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Trip report, live from Paris! (including updates from Amsterdam, Bruges, and Brussels)

Trip report, live from Paris! (including updates from Amsterdam, Bruges, and Brussels)

Old Jul 15th, 2006, 03:50 PM
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Trip report, live from Paris! (including updates from Amsterdam, Bruges, and Brussels)

Bonjour from Paris!
First, thanks to everyone on this board for all your help in planning this trip, I got some invaluable info (and one piece of advice I'm glad we ignored, more on that later).
So, some background. I'm traveling with my wife, Daniela (here on out "D") and my two boys Ryan, 3, and Christopher, 14 months. We spent 1 night in Bruges, 2 in Amsterdam, 1 in Brussels and are currently on the 3rd of 7 nights in Paris. I'll try to be short and sweet while including info that may help someone out there.
So......
The flight over.
I was dreading the 7 hours with kids from JFK - turned out it was a piece of cake! And we didn't check any luggage! The boys were asleep a half hour after take off and it was smooth sailing from there, A bit of advice to others thinking of travelling with a little one though, spring for the extra ticket. We didn't but were lucky enough to have empties on our flight - we ended up with 5 seats for the four of us so Christopher got to lay down on two seats. Hopefully we're as lucky on the way back.
The rental car.
Went through AutoEurope and they used Europcar - terrible experience at CDG - 2 hour wait for the car with the kids half asleep. They were totally understaffed and jsut slow in general. The other rental car counters didn't have this problem - use another company in CDG.
Driving in France, Belgium, and The Netherlands.
Got great advice from a post on this board and it was so true. Know the names of the towns/cities between you and your destinations because the road signs tend to be set up in this way rather than like "Route 9 north". It took a while to get used to it but it was really no big deal to drive anywhere. Parking and gas expensive, as expected. Oh, also, all those horror stories you here about driving in Amsterdam and Paris - here's the deal, if you come from LA or NYC - don't worry, piece of cake. I drive in Manhattan all the time and I had no problem whatsoever driving into Paris or Amsterdam - it was actually fun.
Our first stop was Bruges. The most touristy place I've ever seen this side of Disneyworld, but also the most charming. Ryan loved the canal boat tour and horse and buggy tour. We all loved the street food and D and I had some of the best beer we ever tasted. Also, the evenings are the time to be here. Stay a night if you can, because between 10-5 you'll feel like you're in Epcot Center. The evening was beautiful.
On the way from Bruges to Amsterdam we stopped for a snack in Breukelen (since we're from Brooklyn we thought it would be cute to see the town that our hometown is named after). It was such a nice stop - they have a great old windmill and many little cafes and restaurants without a tourist in sight.
Amsterdam.
Hmmm.....a lot like Manhattan - a lot of trash in the streets, a big ethnic mix (which were both strangely comforting and like home for us), but nothing in this city would make me want to go back for another look. I know, we only spent two nights, but it just wasn't exciting or all THAT beautiful to us. On the seedier side of town we took turns walking through the back alleys while the other stayed with the kids, just for a look. Weird to see that stuff so out in the open but no big deal at all. I spent like an hour on my own one night in a coffee shop surfing the net, again, no big deal, but interesting to see it out in the open. The Anne Frank House and the two big museums were highlights. So, we went to the Anne Frank House (did the whole thing in 15 minutes because Christopher apparently liked the echo his voice made when he repeated "bah" 700 times in a row), and we had told Ryan only that Anne Frank wrote a diary that became very famous so people go and visit the house she lived in, figured that was enough. We told him to whisper like in museums. So, we finish with downstairs, go through the secret bookcase entrance (which I think Ryan thought was so cool) to the small hidden annex the family hid in for 2 years, and Ryan walks around the room, looks around, then exclaims loudly, "This is a really nice house!" I was so embarrased, the other two people in the room just smiled uncomfortably. Ha!!! Seriously though, it was weird being there - it was almost not moving because you cou'ldnt believe you were in THE place. Surreal.
Ryan loved the Van Gogh museum. he can identify most Van Goghs just by the style and was thrilled to see the paintings from his books in real life (for those of you without kids there are a TON of great art books, Van Gogh especially, made for children). The Reijkmuseum (sp?) was terrific as well. We were excited to see the Vermeers and, of course, the main attraction, The Night Watch. They present that painting in a way I've never seen before; you have to wait in line to enter the room it's in and then sit in a row of seats (there are maybe 12 rows). All of a sudden, the lights dim and this whole show starts with sound effects and lights projected on the painting which seem to bring the painting and the people within it to life! We couldn't decide if this was corny or brilliant but agreed that we were glad we saw it!
Phew, I had no idea I'd write so much, and I'm leaving out a lot! So, I'll stop here for now to get some sleep. Coming up.....a stop in Gouda, Ryan can't get enough of the statue of "the little boy making a pee-pee", our cute little Parisien apartment, the Bastille Day fireworks, and Ryan gets an ear infection including our experience with a doctor who made a house visit to us in Paris. Stay tuned!

