf would just take away from my moment).

    I know… I know… a lot of drama and import around the purchase of a 10E scarf… but to know me is to know how out of my comfort zone this whole process was and how this resulted in a ‘souvenir’ that would actual be true to it’s word meaning in helping us remember our uniquely Parisienne moment.

    Nothing major in the evening – a quick trip to Monoprix (avec scarf!), an apartment supper (our regular assembly of cold cuts, pates, and a dish or two from a random traiteur, plus fresh bread!), a stroll around the island. Perfect :-)

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    You sons had already sounded like wonderful boys but to insist that mom needed a scarf, how absolutely thoughtful of them. What a wonderful trip. Thanks for inviting us along.

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    Well, now you'd better wear that scarf at home, missy.

    Your photos are lovely--what an attractive family! The shot from Tour Montparnasse is perfect Paris. Your Vimy photos got me teary eyed. Thank you for including the information about the Vimy Memorial.

    Have the kids seen The Rape of Europa, the documentary about German art theft during WWII? They might find it interesting. And it'll prep them for your next big Europe trip. :D

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    Thanks to everyone for the feedback - especially re: the kids - I think they are pretty wonderful as well :-) That said though, we certainly "had our moments" that are inevitable when 4 independant minded people spend 24 x 7 all together for 2 and 1/2 weeks for the first time since... well ever.

    Efoss3 - thanks for you comments about 'the ideas to keep the kids interested in what they were seeing'. We tried to find a balance of 'education and appreciation' and not being unrealistic in what an 8 year old and 11 year old should be "appreciating". My not particularly hidden agenda was to plant a seed in the boys so that they would want to travel independantly when they were older (my daydream has them working as guides at Vimy and/or Juno beach, or as Fat Tire Bike tour guides, before "backpacking around the world"!). The first goal was that they enjoyed the trip - but I don't think that kids neccesarily have to be 'entertained' in order to be 'engaged'.

    and Leely2 - yes I have committed to wearing the scarf at home, though it has been too warm so far for me to take the plunge (or maybe I am still feeling self-consciously like a non-scarf wearer!) OK Leely... I will make this pledge - the boys have hockey this Saturday morning and even if it is warm outside, it is still cold enough inside an arena to wear a scarf... so I promise to report back confirmation of Canadian soil scarf wearing sometime this weekend!!! ;;)

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    Day 6 – Wednesday June 10th
    Art, more art, and battling robots in the future
    I had mentioned that as part of our pre-trip planning we came up with a short list of “must do’s” when in Paris. We had already done the Catacombs and Eiffel Tower (numbers 1 and 2) so we now were ready to start on the Art triumvirate of Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou.

    The strategy for day 1 was going to be – get to the Orsay just before it opened, visit the Louvre in the early evening (Wed = Louvre open at night) and do something non-art-museumy in the afternoon. And the vote for the afternoon was… Terminator: Salvation (or more accurately Terminator: Renaissance as we were in Paris)… of course…

    Prepping for art museums
    We had visited art galleries successfully in the past by striving to find balance. Not to expect ‘adult art attention spans’ but also not to assume that because they are kids they are going to be by definition uninterested. Over the months leading up to the trip, we provided opportunities to be exposed to the art they were going to see, but not to force feed education on them. (which actually sounds a lot more high brow of an exercise then it really was :-?)

    One thing we did a couple of times was getting a ginormous “Sister Wendy” art book out of the library and flicking through it to see what caught our eyes, and in particular to see if they were in one of the museums in Paris. We didn’t do anything too ‘formally educational’, just getting vaguely familiar with different styles of art. The other books that were great were “the Art Fraud Detective” and the “Art auction Mystery” by Anna Nilson. They include a sort of puzzle game where you compare two versions of a painting – the ‘real’ one and one with key details altered to identify the differences. The result is that you become very familiar with those paintings, and the ones in those books became ones they were very interested in seeing.

    So the expectation wasn’t that they (or we for that matter) would arrive at a gallery as an aspiring art student – just with an open mind and with enough exposure that something at some stage would be a ‘familiar friend’.

    Musee d’Orsay, and the audioguide trauma
    Got to the Museum just before the 9:30am opening time – and made use of the shorter ‘ticket holders’ lineup because of the Museum pass. That line was about a ¼ of the length of the ‘buying tickets’ lineup.

    Our strategy was to head to the top of the museum and use gravity to work our way down, which we did. On the way in, I decided to splurge for an audio guide, as I had quite enjoyed the one at the Rodin. Soon learned that 1 audioguide didn’t divide into 4 people very well :-( and grumbles of ‘when do I get to use the audioguide’ were starting. Although we don’t usually go with the strategy of resolving ‘sharing issues’ by throwing more ‘stuff’ at the problem, in this case I thought that it might be better to get a second guide. Well, that helped a bit… but not completely. The vibe was edging dangerously towards a Gollumesque need to possess the precccisoussss audioguide rather than a burning desire to learn about the art. And ‘can’t I listen to that one myself – I don’t want to share with my brother, I want to learn about it first’.... ‘ok I’ll share, but I get to hold it…’… ‘no I get to hold it!!’… ‘Muuuummmm, he’s holding it too low!!!’... ‘I told him to sit down!!!’… M:‘OK… you two… stop fighting over the guides… which painting do you like the best?’… ‘He’s not even listening to the guide, he’s just playing with the buttons!!!!’ M:’Are you just playing with the buttons?’… (A looks up from the audioguide where he is … just playing with the buttons…) ‘What? Were you talking to me?’… and other similar dialogue culminating in a full family “shouting-at-a-whisper-so-it-doesn’t-drift-over-to-strangers” breakdown in front of the Degas statues… :L OK… house meeting… out we go to the stairwell… And as is typical, this kind of situation has us pulling out techniques from somewhere, um, below the recommended parenting A-list. So in the sustained through-gritted-teeth-whisper-yell I go with parental guilt “Do you think my first choice of something to do in Paris is seeing Terminator? Haven’t I tried to plan things during this trip that will interest everyone? So even if you couldn’t care less about this art, why would you selfishly ruin Dad and my visit with your bickering over the audioguides!”, with the tried and true sarcasm “Though I can see why you feel you can decide who uses the guide because you paid for it… no wait, no you didn’t… I paid for it!!”, and with the ‘you should be grateful to be here’ lecture “How many of your friends have had a chance to visit this museum? That’s right… NONE! You should appreciate the opportunity you have been given!”. Yep... good times... All of this drama is playing out under the watchful eye of the audioguide sales lady… I am not sure she understood all that was being said, but the essence and spirit were pretty… obvious. OK… now the moment of truth… how do we decide to go from here? Luckily, none of us are grudge holders, and we find that sometimes the pressure valve has to go off, but once it does, we are all willing and eager to move forward. So we opt for a group hug, and the “let’s go out, and then come back in, pretending that the last ½ hour never happened” option. So the audioguides are assigned one each to DH and I, and the rules are clearly laid out… Mum and Dad will be the only ones allowed to decide which painting they are going to listen about, but a kid is more than encouraged to share the listening with a parent if they want. And we re-enter the room, with the ‘tension cutting’ play-acting of pretending that we are entering it for the first time. “Oh look! There-is-a-painting-that-I-have-never-seen-before” and we are back to being friends and focusing on the art O:)

    The purpose for including this anecdote is… well partly, since I am doing this trip report ‘for myself’ it should include the memorable moments, warts and all! But also as proof that even the perfect trip has imperfect moments, and “that which does not kill me, makes me stronger” is true for family bonds as well…

    Back to the art
    The Orsay itself was definitely a big hit. I think we all found the art to be accessible and interesting and appealing, and the scale of the museum itself was not excessively overwhelming. I think we all liked seeing how some things must have influenced others, or evolved into different things (without us actually having this ‘formal’ knowledge of how this had happened). Everyone had come to the Museum with at least a couple of “I am looking forward to seeing…” paintings (for the kids, they were all ones featured in the “Art Fraud” books including Seurat “The Circus”, the Van Gough’s bedroom and also “The Snake Charmer by Rousseau – but it, unfortunately for us, that one was out on loan).

    We also tasked ourselves with finding a “new favourite” that we hadn’t seen before, and our picks were…
    Me = Caillebotte’s “The Floor Planers”
    A = Manet – Rochefort’s Escape
    B = Monet – The Coalmen (with a couple of big Toulouse-Lautrec murals coming a close second)
    DH = Manet - Berthe Morisot With a Bouquet
    (There should be pictures ready to link to by the time I am finished writing about this day...)

    Honouring our 2 hour time limit, we didn’t have time to really see anything but the painting section (though we scurried through the sculpture on our way out)

    There were several French school groups at the museum as well. (How cool to live somewhere where your field trips are the Eiffel Tower and the Orsay etc!) One young teenager group had obviously each chosen/been assigned a specific painting, and when they got to that painting, they did a little speech / presentation about the art to the applause of their classmates. Seemed like a good assignment (though, teenagers being teenagers, to my eyes it looked like the applause had as much to do with how cool the presenter was as to the content of the presentation itself!). And it seemed that every different teacher presenting to a ‘primary age’ school group was absolutely animated and dynamic and clearly passionate what they were talking about (and… I noted… scarf-wearing!)

    On our way out, I saw a couple of young ‘college student type’ girls standing together in front of one of the sculptures. I asked them if they spoke English – they said yes (they were from the states). I told them that I was leaving the museum, and did they want to have my audioguide? One of them in particular looked apprehensive (like I was then going to tie a string around her finger, or tell her I had also found this ring… did she drop it by any chance?, or let her know that my mother had leukemia…) and the other seemed more trusting of my motives, but protested at first saying she felt bad using it for free because I had paid money for it. I assured them that it wasn’t a trick and that I wasn’t going to be using it any more, I wasn't looking for any money etc., so they thanked me and took it.
    So was this ethically shadowy? I’m having no problem sleeping at night over this because of…the girls I gave it to were in the middle of the museum, and so I was absolutely confident that they weren’t planning on renting a guide themselves, so I didn’t feel I was taking any money out of the museum’s pocket. So that was how I tried to balance out the “audioguide” karma of our morning breakdown :-)

    So personal false starts aside, the Orsay was a big success, and a place that would top my list of “Museums to visit again the next time…”

    next… the movies and art continue…

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    <<...or dark “Oh look, there’s Jean Valjean” shadowy caves...>>

    At least every other paragraph makes me laugh. You have quite a way with words, in detail AND humor!

    Keep it coming. This is one of the best TRs I have read for Paris, 2009!


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    LOL, I think most any parent can relate to the Orsay events;) I think you did great, and especially like the idea of starting over. I need to remember that tip!

    Very nice of you to pass the audio guide onto someone else:)

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    Day 6 – Wednesday June 10th con’t

    I’ll be back

    We had decided to break up our art museum visits by going to a movie.
    Thanks to Kerouac, Cathinjoetown, SallyCanuck and everyone else to contributed to my “seeing a movie in Paris” thread.
    We decided to go to the MK2 Biblioteque (which Kerouac had recommended as a good one) as it brought us to a different area of Paris – even if just for a glimpse – and it was a simple, single bus ride from near our apartment. We chose Terminator – though at first B strongly resisted going until he realized that we were saying the movie was going to be English with FRENCH subtitles (he had been thinking we meant French with ENGLISH subtitles).

