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The Trip to London and Paris with Three Kids

The Trip to London and Paris with Three Kids

Mar 23rd, 2011, 12:43 PM
  #41  
 
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Always frites and no crepes? Bad mom!
analogue is offline  
Mar 27th, 2011, 06:07 AM
  #42  
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mebe, it's fun to see what your kids did and what hits and misses were! keep plugging.

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

analogue, we had crepes on at least one visit - but the kids never really got into them. Surprising, I know! Maybe next time ?
surfmom is offline  
Mar 27th, 2011, 06:26 AM
  #43  
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Day 8 - Thursday - A Day of Tours (no, not the city)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: how do cars drive in that traffic circle?
surfmom is offline  
Mar 27th, 2011, 07:47 AM
  #44  
cw
 
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Every trip has good and bad days. You and your family handle them well. I'm still following along and love your writing and sense of humor. For example: "you aren’t stuck dealing with some other families’ knuckleheads – only your immediate knuckleheads." Perfect!
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Mar 27th, 2011, 08:06 AM
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I'm so glad you're adding more.
pavot is offline  
Mar 27th, 2011, 09:36 AM
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Great report!
CarolA is offline  
Mar 27th, 2011, 05:44 PM
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cw, pavot, CarolA, thanks for the kind words.

We all have our moments - good and bad. Upcoming next is one of my favorite memories of Paris - I still smile thinking of it!
surfmom is offline  
Mar 27th, 2011, 05:49 PM
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Day 9 - Friday – How do Cars Drive in that Traffic ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: the French version of a kids’ amusement park!
surfmom is offline  
Mar 28th, 2011, 07:58 AM
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We leave in three weeks-- can't wait for the next installment!
jonesie is offline  
Mar 28th, 2011, 04:54 PM
  #50  
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thanks jonesie! I'm determined to finish - if nothing else, becaause we leave for this year's trip in a few weeks, too, so I need to be done with last year's trip!
surfmom is offline  
Mar 28th, 2011, 05:03 PM
  #51  
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Day 10 – Saturday – the French version of a kids’ amusement park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: You were on the plane HOW MANY hours ?
surfmom is offline  
Mar 28th, 2011, 08:32 PM
  #52  
 
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Hi, Surfmom!
Enjoying your report and taking notes since I leave for Paris in less than two weeks with my grandchildren and their parents. We did some of the same things you did when there two years ago when my granddaughter was 6. Her brother is very excited to be celebrating his 5th birthday by going up the Eiffel Tower; we have tix and hope to get to the top. They may do the Fat Tire Bike Tour, and a return to the Jardin d'Acclimatation is planned--the USA was the theme at the time of our '09 visit. I like your idea of the game at the Rodin; sounds like fun for all. Chez Francis sounds like a great place for us; we may try that. We're staying in an apt. in the 6th.
Thanks for all the good ideas and tips, both times!
grandmere is offline  
Mar 29th, 2011, 06:06 AM
  #53  
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hi grandmere! too funny that you are a year behind - AGAIN! Glad to hear that you can take grandchild #2 also - will you be my grandma ?

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

final installment imminent.
surfmom is offline  
Mar 29th, 2011, 06:24 AM
  #54  
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Next: You were on the plane HOW MANY hours ?’

Day 11 - Sunday - departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next: Lessons Learned
surfmom is offline  
Mar 29th, 2011, 04:32 PM
  #55  
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Lessons Learned

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

=> Jolly Ranchers solve minor and major problems !

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

=> Fat Tire Bike Tours are very fun!

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

=> Baguettes and scones are a good thing!

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

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

=> KinderSurprise eggs are very fun!

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

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

=> Happy bellies make happy kids!

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

=> Tailor your trip for your interests and needs.

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

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

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

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

=> Watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle!

=> Take every opportunity to skip.

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

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

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

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

=> Eat ice cream early and often.

have a marvelous trip!
surfmom is offline  
Mar 29th, 2011, 04:44 PM
  #56  
 
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so inspired by you, surfmom! We just have one kid and we schlepped him through our Scandinavian trip, but have not taken him to London or Paris. Once he is just a tad older (4 years old now), we are planning to go. I am bookmarking your trip report for all the tips. Have fun in Scandinavia and please post a trip report when you get back!
RainyDay09 is offline  
Mar 29th, 2011, 05:43 PM
  #57  
cw
 
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=> It’s never too early for ice cream (or a beer).

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

Don't know if you've watched the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn movie "Charade," but one of the last scenes is under the arches/arcade of the Palais Royal before the black and white pillars were installed. I love to watch it because it reminds me of our great stay there.
cw is offline  
Mar 29th, 2011, 06:46 PM
  #58  
 
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I love it! So glad you got it all in.....it will be so helpful for our trip in a few weeks! Thank You!
beachbum2 is offline  
Mar 30th, 2011, 05:19 AM
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Thanks for sharing a wonderful trip! I loved hearing about all the things you saw and did andabout all the Things' antics. Can't wait to hear about your upcoming trip.
irishface is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2011, 09:16 PM
  #60  
 
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Thanks for a great TR surfmom and all the advice. My husband and I will be going to Paris and London this summer with our son. We will definitely do the amusement park! Sounds like you had a great time. I cant wait to do a similar report myself when we get back
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