John
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Old Jul 15th, 2006, 04:34 PM
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Great report - Will look forward to the rest. Thanks for taking the time to post during your trip.
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Old Jul 15th, 2006, 05:28 PM
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So far so good... keep you report coming tnx.

As for A'dam... we thought the city had a LOT to do and history too. Good areas and bad too to look or not.

We and 5 yo enjoyed A'dam immensely. Stayed with-in a short 15 min walk to Rijk's museum, enjoyed some local parks for kid run around time.

Nemo science center very well done for 4 to 14 yo's. Maritime center fun near the harbor area wish we had more time for that. Took a "local bus" day trip to Edam as in the cheese... Nice easy side trip.

Boat tour of harbor and canals were down time to rest and recharge and a bit of orientation to the downtown. Anne Frank a must visit.

Used the trolley and busses the whole time. Van Gogh a must for your art fix... they've enlarged the museum since I was last there and saw a featured Manet exhibit at the time.

We stayed in a working class area in a rented 1 bd rm apt and felt like we were starting to know our neighborhood after just a few days. Were we Locals? No; but knew where to food shop, ice cream places, trolly stops, ...
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Old Jul 15th, 2006, 05:48 PM
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thanks for writing the beginning of this very interesting trip report. Love the parts with the kids! I can't wait for more.
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Old Jul 15th, 2006, 05:57 PM
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Live trip reports are so much fun. I like the mix of fact and impressions that you provide. Also interesting to see how you did it with children. We didn't take ours to Europe until they were 11 and 13.
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Old Jul 15th, 2006, 06:43 PM
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Hello john, so enjoying your trip report, and as I have said before I love trip reports that involves ones children. Don't they open your eyes to things you might not notice? I am glad the flight went well. "This is a really nice house", ah, maybe he felt the good vibes of the strong and vibrant people that had lived there during a terrible time in our worlds history.

I am looking forward to the rest of your trip report john!
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Old Jul 15th, 2006, 07:37 PM
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Love your report so far. I took the EXACT same trip last year--Bruges, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris. All very good choices in my opinion.

Bruges was charming, I was there in May and it did not have that Epcot feel at all, in fact it seemed almost deserted, especially at night. I think I timed it right as I would have hated it if it were a touristy mob scene.

Amsterdam is one of my absolute favorite cities, but perhaps not when traveling with young kids, LOL.

Hope you have a fabulous time in Paris.
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Old Jul 15th, 2006, 07:43 PM
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Is this Night Watch viewing something new? When we visited, there was no lining up, no having to sit down - you could walk right up to it.
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Old Jul 15th, 2006, 08:17 PM
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Can't wait to hear how the kids liked Bastille Day. Thanks for the report so far.
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Old Jul 16th, 2006, 07:30 AM
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Thanks for all the replies everyone!
In reading over my post, I'm realizing I may have sounded a little harsh about Amsterdam. It's not that we disliked it, just didn't fall in love with it, I guess. You know what though, I'm in Paris right now and this city just makes every other city I've ever been to seem so ordinary! But I'm getting ahead of myself...

To answer a few questions - about Night Watch, you can still walk right up to it before or after the "show" but there is a line to get in the room and they cut it off before the show begins (like 15 minutes, I think).

The kids - Yes, they DO open your eyes to things you wouldn't have ordinarily noticed or appreciated! We are seeing many things we wouldn't ordinarily see (beautiful parks for one) but also we are doing this at such a nice leisurely pace with a lot of down time. I think too many people, us included, never take the time out to stop and really soak up their surroundings. With little kids you are forced take a lot of little snack and drink breaks be it on a park bench or outside at a cafe and it has been great! Don't get me wrong, the kids are definitely a pain at times and there are moments we wish we could just linger over a long dinner at a really nice restaurant, but as in everyday life, the joys of your children far outweigh any inconviences.

So, on we go...
On the morning we were packing to leave Amsterdam D noticed that Ryan felt warm - sure enough he had a little fever. Nothing major, 99.8, and our doctor at home always tells us not to worry until a low fever lasts past two days if there are no other symptons. He was acting normal and eating so we gave him some baby tylenol and just figured we'd keep monitoring his temperature.
On the way from Amsterdam to Brussles we stopped for lunch in Gouda - what a pretty town! Canals, quaint streets, and a beautiful church with a carillon playing on the square. We spent about an hour, had some sandwiches and frites and were off. By the way, without this board I never would have thought of stopping in Gouda and Breukelen - thanks! Oh, something I forgot to mention yesterday - pancakes in the Netherlands - try them!!!!!!!!!!!