    We aimed for a 2pm show, but bused it over a bit earlier so we could check out the neighbourhood a little. A very different feel – it almost felt more like Toronto then Paris there in the shadow of the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand. The library is 4 big corner “office buildings” that are I think supposed to ‘be’ 4 open books. Very big and modern feeling (and I think one of those ideas that may have been better in concept then in practice!). Not that there was anything particularly wrong or offensive about it – just probably like I said earlier, that it felt more like Toronto then Paris (no offense Toronto!) – or at least the Paris I was wanting to think of myself as being in…

    The movie theatre itself was nice and big and ‘commercial’. Didn’t get any sense that they saw many English speaking tourists – the ticket counter person only spoke French. Adults were 10E each and the kids were 5E for under 10 and 5.60E for under 18 (or something like that) which seemed in the same ballpark as a similar style of movie theatre in Canada. One note though (if anyone is thinking of going to a movie in Paris!) if it had been any other day then Wednesday, our adult tickets would have been 5E for a matinee (before 3pm) but because Wednesday is the day the schools let out early in the afternoon, there was no special price for the matinee. And like I would expect a mid-week matinee in June at home, there were only a smattering of people in the theatreThere was a giant escalator that looked like it wasn’t working, but then was triggered by the first person stepping on it (which excited the kids).

    Nice big movie theatre – slickly modern enough to be the relaxing ‘comfort food’ experience we were looking for, but with enough little differences that it felt like a little (albeit safe) adventure… We all enjoyed the movie (for what it was!) and there was some evidence that something had been learned on the trip when the boys observed that the Kyle Reese and John Connor characters in the resistance against the occupying enemy of machines “were like the French resistance when the Germans occupied Paris”.

    As far as the idea of slotting a movie into the middle of our cultural Parisian experience – I have to admit that I was initially skeptical, but in the end I think it worked out perfectly, especially for someone travelling with kids (though I think it would have been a good break if we didn’t have the kids with us.) It was nice to be able to turn our brains off (or at least put them into a different gear) for a couple of hours, and to be forced to sit down! (We didn’t suffer from the blisters and foot problems that I have seen reported on this forum before, but I found that my legs got TTTIIIRRRREEEDDD from the extra walking and standing we had been doing.)

    Evening at the Louvre
    After the movie, we went back to the apartment for a snack (it felt too early for supper – as we seemed to have been eating on French time of 8pm at the earliest lately!) and then made our way to the Louvre for about 5pm. We took the metro to the Palais Royal/Musee du Louvre station, and then into the ‘back’ of the Louvre from rue Rivoli. We were definitely walking “upstream” against the flow of people leaving the museum at that time. I suppose you could call it a lineup at security, but the line moved at a walking pace, so we didn’t really have to wait – more of a slowdown of our pace then a ‘wait in line’ type scenario. When we were inside under the pyramid, we were able to walk right through, showing our passes. I would say though that even without the pass, all I had read about going in the evening to the Louvre to avoid the lines was correct – there were only a couple of people buying tickets to get in, so I don’t think there would have been a wait even if we didn’t have a pass.

    We had come prepared to be overwhelmed by the place and had decided that we wanted to “check off” seeing the Mona Lisa, and that we wanted to see the Raft of the Medusa. Anything after that was going to be gravy, so we could feel free to wander at leisure without worrying about what we were missing. So we b-lined it to Mona Lisa – played ‘swap the camera’ with the other tourists (you take my picture, I’ll take yours!). Because I had heard so many times “it was so much smaller than I expected” the painting was actually larger then I had expected. And I found myself feeling sorry for her – like she was one of the Dionne quintuplets – living behind glass, now more important to far too many people then she should have been; important for what she is supposed to be, rather then what she is – setup to disappoint - but it wasn’t her fault (yes I know that paintings don’t actually have feelings…) Anyhoo…

    11 year old A absolutely loved the Wedding at Cana, and couldn’t understand why everyone was taking pictures of the Mona Lisa with that huge painting behind them!
    Here is the summary of Louvre art appreciation rules for an 8 – 11 year old boy (at least those related to me).
    Big paintings = good
    Really big painting = Really good
    Nudity = not so good

    We opted for the 8E guidebook this time, as opposed to an audio guide, and it was useful in giving some relatively light insights into certain themes or techniques to look for. But again, our goals for the Louvre hadn’t been very specific – we knew we couldn’t conquer it, so we were just there to soak it in. I would say that we found the art that we saw in the Louvre more ‘impressive’ then ‘expressive’. My personal feeling was that it felt much more commissioned then inspired, but that is probably my ignorance of art and art history talking! It also may have been the specific route we took, but the family did find that after a time we found it got almost repetitive (oh another religious scene with a bunch of people looking dramatically pious…). Which makes it sound like we didn’t like it, but I would say that we were impressed rather then moved.
    I didn’t take good notes on the specific names of the paintings but here were some of our picks for favourite…
    A – The one of David and Goliath with two perspectives – one from the front and one from the back
    B – A giant picture called something like “the Greeks crossing the river something”

    If (when!) I go back, I would definitely take a course or at least a tour to learn some more about what I was seeing – learn enough to be able to take advantage of so many examples in one place to be able to apply whatever it was I had learned to paintings I hadn’t specifically studied. But I don’t think I would be able to plunge into that kind of depth without an initial ‘survey’ like the one we did

    The odyssey in search of mosaics
    So we were pretty much at our 2 hour time limit, when we remembered seeing a mosaic in the “Up Close Louvre” book we had also read in prep for the trip. Last summer, and again over the March break, DH and the boys had all made mosaics as a sort of project, and so we were pretty eager to see some. And A was pretty eager to do some French talking and ask the security guard / random Louvre room staff guy how to get to the mosaics.

    And thus began the odyssey… or wild goose chase… whatever you call it, it involved doing, I think it was 3 laps of the Sully wing in total (is the whole of the 'square' section at the Louvre Rivoli metro station end all called the Sully wing? Because it was that whole square that we lapped...) – including going from the ground floor to the 2nd floor to the 1st floor. A was really focused on the goal – and working hard to navigate us through the map – then ask another staff member (who gave very varied information like ‘no there are no mosaics’; ‘yes… just go straight here and then up a floor’; ‘yes… just go down to there, and then over to there’.). While DH and I muttered to ourselves about the time limit, and ‘should we impose a bail?’ A was absolutely determined to make it to the end of his search… so we kept pressing on (B was a really good sport during this marathon – as it is one thing for a parent to be supportive of a son ‘on a mission’ and another for an 8 year old to be supportive of his brother). In the end, the closest to a mosaic we found were a series of ‘pictures’ at the far end of the Antiquities, that were more out of 6 inch tiles then actual mosaics. And while A was slightly disappointed that it hadn’t ended with the ‘real’ mosaics, he was at peace that his odyssey had ended, rather than be cut short - it was like at some point he realized that there wouldn't be mosaics at the end of the journey, but he wanted to see it through to the end either way. One definite bonus of the trek was that we saw a lot of the antiquities section – something we hadn’t at all planned to visit – and were surprised at how interesting we found it!
    What we think now is that the mosaics were in the Islamic art section, which was closed while we were there. Another reason we will have to come back to Paris!

    Dinner in St Germain and to bed
    It was around 9pm by the time we got out of the Louvre, and we were hungry…
    One side note – one of the few specific things that I brought with us from Canada was 4 boxes of the power bars that my kids usually have before hockey games. I figured that if I always carried a couple with me, then I at least had something that I knew the kids would eat, that could help ‘tide them over’ if our eating schedule got of schedule. They came in handy a couple of times, and this was one of them. So while DH and I were pretty peckish (crankily so…) the kids at least had a little something in their belly! So bringing some ‘familiar’ energy bars… that is my tip for traveling to Paris with your kids!

    We decided we wanted to ‘eat out’ somewhere, but not somewhere too fancy or expensive, so we ended up back on the pedestrian street just off St Germain, near the St Michel metro stop / Cluny museum. We walked along weighing the offerings of the ‘barkers’ telling us about their 10E menus, 7E children’s menus, “we will give you free wine” etc. eventually settling (and I mean settling!) on a sort of Italian place that had pizza (which B would eat) and spaghetti (which DH and A would happily eat) and I will eat anything. The meal was mediocre, though not mediocre-bad, just mediocre – but it was cheap, fast, and we were full after we were finished, so it did what it had to do!

    So… overall… we all thought this was a really good day (in spite of it’s ups and downs!). both museums were unique, amazing, and places I am glad to have visited, and hope to visit again.

    Read in bed and then lights out…
    Oh, and B finished the Goblet of Fire… so tomorrow – buying Harry Potter is added to our itinerary.

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    I love the photo of your son in front of the huge painting in the Louvre- it shows the hugeness of the painting very well.

    Your scarf is beautiful! It's neat that your guys wanted you to have one, plus buying it is a good family memory. Scarves seem to be getting more popular here in the states now, so maybe you'll be able to wear yours a lot in Canada.

    Those power bars were a great idea.

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    I like the scarf! I am like you and don't ever wear scarves but the men in your family did a great job helping pick out that one. I like memories like that. Everytime you will wear it you will think of something else you all did on that trip! I am enjoying reading your trip report so much. It has been 5 years since we were in Paris and reading this brings back memories. We leave next week for 12 days in Montreal, Quebec City, and Tadoussac and maybe I will try writing a trip report after the trip.

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    kkukura - make sure that you do write a trip report! I am finding it a great exercise for making sure that I make a record that is fresh in my mind. And at first I was intimidated to start, but I would reccomend just writing it for yourself and people who are interested will tag along. (And post something to this thread when you do - so I can come and find it in case I don't make my way to the Canada forum!)

    Efoss - I was happy with that picture too, especially because it was the size I think that appealed to him in the first place!

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    Wow, thanks for a report that's entertaining and educational. I had never paid much attention to military history and didn't understand the appeal of visiting war memorials, but you described those sites in such a moving, personal way that a tombstone will never look the same again.

    re: hiding under the tree during the downpour outside the Rodin Museum--
    Some of these moments spent waiting out a storm make the best travel memories, maybe because they force you to stop and just observe.

    re: Harry Potter
    Would your son be interested in rereading the series in French translation? That's how I learned French (besides the tiny bit I could barely remember from high school). It's great because the first book starts at an eight-year-old's level, and the language in each subsequent one becomes more advanced as the readers grew up over a decade.

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    Canada V...loving your trip report and wish that we could have taken our three daughters on a trip like that. We can take them now but now it includes their spouses as well and it would mean leaving the grand kids behind. DH and I will be in Paris for a week the end of Aug followed by a week in Holland. Can't wait...we too are Cdn's and will be flying out of Toronto on Air Transat. Love the scarf!!

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    love your report.
    brings back a lot of memories of my trip in april with my daughter.

    war stories have never been of interest to me but your report and photos of vimy were very poignant.

    your boys are just adorable. love your scarf story and how great you look with the scarf. i think you should add some more to your wardrobe. :)

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    Thanks again everyone :-)
    Fifi - reading French is still 'school work' for the boys, but that is a great thought about going for the french translation of Harry Potter - I know we have them in our local library. Actually, I think I will take the first one out to try and expand my high school french!

