Sunday, April 28, 2013

Smith Family European Vacation--Days 9-13: Paris!

Well, things got busy that last week in Paris.  The weather was beautiful--low 70's and sunny.  Perfect.  Our apartment was so centrally located that we could easily go somewhere during the day, come home for dinner, then pop out again to do something else.  Anyway, less time for sitting around blogging.  That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.


The main items of business on Monday were to visit the Sacre Couer, visit the Clicancourt flea market and a date for Aaron and me.

We managed two out of three.  I erroneously thought it would be really easy to find the market.  We walked in the direction we thought it was, but nothing was obvious.  By the time we found a Wifi connection and looked things up, I realized that it was going to be quite a hike.  By that time, the thought of dragging the little kids through a sea of don't touch that, stay close to me, please! where in the heck is Sawyer? had kind of lost its appeal.  And I didn't really mind.  I think it is good to leave something special for next time, trusting that I will have the opportunity again, rather than grimly feeling like I have to do everything out of some sense of desperation.

The Sacre Couer is a beautiful church on the top of a tall hill, in the Montmartre district in Paris.  It was lovely, only slightly marred by some really aggressive sales people on the steps, and a long stretch of steps that had obviously been used repeatedly as a toilet.  Ick.  The kids loved it because there is a fun playground and a carousel at the base of the hill.  The kids also had fun buying all sorts of cheap-o trinkets for their friends in the small road between the Metro stop and the base of the hill up to the church.  We had a picnic lunch, and the sun was out, which warmed us up and made the whole day feel pretty fabulous.

We got home and got the kids settled for a little while.  Brendan and Sophie and I went grocery shopping, using the apartment's little old lady shopping trolley thing-y.

 At about 7, Aaron and I headed out to a Lebanese restaurant that he had looked up that was supposed to be really, really good.  We were hoping for something that at least reminded us of our beloved Ishbilia in London.  We wrote down the intersection for the restaurant and got on the Metro.  When we came to the intersection, we saw the restaurant across the street.  When we crossed the street, we realized there were actually two restaurants called the same thing, side-by-side.  One was a bar-style restaurant that sold mezze-type fare.  The other one was a casual grill-style restaurant.  We had thought we were going to a nicer sort of place, but decided to roll with it and sat down and gave our order.  It was then that Aaron looked out across the intersection and saw another restaurant, with the same name, that clearly looked like a fine-dining place.  Doh!  We opted to stay where we were, but were bummed that we'd missed the nicer place.  We looked through the fine-dining restaurant's window on our way back to the Metro like sad little urchins.  We missed out, no doubt about it. Who puts three restaurants on the same corner and names them the same name?  And how in the world did we walk right by the other restaurant and not notice it?  

C'est la vie.


Tuesday morning was heralded by Lucy throwing up a few times.  We decided that it wasn't worth taking a potential thrower-upper into public, so Damon and I stayed home with her while Aaron took the rest of the kids to the Musse d'Orsay and to a street called Rue Clair.  Aaron wasn't amazingly impressed with Rue Clair, but he and Brendan loved the Musse d'Orsay.  That's another one for my "next trip" list.

After her, ahem, outbursts in the morning, Lucy got much more chipper.  She ate and drank normally for the rest of the day.  That night, we headed to the Champs Elysses and did some more shopping at H&M.


Wednesday morning we got up fairly early and went to Versailles.  We'd never made it there in previous trips, and after seeing Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (which I realize is not exactly period-accurate, but visually beautiful), I was keen to see the palace.  It did not disappoint.  I just had no idea how massive, or how crazily ornate it was (Marie Antoinette's bedroom?  Hello!?!).  It helped me understand how bitter I would feel if I were a French commoner starving outside the gates of Versailles.  Viva la Revolution!

We also took some fun family pictures and had fun cavorting on the grounds of Versailles in our swanky new French clothes.  When in France...