Brussels.
We weren't in Brussels very long, just an evening and morning, but we really enjoyed the small piece we saw. The Grand Place is magnificent, the waffles and waterzooi were amazing, but the highlight for Ryan was Mannekin Pis! We made it a game for him. We told him he had to keep his eye out as we walked around town looking for a statue of a little boy making pee-pee. He z BR F4V BNHG (I'm leaving that in, Christopher just felt like typing)
So, Ryan got SO excited when he finally saw it. We ended up visiting the little guy three times because Ryan demanded it. Too cute. Oh, and right across the street is a bar/restaurant called Mannekin Pis. It looks touristy, at first, but we noticed some locals there who knew the waiters. We ended up having a long fabulous dinner there (with much beer) and the staff was SO great with the kids. We ended up lingering over coffee (the place was empty by then) and chatting with our waiter about the difference between New York and most of Europe because he had been to NYC a few years ago. We had such a nice time there, I highly recommend it.

Speaking of great people we've met, EVERYBODY in every city we've been in have been just amazing with the kids. We'll be sitting at a cafe and people will be walking by and they'll stop to tickle the kids or play peek-a-boo. We notice this with men a whole lot more than back home - they are just so friendly and seem to love children here. We haven't come to a staircase yet where someone didn't immediately grab an end of one of our strollers to help us!
On the drive to Paris we needed to stop to make a phone call to announce our arrival to the owner and manager of the apartment we are renting (as of now, they are HIGHLY recommended, more at the end of our trip on that) so we decided to stop just outside of Paris at Senlis (another tip from this board). If you want to see an old charming town and be free of crowds, this is the place. A beautiful church, beautiful streets, and great brasseries. We heard no english at all here. Not that hearing it is bad at all, but it was nice to just be a total outsider for an hour or so.
Which brings me to Paris. Be forewarned, I LOVE Paris and since I'm here at the moment things I write may seem a little biased or even anti-US (or anti-rest of the world) because I just LOVE it here. Have I mentioned I really like Paris? The last and only time we were here was on our honeymoon six years ago and we couldn't wait to come back. So weird now being here with our two little guys. We had fun in the other cities we visited last week, but there really is nothing like Paris

So, our apartment; The street it is on (Rue de Buci) is just unbelievable - we have to actually video the walk from our apartment to the corner, it's straight out of Amelie! We are on the ground floor of a small apartment building on a cute little courtyard that you get to by walking through a little postcard shop (I know, it's weird). It's absolutely quiet in our little courtyard, but the street we're on is totally alive from morning till 2 AM - brasseries, cafes, bakeries, even a wine shop right next store - it's just so amazing. For less than the price of a hotel for the week, we are staying in this beautiful place in the heart of Paris - unreal! I'll never book a hotel room here again!
The first night we walked to The Eiffel Tower. We again told Ryan he had to keep his eyes peeled and we approached it from a way that he couldn't really see it from his stroller until it was right in front of him - he got so excited! We're visiting again tomorrow for lunch at Altitude 95.

We were back at the Champ de Mars the next night for the Bastille Day fireworks - got there at 9ish, were all the way in the back but it was just fine. You should have seen Ryan clapping and shouting, "C'mon fireworks" while sitting in this HUGE crowd (thousands and thousands), it was so cute. The fireworks were unlike anything we've ever seen before, totally different type of display than you get in the US. It was all beautifully and elegantly set to Mozart which was pumped through this crystal-clear, loud, sound system. It was really breathtaking. We sat on a blanket next to another American couple who are expecting their first child in 2 months so we had a nice chat with them while waiting for the fireworks. It was really a perfect night.
Which brings me to my first and only "message board advice" complaint. Someone here posted many times in response to my questions about Bastille Day trying to actually scare us into not going. He used phrases like "kids cried in terror the whole time, and all the way home. The adults didn't like it much, either." He also said Parisiens don't go to the fireworks, they know better (something to that effect). Both were LUDICROUS statements. We had a ball and the thought that someone might miss this experience because of this ridiculous, paranoid advice is upsetting to me. Did kids throw fireworks on the outskirts of the Champ de Mars? Yes. Were the thousands and thousands of people there worried? No. We walked all the way back to our apartment after the fireworks with a festive, polite crowd - the same crowd we enjoyed the fireworks with. This is something everyone should see at least once in their lives. My biggest concern was actually Ryan staying awake but since we've been in Europe the kids are on a toatally different sleep schedule. Bedtime is close to midnight so this wasn't an issue, the kids feel asleep peacefully in their strollers during the walk home.
So, the next morning Ryan still had a little fever. We checked our guidebook, got a number for doctors-on-call and within an hour a doctor was at our apt.! Unreal! She was wonderful, Ryan loved her. Turns out he has an ear infection so she prescribed anti-biotics and other stuff in case we need it and was on her way for a charge of 80 euros - not bad. D went to get the prescriptions which were filled immediately for.....get this..........8 euros!!!!!!