    Jodej - Bring the grandkids too! And enjoy your trip in August (I promise to read your trip report :-) )

    abranz - thanks for your comments - and I remember and enjoyed your trip report about your visit with your beautiful daughter!

    palette - I hope you do your trip report here (I promise I will read it :-)

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    Day 7 – Thursday June 11th

    Modern art and time apart

    I was up early again this morning, this time taking my early morning stroll up into the Marais. This stroll was particularly charming because it was obviously at the same time that parents were walking their kids to school. Sweet little groups of well dressed children, their scarf-wearing mums, or their ‘on my way to work’ suit wearing dads. I have one mental picture of a two little girls – around 7 and 8 – the older one on her scooter, and dapper dad sharing her sisters scooter just behind. It was a very neighbourhood feel – one of the reasons I liked these early morning walks was that there were very few tourists around – for some reason though, every morning I would always come across a couple (different couple and different ethnicity each morning) up early with the lady reading out of a guidebook, and the man taking photos… The other sure bet tourist first thing in the morning at least one or two little family groups loading their bags into a waiting taxi, obviously on their way home (or perhaps to the next step of their journey!). With my scarf and shopping cart, I am sure that anyone seeing me assumed, of course, that I was local (I chose to ignore the fact that size 11 Birkenstocks are not found on very many (any?) Parisiennes…

    I was feeling suitably oriented enough to try some random wandering (i.e. even though I hadn’t brought a map, I had a mental picture of a couple of main streets, the location of a good handful of metro stations, and a general sense of where the river was that I figured I could find my way home). So I wandered, ending up ‘scoping out’ the location of the Picasso museum – planned for Friday - and then eventually the Pompidou centre – on the agenda for today. I really liked the streets and buildings in the Marais, and was again delighted at how Paris seemed to have so many styles or flavours. We had originally planned to go to the Pompidou centre, and then come back to the apartment to each lunch (to avoid taking a chance of undesirable hungry wanderings looking for something suitable), but by ‘casing the joint’ I was able to report back that there were LOTS of options in that area depending on how we felt at the time (cafes, crepes, fast food, sandwiches), so we could safely plan to eat there rather then try and come back home.

    the Pompidou centre
    The Pompidou centre didn’t open until 11am, so there was no pressure to have a super early start. We took the bus to near Eglise Saint Eustache, and started off the morning watching the kids have a great time playing on the “big head and hand” statue in front.
    Side note: We found that although we all got a “good workout” with all the walking, standing and stairs, that the kids still needed that chance to burn off steam. The dampness earlier in the week had, well put a damper on the opportunities for visiting parks, so we had to find other ways for them to have their energy release. This statue ended up being one of the things that both kids usually mentioned when asked for “what are things you liked in Paris?”. As a rule, we give our kids a fair amount of freedom – with the overriding caveat “as long as you aren’t bugging other people!”, and the little square of seats/steps and grassy areas, and the very accessible statue was a very relaxed place. I really liked the juxtaposition of the old church, and the modern sculpture. Someone had graffitied something on the hand, which was a shame… I had originally planned that the kids would spend an hour at the Jardin des Enfants des Halles (though I hadn’t said anything to them) but a combination of everyone getting moving a bit slowly in the morning, and the fact that when we did poke around we couldn’t find the entrance meant we just sort of eyeballed it, but didn’t go in. What we did see seemed like a pretty extensive and intriguing playground (though I fear that if/when we come back, the kids will be too old to go in).

    There was only a very short lineup to buy tickets for the museum when we arrived just at the 11am opening time, and for us and our museum pass there was no lineup. By mistake we first went to the very top floor, and then one floor down, in both cases to be turned away from ‘not included in the museum pass’ temporary exhibits. (Well turned away sounds too harsh – ‘chose not to pay extra for’ would actually be correct).

    I didn’t know quite what to expect myself, or for the kids, from the modern art, but it turned out to be a big hit all around. DH and A rated it top of the “big three” (B and I both picked the Orsay). Everyone liked both the permanent collection – and I found that the kids were better able at saying why they did or didn’t like a particular picture. It was almost as though our ignorance was empowering ;-} Here’s my theory - we didn’t know what we were supposed to like, and we knew that there are people who don’t like modern art, so it gave us the freedom to like or not like what we wanted! There was also an exhibit featuring women/feminist artists. And again, the kids were (I will admit surprisingly!) interested in figuring out what the artist was trying to say, and then making a decision on whether or not they thought they had been successful. The whole thing – having now seen all 3 of the different ‘eras’ – sparked quite a bit of discussion on what everyone had liked and why, and we seemed to come to the conclusion that we tended to find more appeal to an ‘inspired but failed experiment’ more then a ‘technically excellent, but commissioned’ piece like some of the ones we remembered from the Louvre. Again though, it also highlighted that there is an awful lot about art that we didn’t know... So again… we will have to come back!

    Outside, the kids liked the Stravinsky fountain, but not nearly as much as the sculpture at St. Eustache. There was also one of those “painted grey and not moving” type mimes, which A really liked – trying to get him to move, and copying his movement. He earned A’s ‘busker contribution’ for the day!

    Lunch, and the afternoon itinerary
    Well, the only time we eat at McDonalds at home is when we are making the 10 hour drive to northern Ontario to visit the grandparents (a drive that takes us through the middle of nowhere, and the McDonalds with a playland makes a good break spot!), but of all the options, the kids picked McDonalds – so A did the ordering. I opted out… and went to a Pomme de Pain and had a yummy Nicoise sandwich (it was really quick… as well!). We took our fast food back to Saint Eustache, ate in the sun on the step/seats, and the kids had another chance to play on the statue.

    In the afternoon, I was planning to go on a classic walks ‘Paris in WWII’ walking tour. I asked if anyone else wanted to go and nobody was too keen. I hadn’t expected them to want to go – and was actually looking forward to doing it solo - but would have been more then happy if one of the kids said they wanted to come. So we divided up like this… I was going to go on the walking tour, which left from Pont Saint Louis between the two islands at 3pm, and the boys were going to first go to WH Smith on rue rivoli behind the Louvre (thankful once again for having a computer and internet access in the apartment to be able to research where to find english language books in Paris!) to get “Order of the Phoenix” for B, and then walk over to the Musee d’Armee, which A wanted a chance to visit again. So off we went!

    First we had to get the boys on the metro, so we pulled out our map to figure out how to get to the closest one. Side note Any time we found ourselves standing on a street corner consulting a map with a puzzled look on our face, some Parisien (or Parisienne!) would stop and ask us if we needed help. There wasn’t a set demographic for who would stop – men and women stopped; young people and older people stopped; people on their own or with a friend stopped. In one case, the young lady pulled out a very detailed map from her purse which she said she had ‘because I don’t know all the streets, and it is very helpful for the tourists’. Whether they were looking to practice their English, or wishing to give a good impression of their city to visitors, or probably a bit of both, it was a very positive phenomenon.

    The walking tour
    It took me a little longer then expected to walk from the Pompidou to the apartment – I wanted to change as the weather had cooled off a bit – so I ended up sprinting down rue Saint Louis en L’Isle, making it to the bridge pretty much exactly at 3pm. There was a large group, obviously a tour, as the leader was holding a long stick with a sparkly tassle thingy on the end. It didn’t seem quite right, but then I saw a young man holding up a little Classic walks brochure. He didn’t really look like a tour because, well, there were only 2 people standing by him. I went over, and yes, I had the right place, so it looked like the tour would be me, and two Americans who had just arrived in Paris from the states about an hour earlier – a women and her 15 year old nephew. They were taking the tour because the nephew was interested – apparently (as came out over the course of the walking and talking) she has several nieces and nephews, each of whom she has brought to Europe when they turned 15, to visit the country(s) of their choice. This particular nephew was the last one it seemed, and the first one with a real interest and appreciation for the history – in particular WWII - and they were visiting Paris, then Normandy, and were then going to Munich. (Discovering that she was about to run out of nieces and nephews, I lobbied hard, but was unable to convince her that, if she was recruiting that I could pass for 15… in a very very dark room, if I didn’t speak… if she was recruiting). The nephew was as chatty as most of the 15-year-old boys that I know are around unfamiliar adults (i.e. not so much) but at the end when we parted, and I said that he was very lucky to have an aunt like this, he agreed wholeheartedly, and I could see that he was truly grateful and appreciative of the opportunity.

    The tour itself was about 2 hours long, and we traveled about 4.5 kms. We ended up at the Place du Concorde, after visiting the Deportation museum, discussing the key historical events at or overlooking their physical locations, stopped at the Louvre courtyard to talk about the thefts and recovery of artwork during the occupation, and because the group was so small, got to ask lots of questions, as well as ‘chat about the facts we were learning’. I’m not actually a ‘war history’ buff, as much as having an interest in what peoples everyday lives were like during the time, and while the focus was (naturally…) on those ‘history buff things’, I definitely found it interesting and worth it – back to the layers, each piece of information layering onto an overall understanding and perception.

    I had never been on a walking tour before (unless you count the bike tour from earlier in the week… but I don’t think you can!) and while I had already discovered that I wasn’t an ‘on-site guidebook’ person, I think I am a walking tour person. I think I like the idea of going somewhere ‘independently’ first, and making some initial impressions, and then revisiting them with an ‘expert opinion’. So I was very glad to have taken the tour, but wouldn’t have wanted to take any others on this trip (as I was still in the ‘making my own initial impressions’ stage), but if (WHEN!) I come back, and I envision myself going on more then one of the various tours focusing on a specific area or theme.

    The boy’s afternoon
    They made their way to the WH Smith with no problem, got the book, and made the trek over to the Musee d’Armee (though DH did say that he was even more appreciative of the ‘directing and navigating’ I had been doing after having to do it without me!). It seemed as though everyone was happy to have a little bit of solo time – B found himself a spot overlooking the courtyard and got started on his book; A went into the museum to revisit the WWI and WWII exhibits on his own; DH spent some time taking photographs (and experimenting with the camera) around the courtyard. They went to a flower market on the way home and brought me flowers when they got home around 6:30pm.

    Dinner at a restaurant!
    OK, so it wasn’t yet the French restaurant meal I was still craving, but it was a start! <i<(for some reason, the spaghetti we had in St Germain isn't registering as a meal in a restaurant!)
    We walked up to the Bastille area to try and find a restaurant – the boys had pledged to have an open mind and to try and find something a little outside their comfort zone. I had asked my walking tour guide for a recommendation within 15 minute walk of our apartment, and he had pointed me to a rue Lappe (or Lippe… curse you teeny tiny Moleskin font!) (argh! Back when I talked about the guide books that we used I had said that one of the shortcomings of the Moleskin was that it didn’t have a metro map… but when I went to look up the street near the Bastille, I just discovered where it was hidden! So sorry Moleskin people – you DID have a metro map after all!). We found it, but perhaps because it was still ‘happy hour’ I couldn’t find something that I was comfortable would suit the family. So we walked around a bit, and finally decided on Leon de Bruxelles for mussels – they had a kids menu from which each kid agreed they could eat (and probably enjoy!) steak hache. But surprisingly (shockingly if you know him…) A said that he would like to try mussels!! I was definitely apprehensive (of all the things to try, mussels seemed a bit risky, and weird looking… for my finicky eldest) but lo and behold… he really enjoyed them! So even though it was a ‘chain’ and therefore a pretty ‘safe’ out of the comfort zone step, (and I wonder if French mussels are in season anyway, or whether we were actually eating Canadian mussels! Though note… I don’t want to know the answer… just let me position this in my mind as French as possible!), it was a satisfying family meal all around!

    So another really good day in Paris - we are all really settling in (though that means... not much time left before we have to leave :-( )

    next… our last full day in Paris before we leave for the south

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    I have the same Moleskine book and agree with you about both the light gray font and the Metro map placement. Before your next trip, color-xerox the gridded map that's on the back of the Metro map, paste this xerox copy (which actually comes out darker and easier to read than the original) on the blank pages just before the other maps, and fold the original with the Metro side up, taped down permanently on the left side. Much easier to use.