After we got home and got the kids situated, Aaron, Brendan and I went to the Louvre since it closes late on Wednesdays.  We barely scratched the surface there, and saw some funny (monkeys painting pictures?) and some breathtakingly beautiful (The use of light in some of the paintings! Botticelli's frescoes!) art.  We also wondered why all the wardrobe malfunctions?  I mean nudes, I understand.  I grew up going to art museums with my mom, and nudes don't make me one bit uncomfortable.  However, I had never noticed how many paintings at the Louvre depicted women where just half the bodice of their dress was pulled down.  Janet Jackson, watch out! :)  I wondered if it was symbolic of motherhood (there were quite a few similar paintings with a baby nursing or about to nurse where the "wardrobe malfunction" made sense).  At any rate, I found it kind of distracting--much more distracting than full-on nudes.  Overall, though, I found it so inspirational to see all the amazing things people have created throughout the ages, and then to think that God is even greater than all that.  I'm so grateful to live in such a lovely world and for my place in it.

Afterward, we went to a cafe nearby and had a delicious dinner.  Beef Bourguignon for me....mmmmmmmn.


On Thursday, we just took it fairly easy.  Got up lazily late, and headed with picnic lunch to Luxembourg Gardens.  Luxembourg Gardens used to be only open to nobility until after the revolution.  It is still a very genteel sort of park.  We had to pay to get into the playground, but it was worth it.  My kids loved the zip line, and all the merry-go-rounds there.  We enjoyed just lazing in the sun, and watching all the diverse people at the park.

Afterwards, we went to an amazing bakery on the way back to the Metro stop.  I had the very best raspberry tart ever, and everyone else had something they loved just as much.  A perfect end to a beautiful outing.

After we got back from Luxembourg gardens, we spent the rest of the night relaxing, packing and tidying up our apartment.


We checked out of our apartment at 10 a.m.  My highlight for the morning was that the parking garage attendant totally hit on me when I went to pick up our van.  He said "Tres Belle!" and pointed to me.  I said "Merci," then hurriedly walked back to our van and started to drive out.  He motioned for me to stop, looked at my ticket and asked hopefully if I was coming back.  I said no, and got the heck out of there.  I mean, I know I'm irresistible and all, but that was a little creepy.  Something tells me that when you are trying to pick someone up in a parking garage, you aren't exactly looking for true love.  I got great mileage out of it for the rest of the day, though.  Anytime Aaron and I were deciding something, I would say something like, "You'd better let me have my way--otherwise I'll go find parking attendant man!"  I'm so hilarious...

Anyway, we drove back to Frankfurt.  On the way, we stopped in Luxembourg.  We wanted to check it out.  Amazon's European Headquarters are in Luxembourg, and we'd totally be up for living there if the right opportunity came along.  We found this awesome park in the middle of the city, and I've gotta say that the park bathrooms were some of the nicest public bathrooms I've ever seen.  The kids and I are sold!

We also drove through Trier, Germany, which is a lovely city on a river.

The other exciting thing about the drive is that we filmed the kids doing an acoustic "goat" version of Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble When You Walked In."  I only got to tape about half of it because Aaron's phone ran out of memory.  Nevertheless, they are so funny.

And really, being with my crazy, exasperating, amazing family is what this trip was all about for me.  I loved seeing all the sights, but it was special because I was with the people I love the most in all the world for a brief moment in time.  I feel very, very grateful.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Smith Family European Family Vacation--Days 7 and 8: Hello, Paris!

I'm a little behind, since we've been busy living.  Luckily (note the dripping sarcasm), Lucy threw up twice this morning, and I'm not feeling so hot either, so we stayed home from sightseeing today.  The upside is that I cleaned the whole apartment and have time to catch up on my blog posts.

We got up on Saturday and prepared to go for a nice, long loop around the city.  Every time Aaron and I have been to Paris, we do this loop and we love the sights and people watching that it affords.  All told, we walked about 6 1/2 miles that day, which is an extra big deal for little kids like Sawyer.

We started from our apartment and walked to the Arc de Triomphe, then headed down the Champs-Elysses.  We did some shopping at H&M and Petit Bateau.  Petit Bateau has just about the cutest, best quality children's clothes ever--and price tags to match.  Given that 80% of my kids' wardrobes are normally bought at thrift stores, I felt even more sticker shock.  But we bought some really special clothes that they will love for a long time.

Sophie, Lukas, Sawyer, Lucy and I spent a little while waiting for the others.  We had separated to shop.  Without thinking, I let one of the boys who went with Aaron use my phone.  We opted to enable international texting on our phones for just such eventualities, but it doesn't work if you don't have the phone in your pocket :).  Anyway, the younger kids and I parked ourselves on a bench and watched the parade of nationalities and personalities and fashion ideas come on down the road.