Don't even get me started on US health care!

Anyway, we just got back from the Louvre, Ryan was so excited to see the Mona Lisa (they let the kids under the ropes to get up close, oh, and they let strollers in ahead of the whole security line to enter!) We saw the dutch 17th century stuff, which I love, and that was it really. We've been there before and didn't want to drag the kids around there all day. We're back in the apartment for an afternoon nap. Strolled Montmarte last night, tonight will be the Latin Quarter. We've been stopping at the best playgrounds imaginable, and a lot of them have kiddie rides too - they love it! Luxembourg Gardens were beautiful and have a great play area! I should make a post when we get back of just great play areas....hmmmm....

Okay, more tomorrow......
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Old Jul 16th, 2006, 07:54 AM
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Great report
Sunds like you are having a wonderful time
I can't wait.We are leaving August 15
Melissa
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Old Jul 16th, 2006, 09:55 AM
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Hi John,
Love your live trip report. It sounds as if you are having a fabulous trip. We are headed to Paris in 3 days. How about a brief weather report to aid us in our packing? The forecasts I have seen from accuweather say it is HOT.
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Old Jul 16th, 2006, 11:38 AM
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Can you give more information on the apartment in Paris? Who did you rent from, etc. Looking for an apartment for next spring. Thanks for the trip report - really enjoying it!
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Old Jul 16th, 2006, 12:45 PM
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The weather - we haven't seen a cloud since we've been here but it is hot, 90 every day. The evenings are just perfect though!

As far as the apartment, I'll post all the info after our trip, I just feel like I should wait. Not that I'm waiting for anything bad to happen or anything, but I'll just be able to give an overall picture then.
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Old Jul 16th, 2006, 01:23 PM
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Bonjour from Brooklyn! Just wanted to say that the weather there sounds a lot like the weather here... and how much I'd rather be à Paris!! Your trip report in situ is great. Amazing how even a doctor's visit can be a positive experience, right?

I wish I could suggest some little corner for you to visit in Paris, but it sounds like you've got it all wonderfully covered. So I'll make a suggestion for your return instead: as you'll most definitely be going through Paris withdrawal (happens to me every time ), may I suggest a meal at La Bonne Soupe on West 55th Street. It's nothing fancy, but to me feels very close to being in France, and the brasserie food is consistently well made. Also, I love the croissants at Marquet Patisserie on Court Street. They are, eh bien, so very French...
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Old Jul 16th, 2006, 01:58 PM
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John, thanks for posting your live report! We didn't take our kids to Europe until they were in their teens so I'm enjoying reading your family experiences.

Bastille Day took us by surprise on our first visit to Paris and I still remember all the military vehicles parading down the Champs Elysee. Impressive rather than scary.
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Old Jul 16th, 2006, 02:20 PM
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John,

I too am enjoying your "on the scene" reporting. Keep them coming please.
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Old Jul 16th, 2006, 03:12 PM
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John,

Enjoying your report - thanks for posting.

So.....how do you like Paris?
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Old Jul 16th, 2006, 03:29 PM
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I rented an apartment in Paris, too. It had the most charming courtyard beyond heavily fortified gates on rue Mouffetard which was lively. No more hotels ever again for me.

Yes, you may have been a little bit harsh on Amsterdam, LOL. One of the reasons I loved Amsterdam so much last June was becuase we rented a fabulous houseboat, it was a marvelous accommodation.

Agree that Bastille Day is not to be missed! I was in Paris one time many years ago on B.D. and it was unforgettable. My daughter was studying in France last summer, living near the Bastille metro, and said Bastille Day was controlled chaos, in a fun way. (She said Pamplona was crazier.)
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Old Jul 17th, 2006, 04:40 AM
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John...Glad to hear nothing serious with Ryan. I watched the Bastille Day fireworks live at www.abcparislive.com and could only imagine how great it must have been to actually be apart of that experience. Looking forward to hearing how you like Altitude 95 as I am contemplating taking my mother there on our trip in September. Continue to enjoy your trip..........
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