    (Can't do anything about the font-- and I wrote in mine a few years ago in handwriting that was as tiny as the print!)

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    I'm glad your son found his Harry Potter book and you got to go on a walking tour.
    I'm going to look for that statue your kids played on when I go to Paris next month and I will think about the fun they had on it.

    I sad you're almost to you last day, but looking forward to hearing about how the family likes the South of France.


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    I am thoroughly enjoying your report and love your family stories. You have inspired me to consider adding a scarf to my pretty dull wardrobe -- perhaps there is hope for some sort of sense of style after all!

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    Hey Leely2 - and all other scarf supporters :-) I wore the scarf to hockey on Saturday (and nobody said - hey, you're not a scarf wearer!!! Where do you think you are? Paris???)

    Doing laundry
    One other anecdote that I meant to include in the report about Thursday.
    The apartment came with laundry equipment, and we were now at a point where we needed clean socks in particular.
    1st challenge was at the Monoprix purchasing laundry detergent. Clearly the Ontario French Immersion grade 5 curriculum is woefully inadequate when it comes to the vocabulary around household chores (go figure!) so we had to use a combination of trying to visual the French words on the laundry products at home, and interpreting the universal iconography of packaged goods (Cuddly Bear? Well it isn’t the Snuggle bear, but I imagine cuddly = fabric softener and not detergent…)
    So back at the apartment… It doesn’t look quite the same as our units at home, but I am pretty sure that it is actually a combo washer/dryer. We stumble through the translation of ‘cycle types’ (très sale… I think that either means ‘very dirty’ or ‘very salty’… given the context, let’s go with ‘very dirty’). Then there is another dial with choices that include 30, 60 or 90 minutes. We figure this is the dryer timer, so go with 90. So in go the socks, and the boys jeans, and out we go for the day (I passed on my knowledge that European washer dryers take a LLLLOOOOONNNNNGGGGG time to run).

    When we get back at the end of the day we discover that someone has broken into the apartment, stolen all our adult sized white sport socks, and replaced them with tiny blue/grey children’s socks!!! (or so it appears). OK… maybe they weren’t stolen, but all of our socks are shrunk and grey and still wet. Apparently it was a washer only, and not a washer dryer. Now, these weren’t new socks, or new jeans, and they had been washed together at home before… these were socks which have passed the test required to be a member of our household (a test similar to the test required to be a plant living in our garden… only the strong survive, and if you are a plant or piece of clothing that needs special individual attention… well, your days are probably numbered… we only form attachments to those who make it through at least one season...) And that said, we have never suffered a shrinking incident like this before at home. So we confirm that the jeans are still the same size, and drape everything over the ‘drying rack’ that we find in the closet (which probably would have been a good clue that it wasn’t a washer dryer combo)… and add to our ‘souvenirs from France’ with some adult socks…

    Fast forward to the morning we left, and us asked Annie, the apartment owner, what she thought we did wrong. Well apparently, the 30, 60, 90 wasn’t minutes of time, but was actually degrees Celsius… so we had essentially boiled the life out of our socks, and leeched out whatever loosely attached denim dye particles remained in our ‘washed many times before’ jeans.

    And this became one of the key incidents the kids were able to recall to my parents... "remember what happened to the socks in Paris?"

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    I should also mention that Annie, the apartment owner, had very kindly left a binder full of all the instruction manuals for all the appliances in the apartment, but apparently our collective independant streaks mean that we eschew the informational tools provided to mere manual-reading-mortals prefering the hubris of "how hard can it be to figure out?"...

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    Day 8 – Friday June 12th

    This is our last day of our museum pass, and our last full day in Paris before we travel down for our week in the south. We know that we will be returning to Paris for another day and a half in Paris before flying home, so that helps make this day not feel so much like “the end”.

    Our plan for today… The Notre Dame towers, the Picasso museum, Napoleon’s apartments and maybe some sculpture at the Louvre, the Arc du Triomphe, and bringing our books to the Champ du Mars to watch the Eiffel tower lights sparkle. We don’t end up with exactly that agenda – we add a bit, leave a bit off – but that is the plan as we start the day.

    Notre Dame Towers
    We were up and lined up for the towers at about 9:40am for the 10am opening. DH took a very (to our eyes) European picture of a woman leaning on her balcony overlooking the crowd – I’ll include it in the next picture link. We kept the kids busy with some ‘we will time you as you run over and find out…’ missions (i.e. Who is the statue of in front of Notre Dame? Go! One steamboat… two steamboat…) and chatted to the two young Scots in front of us who were debating whether it was worth it to get the museum pass. The line kept building behind us, and we were part of the second “group of 25” to be let into the towers after they opened.

    Up the 387 steps to the “gargoyle platform” (and DH and I both noticed that after all our Paris walking, the steps were easy peasy this time!). The kids (well actually all of us…) picked out favourites among the statues and gargoyles (should I be concerned that both kids chose different gargoyles who were eating the head of some unfortunate creature?). I always find it amazing the level of detail and intricacy on the carvings and statues that high up where the vast majority of people aren’t going to see them – I guess when you take 180 years to build something, you are able to do that sort of thing. I think the views are great, but by this point in our trip, they are becoming views we have seen before (lucky us!) and I find the ‘cages’ over the walkway (to prevent people from jumping off…) are a bit disconcerting (knowing why they are there) and unfortunately distracting. Moreso then the ones on the Eiffel Tower – maybe because I was in a sleep deprived semi-coma at the time, or maybe because the guard fences seemed like a more natural extension of a metal structure then of a stone one. Down the steps again and back past the lineup – which is now more than double the length - it was the right decision to make this our ‘first thing in the morning’ stop – I think more than any of the other site. As we walked by the “guy-with-the-creep-mask-who-entertains/teases-tourists” who apparently is a regular fixture at the tower lines does his ‘walk along beside someone until they look’ routine with A, who gives the appropriate “whatthe…” double take when he notices, to the amusement of the line members.

    As we head back to the apartment, we stop at the Deportation Memorial that I had visited yesterday as part of my tour. 11 year old A in particular asked a lot of questions, and DH found it to be a very moving and effective memorial. I think the symbolism was both subtle, yet obvious, or at least my interpretation of it was – when you are down in the memorial you are in the middle of Paris, but you are isolated and alone. How would you feel if you were one of the people deported, or even just in one of those groups who were being deported, alone and isolated in the middle of this big city?

    Picasso and the Marais
    We pop into the apartment, but nobody is really hungry for lunch yet, so we just dispatch A down to the bakery with the “how well do you know your family” task of bringing back some kind of treat for each of us… and he does very well...
    Chocolate éclair for him (it looked creamy and chocolaty, but not too creamy or chocolaty)
    Brioche au sucre for B (because it didn’t look too fancy or too sweet)
    Brownie for DH (because it was the chocolatiest, had a familiar name, and it didn’t look like it would have any weirdo ingredients in it)
    Pistachio and Nectarine tart for me (because it looked the weirdest…)
    And everyone was very satisfied with what they were given :-))

    Hit the road up through the Marais to the Picasso museum, making a pit stop at the Place des Vosges where DH and I had a quiet sitdown (and thought, this was the one time that I WOULD have been a guidebook reader, as I couldn’t remember anything about the history of the place) and the kids had a good ‘run around and burn off some energy’. There was a clarinet playing busker under one of the arches, so it was a very ‘picturesque’ moment (he earned B’s ‘busker contribution’ this day)

    Walked through the Marais, past some of the schools I had seen kids being walked to the day before – with that weird city school phenomenon of hearing the echoes of children playing, but not being able to see where they are! Prompted a discussion between my boys as to whether they thought those kids were on lunch or on recess… (One of those funny, eavesdropping on 2 kids talking kind of conversations)
    The Picasso museum was nice and compact, which I think was a good thing, because although the art itself was appealing to everyone in the family, I think I could see hints of ‘I think I am reaching the limit of how much art I can absorb’ from the whole crew, though even the kids were still able to approach the collection with an open mind, and were prepared for the ‘which was your favourite’ drill. Unfortunately I didn’t take good notes on their choices! (ok… by good notes, I mean any notes…) though I remember that we all agreed that we liked the goat sculpture! Interestingly, although Mona Lisa hadn’t seemed ‘too small’ when I saw it, “Women Running on the Beach” was much smaller than I thought it would be!

    Leaving the Picasso museum, we are now ready to look for something to eat. I decided we were in the right neighbourhood to stop by L'as du Falafel (a semi selfish decision, as I am the only one in the family with any interest in eating falafel!) but I figured we were bound to pass something the others would like, either in the immediate surroundings or at some point along the way. I like falafel, but I wouldn’t even come close to being a connoisseur, so I was going to judge the lineup and was ready to eat at any of the options I had read existed around. But lo and behold, there were only 2 people waiting at the window, and the ‘customer-corraller-guy’ approached us as we lined up and took my order for a falafel. And in another surprising/shocking development, A said he was willing to give it a try! Although I didn’t want to discourage his willingness to try (and though I was wrong thinking he wouldn’t like the mussels) I counseled him that a shwarma might be more to his liking then the falafel (and still be left field enough to be a stretch for him). So he stepped up and ordered one limiting the veggies to just cucumber… (B and DH couldn’t be convinced…) And he loved it! In fact he was so enthusiastic that B said he was willing to try a taste of his brothers… and HE loved it! And lucky all around, as the sandwich is so big that even big eater (when it is something he likes…) A couldn’t finish it, leaving just under half his sandwich for B to finish off. And when A tried mine, he said he was very glad he hadn't ordered it (especially with the works of all the eggplant, cabbage etc etc that I had got!)Like I said, I don’t eat a lot of falafel, but I thought mine was yum, yum, yummy. (don’t remember what DH ended up eating)

    More ice cream
    We stopped by the apartment for a little mid day break, then got ready to head out.
    This was turning out to be the ‘grazing rather then eating’ day, so we thought it was a good time to finish our ice cream taste test by trying the Amorino just down the road on rue Saint Louis en L’isle. I started ordering small cones for everyone, but the troops lobbied for mediums. A got lemon and strawberry, B got mango, chocolate and lemon, DH got raspberry and mango. After seeing the first one being ‘built’ in a big flower shape, I decided not to get one… which meant that I ended up having lemon, strawberry, chocolate, raspberry and mango when the guys all found that their eyes were bigger then their stomaches ;-)

    And the verdict was…. Amorino by 3 ½ votes to ½ a vote.
    Bigger… cooler presentation… overall flavour preference (lemon being the 1st choice of everyone)… the fact that they would give you as many flavours as you wanted (i.e. if you wanted 10 flavours, they would construct it with a little bit each of 10 flavours) …I gave a ½ vote to Berthillion for having the most interesting flavour choice – I’d really liked the earl grey tea… I was mocked for both my fence sitting and the almost predictable predilection for the odder of any given flavour choice… but I stand by my vote!!!

    next… Friday continues with the lady and the unicorn

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    And then there was the infamous trip to Paris in 1993 where my 11 year old son sprained his wrist on the bumping cars in the Bois de Boulougne and we ended up in the emergency room to get x-rays.

    Traveling with children is never free from unwanted "excitement".

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    Great scarf! Glad you made the leap and wore it to hockey too.

    I have never made it up to the towers of Notre Dame; the line has always looked so daunting. Your description makes we want to bite the bullet and wait next time.

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    Thanks Leely :-)
    I would say that the towers are one of those things that is worth planning as the first stop of the day in order to manage the line. We were there about an hour in total including stairs, gift shop, gargoyles, bell, to the very top, photos etc. and I was very happy with our 1/2 hour wait (including the time before it opened), but probably would have found a longer (and more importantly unknown length) wait frustrating and it might have taken away from my enjoyment (thinking 'was this worth the wait')

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    Day 8 – Friday June 12th continued

    The Lady and the Unicorn
    The museum pass again paid for itself as I realized we had just enough time to slip over to the Cluny / Musée du Moyen Age. Not even pretending to do anything but ‘speed dating’ I really wanted to see the Lady and the Unicorn. (I’m stealing the phrase 'speed dating’ from the Pompidou where it was the title of a pamphlet giving instructions on how to hightail it to see Otto Dix’s Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden – which is I guess the Pompidou equivalent of the Mona Lisa!). I know I was not doing the museum justice, but I had read Tracy Chevalier’s book “The Lady and the Unicorn” so really wanted to see them in person. As we walked down St. Germain… DH suddenly realized that he couldn’t find his museum pass. As we were going to need it for the Louvre and the Arc, he definitely needed to go back for it. So the boys and I headed on while he went back.

    I really liked the museum, and will definitely put it on my list of places to go back and spend more time (!). The kids seemed to like the ‘everyday medieval stuff’ that we walked by. The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries were in their own ‘darkened’ room, and the boys were happy to look at them for a few minutes, and figure out which sense each one represented, but then they got a bit antsy (starting some low grade bickering, annyoing me, but more imporantly starting to break our ‘as long as you don’t bug anyone’ caveat). I gave them one chance, and then brought them out of the tapestry room, and found them each a bench (not near each other) and told them they had to sit there until Dad got there…
    Then I went back to enjoy the tapestries…

    I thought they were pretty amazing – I liked knowing a bit about the technical process from reading the book, and I found for me they were ‘simple’ enough that I wasn’t overwhelmed about where to look, but complex enough that I could search for details (is there a monkey in each of the tapestries?), and subtle enough for my imagination (‘Is she seducing the unicorn, or is the unicorn seducing her? And were they successful, or is the point that they weren’t?’) On each of the tapestries the bottom foot and a half or so had been damaged due to storage, and had been restored, but the quality of dye used in the restoration couldn’t match the quality of the original, so you can see the fade lines – a credit to the original craftsmanship. I really enjoyed them.

    When DH arrived about 15 minutes before closing, and the boys were released from their purgatory, 11 year old A commented on how being forced to sit on his assigned bench had meant he had been forced to look at the (non-Lady and the unicorn) tapestry in front of him… and he had really come to like it, so he took us back to it and pointed out the details he had liked. B also conceded that that wood carvings (alters?) he had been facing were also pretty cool… So maybe we need to add “forced bench confinement” to the list of techniques for exposing kids to art! DH just had time for a quick survey of the tapestries before time was up, and we were back on the road.

    Chilling in the Jardin des Tuileries
    It was a beautiful early evening as we headed over to the Louvre to visit Napoleon’s apartments, so we decided to pause and chillax in the Jardin des Tuilieries. This was the kind of thing that I had thought we would have more opportunities to do earlier in the week, but honestly the timing couldn’t have been better. We paused not too far from the front of the Arc du Triomphe du Carroussel and all got to indulge in doing some of ‘our favourite things’. The boys got the ok from us to have a run around in the hedges (not quite a maze, but good for mantracker/hide and seek/2 man tag), DH went off to photograph the Arc and other statues, and I picked up some croissants from the “Paul” van parked under the trees and sat down to people watch.

    In particular I watched the young African looking gentleman with the ring of Eiffel tower souvenirs, and the little cluster of guys doing the ‘tying a string around your finger’. My conclusions watching them… The ‘tying a string around your finger’ seemed like a better gig (or maybe just ‘staffed’ but more dynamic individuals). There was more interaction, and people tended to say ‘no’ rather than just ignore (though the individuals doing the approaching were more engaging). I would say that while I was watching, about one person in a dozen approached stopped and at least got started tying – and almost ½ of those who stopped ended up paying something for the ring, in sort of a “yep… you got me!” kind of way almost like they had lost a bet. The ones who didn’t pay were clearly confident in saying, no (generally with a smile) in a “we both know that I didn’t agree up front to pay for this” and extract themselves from the situation.

    As I watched the Eiffel tower seller, nobody even acknowledged him – people ebbed around him without looking so his existence didn’t even have impact of requiring someone to ‘step around him’. I wondered how it must feel if all day you are in contact with so many people, but with so little feedback that you even exist. I wondered where he came from, and how he ended up doing that job. What was his history that meant that doing that was better than any alternative available to him.
    I know that the advice when approached by ‘unsolicited street vendors’ is to avoid making eye contact, but I honestly found that I was able to look them in the eye, acknowledge them, but say no firmly, confidently, but pleasantly, and I never had a problem, and I felt better about it.
    So I sat there in the Paris sun, watching my kids play, aware of the fact that my blond, Canadian-born sons are extremely unlikely to ever find themselves in a situation where the best choice available to them would be the same best choice as was available to that Eiffel tower seller, and feeling very lucky…

    next… finishing off Friday with the Louvre and the Arc

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    Can you imagine that I have lived in Paris for more than 35 years and have never visited the Cluny?

    And yet, when I lived with my grandparents in Lorraine for a year, "La Dame et la Licorne" was a stamp that I used on letters to my parents. I absolutely loved that stamp and have never forgotten it.

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    (And posting that, for the first time I noticed that the tapestry is called "La Dame à la Licorne" and not "La Dame et la Licorne." That actually translates to "The Unicorn Lady" or "Lady and Unicorn" but not exactly to "The Lady and the Unicorn".

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    Amorino gets my vote! I'll be trying some next month at the shop near the Pantheon since we're staying there for a few days.

    I liked reading your thoughts about the vendors. I think your children will enjoy reading this trip report in the future.

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    Finishing off Day 8 – Friday June 12th

    Napoleon’s apartments and Louvre sculptures
    Our second time visiting the Louvre, again in the early evening of a late opening, with the primary purpose of seeing Napoleon’s apartments. We entered through the Carroussel entrance, but again, when we walked through the main entrance there was no real lineup for tickets or to get in. This time though we passed by a ‘baggage check’ desk – which also had no lineup, and were happy to leave our bag of books that we had brought to read at the Tower later.
    We really liked looking at the apartments – the opulence, imagining living and entertaining there (and wondering where the servants entrances were hidden!). It was a good bite-sized replacement for visiting a Versailles or other chateau or castle that was the perfect amount of ‘decadent lifestyle history’ for our particular family on this particular trip.

    After the apartments we wandered down to look at the sculpture. We really felt no pressure on this Louvre visit – like everything we were seeing was a ‘bonus’. Everyone enjoyed the sculptures – lots of good dramatic poses, lots of amazingly intricate details, and lots of space for us to move at our own pace and not have to battle crowds!

    We didn’t ‘clock watch’ on this visit, so we weren’t really aware of whether we were adhering to our 2 hour time limit (although technically, the visit to the apartments and the visit to the sculpture were such different experiences, that I think we would have raised an appeal to the travel referee for two 2 hour allocations…) so it was later than we expected by the time we headed out to go to the Arc.

    Arc du Triomphe
    The Arc was number 2 after the catacombs on B’s list of sites to visit.
    Please don’t tell anyone… but a key reason for this is that in the Wii game “Rayman Raving Rabbids 2” (which involves stupid amusing mini-games set in various international locations… including Paris) there is a mini-game when your character is on the top of the Arc du Triomphe… shakes up a bottle of pop… drinks it… and then burps… the ‘quality’ of your pop shaking determines the destructive power down a Paris street, which determines your score….
    (Yeah… I’m sorry…)

    Anyway… off to the Arc we went.

    This was the lineup that our museum pass saved us the most time – there was a line of at least 50 people waiting to get tickets, but we were able to just walk on up and start up the stairs to the top (added another 280ish to our step count!). It was a gorgeous night – the right amount of cloud cover to add drama to the views, but still give a nice sunset. This, like the Eiffel Tower on our first day, was a site that DH had been indifferent about visiting, but which captured his imagination (and photographic eye) and ended up being one of his top highlights of Paris. It was great to be able to end our last day of this part of our Paris visit with views – and the chance to see yet another new area of the city. DH lingered over his photo taking; the kids, after enjoying the views, the stairs, and the information presentations on the level just below the roof, were happily engaged under the arc playing the cardboard game they had received the night before for being kids at Leon de Bruxelles; and I got to do more people watching. We realized that it was 10pm when we saw the sparkling lights on the Eiffel Tower. We were getting tired and realized we were hungry, so decided not to do the Champ du Mars / Eiffel tower watching tonight and to plan to do it when we returned to Paris after our week in the south. (we chose not to dwell on the fact that we had just lugged those books around for no reason!)

    A late evening snack meal, and how to impress my kids
    Rather than hunt around for something to eat, we decided to return home via the Saint Paul metro stop, where we knew that as well as our favourite Chinese traiteur (which we figured would be still open at this time on a Friday night) there was a bar/restaurant that had a crepe stand outside. And when we arrived, yep, both places were open and busy. So DH headed off to get some Chinese, and I lined up for the crepes. There was a three piece ‘band’ in the bar playing good jazzy covers of songs like Purple Rain.
    (Leely2 – this story is for you!) As I stood waiting for my crepes (2 Nutella crepes for the kids, and a cheese and mushroom for me), a tall, barrel-chested 30-something (tipsy?) Frenchman saunter-swaggered up to the crepe stand and rested his elbow on the giant Nutella jar at the corner of the stand. He savoured his cigarette, nodding his head in time to the music, and shot me the pseudo-sultry once-over equivalent of Joey from Friend’s saying “how yoo doin’…”. I smiled back at him and he continued to groove to the tunes with studied nonchalance. B came running up to ask about the status of his crepe, and A joined him to ask if they were getting drinks as well. I answered their questions, and looked up at ‘my frenchman’ who continued to smile, and then asked “zos ah your cheeldren?”; I smiled and nodded, and he smiled, tilted his head and nodded back… and then slowly saunter-swaggered back into the bar.. :-) For some reason this incident really impressed my kids (A in particular) and joined the ‘remember the socks’ anecdote as one they will bring up from time to time as a ‘memory of France’…

    So we sat on a bench eating our late night snack suppers, enjoying the music from the bar, and feeling this had been a very satisfying way to spend our last day of this part of our trip.

    next… Fast forward to our return to Paris a week later

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    Thank you Canada_V for this wonderful trip report. We are a family of 4 (kids are 13/15) in B.C. who will be leaving for 1 week in Paris and 2 weeks in Normandy/Brittany at the end of July. You have us checking this forum daily - to see what happens next! All your 'kid' tales ring so true - although our kids are older - they will still be battling over the Ikea beds - and thanks to you we will know that the pharmacies will patch them up! I also relate to the purchase of the scarf - except in my situation - I'll be wearing it to lacrosse/soccer games! Thanks for taking the time to write - you have us all even more excited for our big trip!

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    We left Paris on Saturday June 13th from Gare du Lyon, and spent a very enjoyable week based out of Agde in Languedoc.
    (That week is covered in a separate trip report “Our family of 4 in Languedoc”)

    Back in Paris – Saturday June 20th

    Greeting an old friend

    When planning the trip, we had gone through several different scenarios including adding a couple of days in the Alps and flying out of Geneva; driving through the Dordogne and flying back from Bordeaux; taking the Eurostar back to London and having a few days there. We decided to return to Paris because there were more and cheaper flight options, and I cannot tell you how glad we were that we did!!

    We really enjoyed Agde, and were sad to leave, but every one of us was absolutely excited to be going back to Paris for two nights. When we arrived, we were so full of confidence and a feeling of returning to visit an old friend (even though we had only been gone a week, and had only just ‘met that friend’ the week before). Even though we were going to stay in a different apartment in a different neighbourhood, we ‘knew’ how to work the metro, and we ‘knew’ where we would look for something to eat, and we ‘knew’ that if something didn’t go quite right, that we had the skills to figure it out. I really hope that we get the chance to visit Paris again, but even if we don’t, we will still have had that feeling of ‘returning’ – something I wouldn’t have guessed would have felt so good!

    The new apartment
    When we decided we would be returning to Paris for a couple of days, we thought it would be a good idea to ‘bookend’ our trip with a bike tour. We had done the Fat Tire Day tour on our first day in France, so planned to do the Fat Tire Night tour on our last night (well, almost last night). So with that in mind, we wanted to stay somewhere relatively close to the office, as the tour ended at around 11pm.
    Originally, I had booked a relatively inexpensive hotel near the Eiffel tower, (though putting a family of 4 into a 100E a night hotel makes it a 200E a night hotel!). Reading a random Fodor’s post, someone had posted a link to an apartment in the Eiffel tower (and I always liked checking out apartment links – long after I was looking for my own!) which looked very nice… and was available for short stays of a minimum of 2 nights in June… and was available for the 2 nights we would be staying there! At 120E per night (plus a short stay cleaning fee of 50E) it was cheaper, quieter, nicer, and had the bonus over a hotel of a fully equipped kitchen! It also met my requirement of a responsive and easy to work with contact person – Anne sent us a contract, but because it was such a short period of time squished between fully booked weeks, she didn’t require a deposit – said we could just pay for everything when we arrived.

    The location was perfect for what we needed as it was also a very short walk from the Metro that would take us to the RER to CDG on Monday morning. It had a big comfy bed, and a very comfy sofa bed (and I am a very fussy sleeper…). The bed configuration wouldn’t have suited our family all that well for the full week we were there earlier, but it perfect for these 2 ‘late nights’ that we were ending our trip on.
    The apartment itself was absolutely terrific – and if it were just DH and I the next time we would definitely consider returning to it. It had a newly ‘fitted’ feel (renovated in 2006) with cool “perfectly fitted for a small apartment” features like well designed closest space, mini, modern sinks, deceptively spacious apartment sized fridge, stove and microwave. It also had ‘period feature charm’ (I sound like I am on one of the real estate shows on HGTV!) wood floors, fireplace, high ceilings. It had a very ‘upscale’ feel with no fussiness.
    It was on the 5th floor of the building, with one of those teeny tiny “squeezed into the middle of the already compact stairwell” elevators that fit the two kids and the two carryons (but only if the kids coordinated their breathing so that didn’t both inhale at the same time!)
    We could just see the tip of the Eiffel tower out of one window, which overlooked a large courtyard/park. The area had a quiet, ‘urban professional’ kind of feel. Because both the Isle Saint Louis apartment, and the house we had staying in Agde had been very different from each other, but perfect for us each in their own way, we were completely ready to be if not disappointed, then at least underwhelmed by this last apartment, but it was also absolutely perfect for what we needed - DH said it liked it best of all! (Thanks ChicagoDallasGirl!)

    next… bookending our visit with Bike tours

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    Saturday June 20th cont

    Fat Tire Night tour

    Our original plan had been to do the Fat Tire Bike Night tour on our very last night in Paris, but because that last night would be June 21st, which was the Fete du la Musique, it was one of only two nights in the summer that Fat Tire doesn’t run a night tour (the other being Bastlle Day). But that was fine, we decided to do the tour on the Saturday night that we arrived back (our penultimate night in Paris!). By doing both, we got a discounted rate on the night tour - but we didn’t have to commit to doing both right from the start to get a reduced rate, we just got an ‘extra reduced’ price on the night tour, to end up with a “lower than the two added together” combo price.

    Because we had all really enjoyed the first bike tour, we were all looking forward to the night tour. The only concern that DH and I had was that the kids had really liked the tour guide we’d had for the day tour, and we feared that they were whichever guide we got was going to have trouble living up to their mythologized picture of Rohan. But we pulled out the same parenting techniques relevant to the “spin” required in a scenario such as “ Santa was asked for a Wii, but Santa’s helpers were unable to find the appropriate retail partner to handle that request, so let’s position how great an air hockey table would be instead…”, and I think did a good job of preparing them for the fact that there were lots of different guides, all with different schedules, so this time it wouldn’t be Rohan, but it would still be fun.

    We grabbed some yummies from the various traiteurs and bakeries around the apartment and had a quick apartment supper before heading out to the bike tour. The tours meet at the Eiffel Tower, but we knew from past experience (and felt so cool having past experience!) that they would start off by coming back to the office, and we knew the office was closer to our apartment then the tower, so we just went straight there. Stepped into the office, and there was Rohan! “Hey Rohan!” said the kids… “Um, kids…” said us “Rohan would have met hundreds of people doing tours in the 2 weeks since we were here… he won’t remember us…” But to the kids delight… he remembered their names and everything. “Are you working tonight? Can we be on your tour?” It was a busy night in bike tour land, and there were 4 different night tours going off at staggered times, so the coordinator guy in the office cell phoned over to the guides who were already at the tower, and arranged for 4 places in Rohan’s tour to be set aside – and we were good to go! Rohan told DH that as an Ass-man alumni (the sobriquet of Ass-man being bestowed on the participant who agrees to act as the last rider on a Fat Tire Bike tour) he could decide if he WANTED to be Ass-man again, or if he DIDN’T want to. DH agreed to take it on, and we hung around at the office until the rest of our tour arrived from the Tower.

    It was a bigger group then the first time (we actually noticed that even just a week later then we had been there before, more tourists seemed to have arrived) – I would say about 25 people. The group was 2/3 Americans, a few from Australia, a couple from Ireland, a pair of girls from Korea and a smattering of others. Aside from my kids, the ages seemed to range from 20’s to 60+ and everything in between – some people on their own, some couples, a few groups or families of 3 or 4. I would say that either tour would be a very comfortable thing for someone travelling alone to do, because it was easy to chat to other people if you wanted to (though you didn’t have to), and the group both times flowed sort of ‘organically’ so you wouldn’t be obviously ‘the person on their own’ (if that mattered).

    The tour itself was a similar blend of bike, stop-and-talk, bike a bit more, stop-and-talk as the first tour, but it started out with a much longer – almost ½ hour – ride. Among other places, we made stops at the Pont des Arts (where we watched the police walking through the groups of “picnickers” as apparently a ban on bringing wine to your Pont des Arts picnic had recently been imposed!) and stopped at the Pont Saint Louis between the two islands – where we had Berthillion ice cream (though we were smug in the knowledge that we were eating at an outlet, and not the ‘flagship’ store where we had eaten our first Berthillion. And DH used his ‘knowledge of the land’ to make the dash down rue Saint Louis en l’isle to get some Amorino Limone instead!). The tour ended with a Bateau Mouches boat tour – where tour goers were provided with (albeit cheap :-)) wine to drink. Again, Rohan was great with the kids, in addition to doing his tour guide duties. It seemed like a harder tour to “manage” as there was more ‘street biking’ involved, and the larger group was tougher to keep together. Once again, the kids were called upon to nominate a “well known herding animal” for the group to emulate in order to keep together. The kids came up with hybrid “Elephant-tigers” (which was later shortened by the group to the more classy “Elegers”) and were enlisted in tasks like helping lock up all the bikes at the boat tour. At the end of the tour, the kids wanted to get t-shirts, and it turned out the night tour ass-man gets a complimentary t-shirt (as the job is even more important on the evening tour!), so the boys all got Rohan to sign their shirt.

    So the bike tours were a highlight of our visit. We looked like tourists doing it, because were were being tourists in every sense of the word! I was really happy with how the tours worked into our itinerary. The Day tour was more “informative” and the night tour was more “fun” – but both were a bit of both. I don’t think I would recommend doing both on the same day – it would dilute the experience of the actual biking. But the way we did it – with the day tour waking us up and orienting us on the first day, and the night tour “summarizing” our trip on the (almost) last day, and giving us a chance to work the boat tour in as well, was perfect :-)).

    next… our last day in Paris…

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    I am still thoroughly enjoying reading about all your adventures! How lucky to get Rohan again too! The new apt looks beautiful. On our trip 2 years ago we stayed in one hotel in the 7th, then went to Normandy, and when we returned we stayed in the 1st. I really liked staying in 2 different areas on one trip. BTW, one of our neighbor kids looks like your older son so I keep thinking it's him, lol!

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    Great report; loved the story about the scarf and also seeing your photos. You really accomplished a lot during your time in Paris; what wonderful memories for your whole family.

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    I really don't want your trip report to end. It was delightful reading tonight after a really long day at work. I'm so glad you enjoyed the Cluny. It was an unexpected pleasure when we visited.

    Kerouac, the Lady Unicorn awaits.

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    Thanks again to everyone!

    mms - that's cute about your neighbour's son looking like my son :-) We found his long hair was even more of a rare thing in Paris then it is here. Anytime we saw a boy or teenager with long hair... they turned out to be part of a US tour group!

    grandmere - I loved your trip report about your visit with your grand-daughter (we took a 'kids with a giant Nutella jar' too!)

    Scootoir - I don't want it to end either! (for the short term, I still have the Languedoc part to finish up, but the two Paris parts together seemed like their own trip)

    Thanks again to everyone who has been following along and posting your comments!

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    I also really appreciated your thoughts about the vendors. I would hate doing that to make money. It's a hardscrabble life for many people, isn't it?

    Now off to view your pics and check out the Languedoc report.

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    Sunday June 21st
    Last day in Paris :-(

    At the market
    I started off the morning fulfilling one of my unrealized goals from our first visit to Paris. I had my perfect Parisien market experience.

    The Marché Motte-Picquet Grenelle by the metro Dupliex, which was the closest to our ‘apartment in the 15th’, was underway and gorgeous when I got there (up early for a stroll as the boys slept!). And I had a mission – fruit and something baked for breakfast, and a selection of shareables for supper (as it was Sunday, I knew that many of the traiteurs , boulangeries etc were quite likely to be closed.) So I walked the length of the market to scope it out – noted with curiosity that some of the fish stands had a long queue, while others none at all. I wasn’t in the market for fresh fish, but I wondered what the difference was (to my un-discerning eye, all the fish stalls looked fresh and beautifully arranged). Having check out all the stalls,I was ready to shop my way back. And so I did - filling the good old string bag with strawberries, raspberries, a couple of apples, some croissants, a couple of creamy tarty looking things (plus one to test!), a little piece of pate, took a chance on a little ball of goat cheese (not too smelly), a serving of paella to reheat for supper, some slices of ham, a couple of ‘stuffed crab thingies to heat up’, a piece of roast rabbit and some ‘chicken wings’ (in quotations because they were just the yummy mini-drumsticks and not the ‘who-is-anyone-kidding-that-these-are- anything-but-BBQ –sauce-holders’ wingy parts), and other stuff that caught my fancy. Because we didn’t have any significant structured agenda for this day – the only things we needed to accomplish today (before our date with the tower sparkles at midnight) were getting teacher gifts and buying another copy of the Half-Blood Prince for my voraciously reading 8 year old, (again deciding that spending the 15E on a book we already had was much better than spending 7 hours on a plane with a ‘I have nothing to read’ B!) So I was able to wander the market with no ticking clock, no gun to my head. My mouth watered, it was so much fun, and for some reason, this is one of the activities that made me feel truly ‘in Paris’. I loved it.

    We bought Moblis / Jeune weekend transit day passes for today. DH had said the only thing he wanted to take a photo of that he hadn’t visited yet was the ‘mini’ statue of liberty by the Pont du Grenelle. We probably could have walked, but hopped on the metro for the short dash. While DH took some pictures, the kids and I debated what technique was used in the 2nd Nicolas Cage “National Treasure” movie (for those cultured film buffs in the crowd…) to have a shot of Nicolas’s character and his side kick talking to French bike cops, flying a remote control helicopter over the Statue, with the Eiffel Tower dominating the background. We searched for angles, but couldn't figure it out. So we concluded they just cheated… but I digress…

    For teacher gifts, A had decided that he wanted to get a scarf for his teacher, and B wanted to get his an Eiffel Tower souvenir. For the former, we wanted to make our way back to Isle Saint Louis (oh… and hey… since we are going to be there anyway… maybe we could get some Amorino ice cream!) so we decided to get to a bus stop, get on the first bus – without checking where it went – and try and ‘random’ our way back to the general area. Worked pretty well, and it only took 3 semi-random bus changes to get to a familiar part of St Germain. We decided to get out in front of the Cluny and grab some lunch. Again, we are now old pros, so I went to the crepe stand we had gone on our very first day in Paris and got the same chevre and walnut crepe that I had enjoyed then; B joined me and ordered himself a hotdog (single, not double this time… no mustard… and WITH fromage for him); DH went off in search of a doner kebab with fries; and B headed to McDonald’s to order himself a couple of burgers. We all met back in the park/playground behind the Cluny where we had eaten that first day and enjoyed our lunch, and the symmetry of it, and the feeling of how we were different people then we had been two week! (I know… I know… different people is more dramatic than is merited, but still, in this context we all felt we had grown).

    Point Zero, and a return to the Islands
    Before making our way to ‘our old stomping grounds’ of Isle Saint Louis, we needed to make a stop. Having learned that “those who stand on Point Zero are destined to return to Paris” we felt we had to make the pilgrimage. So we made our way to the front of Notre Dame, and got the photographic evidence that we will get back. (my kids then needed to get their pictures taking pretending to be sucked in the vortex of Point Zero… but whatever…). We hadn’t been into Notre Dame our first time around, and although the square in front of the cathedral seemed MUCH busier then when we had been there just a week ago (though I will also say that the weather was clearer as well – no rumour of rain hainging over), the lineup to go in was moving very quickly. When we got inside, we realized that there was also a mass going on, so we ‘did the circuit’ and admired that beauty of the structure, but were struck by the same odd feeling of being part of the sea of tourists circulating around the people at worship that we had experienced two weeks before at Sacre Coeur. Having just come back from Languedoc and learning a bit about Cathar history also added another perspective to the overall as well.

    We made our way over to the bridge between the islands – pausing for a bit to enjoy the first of our “Fete du Musique” sampling – a sort of bluesy quintet singing “Them There Eyes”.
    Stopped next for an Amorino fix (coffee and coconut and pistachio and lemon and yum, yum, yum)

    And then to “Mum’s scarf store” to get A’s teacher gift. She’s a particularly favourite teacher (a tiny lady with high expectations and a great sense of humour) and I am impressed at the effort that A takes in picking out the scarf. He goes with the same ‘design’ as mine, but with fewer greens and more blues for his blue eyed blond haired teacher. It is not our same ‘scarf shop lady’, but a geniel young man. A does the actual buying of the scarf, but asks me to come to the counter with him, and makes an obvious gesture of giving the little bag before we leave. I ask him why he did that, and he said because he was doing the buying, and because of his long hair, that he thought the shopkeeper might have thought he was a girl buying it for himself, so he wanted to make it look like he was buying it for me ;-)

    post script – his teacher loved it, and apparently he did a really good job of recounting the story of me buying mine, and of demonstrating some of the ways to tie it! We’ve just found out that he will have the same teacher again next year – so we will watch to see if she wears it!!

    next… Fete du Musique and the twinkling tower

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    I was so afraid your tale would end tonight--sigh of relief and yet I want to hear it all. Truly one of the best trip reports I have come across. It's uniquely your visit but reading it still brings back memories of my own visits to Paris.

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    Sunday June 21st continued

    Fete du Musique
    We didn’t have any specific ‘plans’ around the Fete du Musique, but thought it would make a nice ‘backdrop’ to our wanderings. By the afternoon, we found ourselves stumbling across random bands and musicians all over. We had yet to see the Luxembourg gardens, so we decided to make our way over there on this beautiful afternoon.

    We picked a bus that brought us near to Eglise Saint Sulpice and stopped by there first for a quick look. There were only a few other people in the church at the time, so it actually turned out to be the most ‘churchly’ feeling church we visited. DH and I had both read the da Vinci code back when it was “all the rage” and both recalled something about the Rose line, but weren’t avid enough DaVinci code aficionados to know what we should be looking for :-) I thought the organ was awesome – I remembered reading in other trip reports about people going to organ recitals or concerts here, and added that to my ‘look into for next time’ list!

    We passed through a ‘poetry fair’ (who knew such a thing existed!) on our way to the Luxembourg Gardens. Arriving at the ‘top end’ of the gardens, by the palace, everyone was struck by how ‘formal’ they were – how every activity seemed to have a ‘slot’ and how there were lots of ‘gravelly areas’ but no inviting grassy areas. The kids sort of looked for some places to check out and ‘run and play’ but the formality (combined with how busy it was – no overly crowded, but too many people to realistically stay within the bounds of our “without bugging other people” rule. We watched men play chess for a bit; wandered between a couple of different bluesy, 50’s rock type bands; wandered down to the ‘kids can play here’ area. B took a turn driving a go cart type thing up and down a section of graveled area – he really enjoyed it, and I think A was vacillating between feeling too big to do it, wanting to do it just because his brother was, and wanted to do it because it looked fun. We then moved over to a giant playground that was packed with kids. Actually it was a ‘fenced’ playground with an entry charge – so we decided to pay for the kids to go in and play, and DH and I sat outside the fence to listen to a jazzy classical type combo.

    Not too long after the kids had gone in, A found his way out an came to sit by us. We probed a bit, and A confessed that he was feeling sort of sad in a weird way. B was happy frolicking in the playground by himself - he was more the right age of the kids in there and therefore able to do that combination of playing by himself while drifting in and out of temporary shared experience type ‘friendships’ as needed with other 8 year olds that seems to be a universal skillset at a certain age. A and I went over to watch a group of men playing boules (the first opportunity we had had!), but found it didn’t hold us for too long – the markings on the balls were too subtle for us to tell who was ‘winning’ a given shot; we wanted the colour coding of curling stones! So we chatted about having ‘end of the trip funk’ feelings; “If I’m not doing something amazing right now, we are pretty much as good as gone home, so I just want to be home then”. I told him that I hadn’t thought about work all trip (hurray!), except that sitting there in the park I had started to think “I’m back at work on Tuesday… I wonder how things stand with that thing and this thing”. We were sad the trip was over, but we also felt 'satisfied', so we didn’t feel the desperate need to do anything in particular before we went, so instead there was room for a touch of melancholy to seep in. I think that talking through that we both felt in the same boat kind of cheered us both up a bit, but we decided we both needed to either be doing something or doing nothing, and that what we were doing was neither of those two things…

    So we collected the other two and all agreed that we should go and do our final “mission” and get B his book, and then head back to the apartment, get all packed up for the departure tomorrow (not an onerous task as we had only been there for a day!) and with no pressure to do anything else but read, chill and eat. Then we could wander out to see the tower when we were all ready to, without worrying that we were ‘missing out on something’. So that is what we did!

    Random music and The sparkly tower
    Well fed and well rested, we headed out to make our way slowly to the Champ du Mars, intending to drift from “musician” to “musician” until we tired of that. And so we did. It was actually a very nice, low key, low pressure way to mellow through our last evening. We came across a variety of musicians – mostly covering familiar English language songs; Goth/Emo type rock; a porkpie hat wearing ska band; a strangely ‘hybridly generic’ first nations type duo (Plains Indian dress, with bamboo pan flutes); a foursome of middle-aged Frenchmen doing Simple Minds covers; and the families favourite – a rousing French gospel choir where one of the singers split off and morphed into a (to our best translating abilities) a sort of ‘gospel themed, hip hop rap guy’.

    Once we actually got to the Champ du Mars and the tower, for some reason there were hardly any musicians (we had expected that the park in front of the tower to be full of music, but it wasn’t). That’s ok though, we were there to see the tower, and that we were able to do. We went under the tower and bought B’s teacher his choice of a Eiffel Tower souvenir ‘teacher gift’ and took some ‘the tower at night’ pictures, then walked back to the grass to get ready for the sparkles.

    DH and I sat on the grass and just people watched, while the kids went over to play on one of the ‘climbing frame playgrounds’ at the side of the Champ du Mars. The park was full of groups of ‘young people’ - definitely most of them seemed like French young people as opposed to tourists – with their picnics and wine. I would say though that while half the groups had a ‘ah, yes, this is Paris’ picnic of baguettes and cheeses, plus chips and salads and misc, the other half had McDonald bags. As this was our last romanticized night in Paris, we chose to only look at the picnics . The kids finished playing, and we all gathered on the lawn, the tower sparkled, we ooo’d and ahhh’d and got a peaceful feeling of closure on our trip. B was sleepy enough that he didn’t need much convincing that the 11pm sparkle we had just seen was just as good as the 1am one he had been lobbying for, and we made our way contentedly back to the apartment.

    with a whimper, not a bang
    Up and out by 7am
    RER to the airport with no problem
    Breezed through checkin – the only mistake we made was that with no ‘checked in’ luggage, we hadn’t handled our bottle of wine from Languedoc properly, so had to leave it at the security desk on the way in...
    Hung around the airport for another 2 hours; on the plane… delayed an hour taking off
    Uneventful flight – though as DH said, it’s too bad that the trip couldn’t end with something other than a plane ride; like a train ride or a boat ride instead (ignoring, of course, geographic impossibilities…)
    because an economy flight to Paris
    is a flight to Paris,
    but an economy flight back is just an economy flight.

    Home at last – “Hello house!” from B
    no breakins, no water damage, no worries

    Happy to be home… but sad we had to leave

    but at least now… we too, will always have Paris

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    OMG, we were at some of the same places as you and your family on that Sunday:) I was amazed at how many people were in the front of Notre Dame that day. We have been there many times and never seen it as busy as that. Also had Amorino:) And all the music that day. BTW, our kids were 7 and 10 the first time we took them. So your report really brings back a lot of those memories.

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    I loved going to Paris with you Canada_V! Your last photo under the tour Eiffel with your kids is beautiful, also enjoyed seeing the boys and dh with their t shirts- their faces are radiant.

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    . . . because an economy flight to Paris
    is a flight to Paris,
    but an economy flight back is just an economy flight

    So true, so true.

    Thank you Canada_V for allowing us to join you and your family on this trip. It was a delight. May you have many return trips to Paris and be able to greet her as an old friend.

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    Thanks again mms, Efoss, Scootair, and to everyone who posted as part of this process! I was sad the trip was over, and now I'm sort of sad the trip report is over too!

    I would definitely say to anyone who is hesitating about writing a trip report to do it!

    Don't worry about whether or not people will 'like it' or not; don't worry if you not sure what style to use, or if you have an interesting 'content' - just write what is interesting to you! The only people who are going to post replies are going to be people who have something nice to say (anyone who doesn't like the style or content just won't read it, and you will never know :-) so who cares! ) And SOMEBODY is going to read it - and it made a huge difference to me in actually being able to finish fleshing out my notes (I know I would have run out of steam all by myself!) knowing that there was at least someone who was going to notice if I stopped ;-)

    And I also had thought that some things were too 'specific to us... who would care?' (like the scarf story) but I included them anyway because I had decided to do the trip report to make sure I actually completed the 'story' for myself. So I would say that there is always going to be someone who will be happy to read it - because even if the story itself isn't 'interesting', it will probably help someone recall their trip to wherever, and they are going to be genuinely glad that your trip report helped them do that! (or that's how I am interpreting it...)

    By writing the trip report, I got to enjoy my week in Paris for an extra 2 weeks! So again... if you are hesitating for whatever reason... go for it!
    I will also renew my vow to always comment on the reports I read, because it was always encouraging to know someone was reading (even if it was just a note saying 'hey, I'm reading your report!).

    So thanks to everyone... and I am so excited to have now 'graduated' through Fodor's lurker to question asker to trip reporter to now be fully qualified to be a question responder!
    "well, in answer to your question about taking the RER from the CDG, when we went last June, this is what we did..."

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    I am so glad you wrote this report, personal anecdotes and all. Everyday I would make certain to tune in to the latest installment (the laundry and housework got done eventually). Your writing style is lovely and I wonder if you have done any writing professionally. We could never afford to travel when our boys were young but three years ago we took the youngest (at that time he was 27 and had just graduated from the U of A--finally!!) with us to Singapore to witness his older brother graduating from grad school. We had the most wonderful 2 weeks ever and it is something that we all will remember. Your scarf story reminded me of going shopping with both boys, the oldest ones girlfriend, and my husband--at times frustrating because of their 4 different opinions but for the most part so much fun. Thanks for taking us along on your journey!

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    Thanks so much decee (and no professional writing by me - unless performance reviews and project proposals count :-? but thanks!)
    I'm glad you got to travel with your boys eventually (better to be able to do it with him at 27 then not at all!). Unless our life changes dramatically, there won't be more European vacations in our near future, so I am very appreciate of the fact we had this chance (and am therefore being extra diligent about making sure I record it 'properly'!) Thanks again for reading, and commenting!!

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    ...awwwww. It had to end.

    Every few days I would log on and check to see if you had written something new.

    So true about the "end of a trip" blues/blahs! It happens to me every trip, even when it isn't Paris.

    Great TR, and I still think it is the best I have read for 2009 on any site!

    Many thx,

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    Thanks Jay :-)
    DH and I were just talking about the 'end of the trip' blues part last night. The night time bike tour had been such a fun 'high' we were saying whether it would have been better to have been going home the next day - but we concluded that it had been nice to have a sort of low key day on that last Sunday to sort of 'reflect' and wind down!

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    hey canada_v,

    i'm sad your trip report has ended ... it was nice to start my work days off with an uplifting read!

    but i also share you downer of leaving paris ... normally, DH and i are READY to come home from a trip ... but not from paris! one of the rare places in the world where i feel like i belong (other than my home town)...

    thanks for sharing your report.

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    Thanks lilaki!

    I think of myself as a "why would I go back somewhere I've already been... I don't get to travel that much" kind of gal, but I honestly left Paris going "this could be the only place I travel back to and I would be happy!".

    My car antennae broke off... so my commute now consists of dream-planning various return trip itineraries - day dreams in the form of imaginary Fodor's trip reports... 'Our family of 4 returns to Paris'

    or how about 'My week of solo dining in Paris'

    or if I decide to bring DH along...
    'What better place for a 2nd honeymoon then Paris'

    or inspired by mms and abranz and others
    'My son has graduated... So I took him to Paris!'

    or my personal favourite...
    'How I put my lottery winnings to good use travelling through France'

    And lilaki - are you planning to go to the T.O. GTG? We can talk Vimy trip itineraries!

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    All good reasons to return to Paris. I am looking ahead to my "I have retired and am spending a few weeks in a Paris flat" trip. Unfortunately the "SYMB" account (also known as Save Your Money Buster) took a real dive in the past year.

    I hope to one day read your return trip report Canada_V.

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    What a wonderful trip report! I had put it aside for about 12 days because I've been on my own adventure (moving permanently to a house in SW France). It's a rainy, drippy morning here so I've enjoyed catching up with your family; I feel as if I know you after your report.

    Great photos as well--highlights for me were the Canadian WWI memorial, Cluny/Unicorn Lady as I love them both and the scarf story (reminded me that I have too many which I don't wear often enough). Years ago, when the franc was 10 to the US dollar, I bought a Hermes scarf--that purchase was an adventure in itself.

    You've also made me realize I need to start a report about our move--it has been and will be an on-going adventure.

    Thanks again.

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    Thank you for sharing your wonderful adventures in Paris. I especially appreciated the photos, historical content and detail.

    I will celebrate my 60th in Paris in September. You have encouraged me to do MORE preparation,especially historical and find a way to preplan some bus routes. Unfortunately will not have immediate internet/computer access.

    Still trying to decide about the purchase of a smaller digital camera. Your photos are great and I wonder if you would be willing to share the make etc. of camera. I may not have your skill, but a good camera will be a good start. :)

    Warm thanks from Vancouver.


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    Hey Jan - Sounds great! Is it your first visit to Paris, or a return visit?

    For the bus information you should go to Robespierre's post

    He includes specific instructions about looking up the bus routes, and finding and printing the pdf for the routes you want to use.
    On the link above the 67 is the bus route - you can either look up the routes based on Robespierres instructions, or randomly replace the 67 with different numbers to see what shows up (like I did!)
    The following link shows the schedule
    Again, replace the 67 with another bus route number to get its schedule.

    For the camera - we bought a Canon Rebel SLR with a telephoto especially for the trip (I will post the exact model later tonight!). DH really wanted the additional telephoto lens (and made good use of it) but if it were just me, I would have been fine with the 'non-SLR' Canon model (again I have my notes at home, and will post them tonight!)

    One key thing though was DH got a camera bag called a "Lowepro OffTrail" which was absolutely perfect.
    It connected using a waist strap, so he didn't have to wear the 'camera necklace'. It was a waist strap, not a 'belt connector' (i.e. a bag that connected to your own belt) so it meant that we could easily transfer it between us if we needed. And it had detachable side pouches, so he could put the extra lens in one, other stuff in the other, but most days he just brought the camera with the single central pouch. It was secure and kept his hands free. He loved it!,1980,7.htm

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    A sunny hello from Vancouver,

    Thanks so much for your prompt reply! Regarding cameras, I was afraid that a telephoto would be involved. :(

    As I am walking the Camino Primitivo, then the Camino Ingles to Santiago de Compostela after leaving Paris (yes, my first time to explore Paris; did have an overnight there in 2006), I am loath to add any more weight - should be walking with 10% of body weight. This is the prime reason I want to "lighten" my camera from my older Nikon version that was really too heavy on my waist belt. Great suggestion about the camera pouch - I agree about the ready access. Perhaps I will have to choose a non-SLR model. O'but I do miss the wonderful close ups I used to achieve with my aged 35mm. As in all things, will have to choose - for me, it comes down to weight.

    I love that you are a minimalist - with 2 sets of clothes, raingear, first aid stuff etc. for my Camino journey, I have pared down "need" to necessity. I do include a scarf, tho'. :)

    I appreciate the bus information, will sift and sort and print off some stuff. Without ready computer access in Paris, will need to do this ahead of time.

    Warm thanks,

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    Wow! I finally had a chance to finish your wonderful Paris report and am totally overwhelmed. You write so well and your family did such interesting things. Even though we were there the same rainy week as you and went to many of the same places, we had quite different experiences.

    I loved the scarf story and the museum visits and your culinary experiences as we ate oput rarely too. We have been to emergency departments all over the world with our son when he was young so I can relate to the blood adventure. My almost 11 year old grandson is growing his hair long too, like hockey players, he says, so it might be a hockey thing with your son too.

    I am inspired to put my notes together to describe our trip but also intimidated because you report was so wonderful.

    I hope you plan to come to the Toronto GTG in September. Please check out the GTG thread on the Canada forum and contact me if you can. I'd love to meet you and DH and A and B are welcome too!

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    Hi Moolyn -
    Thanks so much for your comments :-) I would highly reccommend you going through the exercise of doing a trip report from your notes - I had planned this trip for so long that I really fear "post-partum depression" when I returned, but the act of doing the trip report helped extend my trip and eased the transition to real life! And don't be intimidated by the process (though I know and empathize with exactly what you mean!) - just write it however you want to, and look at is as writing it for yourself. If anyone wants to tag along they can, but you are under no obligation to make it 'entertaining' for anyone else in particular - and the only people who will comment are people who are enjoying it!

    I am definitely planning to go to the Toronto GTG - though right now I am working to juggle 2 other big things scheduled for that day (isn't that always how it goes!) which means the rest of my posse definitely won't be able to go - but I am pretty sure I will be able to (I will follow-up via the Canada thread...)

    Looking forward to reading your report (I really liked reading the ones that take place at the same time as we were there!)


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    TTT for anyone needing a "Paris Fix"

    Just came across this and REALLY enjoyed your report! Thanks!

    I laughed out loud several times and it (almost) made me wish my boys were young again so we could discover Paris together. Though we did do Paris in a family trip a few years back, they were adults...not the same experience, but great nonetheless.

    Kerouac: did you ever get to the Cluny museum yet?!

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    So many of us love to read trip reports about Paris, and yours was a joy with all of the details. You let us relive our time spent there. =D>

    My vote also goes to Amorino----yummmmmm!

    The scarf story was so cute. A great memory for your family at a low cost.

    Favorite photo---your boys with "The Thinker".

    kerouac-----that Orangina commercial was fantastic!

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    I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed your report. I want to borrow your boys for my next trip.

    I especially liked your day out at Vimy. We have visited the WWI battlefields and cemeteries several time. We made a special effort to find an uncle's grave outside Albert. At Vimy, the very knowledgeable young Canadian guide pointed out that we were probably walking on the same ground as another uncle, who happened to be on a visit to Canada from the UK when war broke out and was one of the first enlistees in the Princess Particia"s CLI. We also just happened upon the name of Uncle Tom's best friend , Lt Agar, on the wall at Menin Gate. What a wonderful learning experience for your boys.

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    Forgot to mention I have also been reading the Sebastian Faulks trilogy of which Birdsong is the first book. The description of the trenches and the warfare can almost be too much to comprehend.

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    Canada_V I wanted to say "Thank you!" for your report. I printed it out a couple of years ago and just re-read it as prep for my upcoming trip to Paris with my daughter. Thoroughly enjoyable and informative.

    Thank you :)

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    I have read - and loved - every word of your report. Thank you!
    We are planning a trip for September, and my girls are the same ages as your boys were when you were there. I am very excited!
    Off to track down your Languedoc report too.

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