Just about the time I started wondering how to file a missing persons report in France, we finally found each other, and continued on to the Place de la Concorde.  I didn't know this until this trip, but this was the "Revolutionary Square" where many of the beheadings of the French Revolution took place.  To transform the meaning of this place, Louis-Phillipe decided to erect a 23 meter granite obelisk, given to him from the king of Egypt. It took two years to transport it from Egypt to France.

The day we were there, an energetic brass ensemble were playing music at the foot of the obelisk, so we stopped to listen.  Lukas and Sawyer ran up and put money in their open case.  Those two love to give money to musicians--pretty much anyone who asks for it.  There are a lot of people begging in Paris.  Many of them hold out a cup.  The first time Sawyer saw this, he said, "Mom, is that guy thirsty?"  That made me laugh, but also feel sad.

Damon doing some photo bombing.
We walked across the Seine, and then along the river and across a few streets to the Eiffel Tower.  We will go up in the next few days, since the line is really long if you don't have reservations.

Sophie and I being silly under the Eiffel tower.

Then we hiked home.  At this point, everyone was hungry and it started to feel like a death march.  It started to rain.  Several of our shopping bags started to disintegrate because they were so wet, so we had to stop and consolidate so nothing would get ruined.  Sawyer finally blurted out, "I'm so hungry I could eat all the people in the whole world!"  Since we didn't want to have to resort to cannibalism, we stopped at a fast food place near our apartment and bought a few Margharita Pizzas and Doner sandwiches.  We took the food home and inhaled it.  Then Aaron and I retreated to our room while the kids messed around taking funny pictures of each other.

I don't even know how to caption this picture...
Cute Sophie.
Blue steel.
Bottoms up.
Apples are a good modeling prop.
Aaron and a few of the kids went back to the Champes Elysses for more shopping.  The rest of us just lumped around watching garbage on TV (or working on blog posts, as the case may be).  But the TV was in French, so I'm pretty sure it was a cultural experience.  At least now the kids know how to say "sponge" in French.  That should come in handy.

On Sunday, we had to get up early (7 a.m.) to get ready for church.  The church building is over near the Hotel de Ville, so it took a few metro changes from where we are staying to get there.  We listened to someone translate the service into French for the first half of the services and the children went to Sunday school, where other children translated for them.  However, then the translator's microphone went on the fritz.  Since we weren't getting anything out of the meeting anymore, we decided to cut our losses.  We went to the Notre Dame and toured it.  They had a mass going while we walked around, and the music and atmosphere was amazing.  I love organ music in cathedrals.

Walking out the gate from the church courtyard.
The church building is the ground and lower ground floor of this building.  Cars park haphazardly in the courtyard.
Joan of Arc statue in Notre Dame.
Intricate stained glass in the cathedral.
After that, we had lunch along the banks of the Seine.  Then we went home.  A few blocks away from home, we realized that we both (Aaron and I) forgot our keys to the apartment.  I was doubly sad, because I had decided to wear attractive vs. sensible shoes to church, and said attractive shoes were not making my feet happy.  Although they did look fabulous, it must be said.

Damon and I went out to figure out how to call the property manager.  We didn't pay for a calling plan on our phones because we have a phone in our apartment.  Although, that only works if you can get into your apartment...

We went to three different convenience stores, and ended up at this little kiosk that sold cigarettes and pay-as-you-go phones, as well as (luckily!) calling cards.  Then we tried to call the number we had, but after several attempts, we couldn't figure it out.  We were just leaving the phone booth in frustration, when Aaron found us and let us know that the building supervisor had let us in.  Hallelujah!  My feet were so happy to come home and chill out.

Memorial honoring fallen soldiers at the base of the Arc de Triomphe.

Detailed stone carvings on the Arc de Triomphe.
After napping and eating dinner, we headed out (in sensible shoes for me, this time) to climb the Arc de Triomphe.  Well, in all fairness, Lucy, Sawyer and I got to cheat and take the elevator to the almost-top because of our stroller.  The view was beautiful, and we were up there when they turned the lights on the Eiffel Tower and to watch the sunset.  Magical.  Aaron and I tried to get Brendan to take a picture of us kissing, but he insisted that the first picture he took was good enough.  So it is not quite as artistic (or well-focused) as I would like.  But what can you do?  Knowing that you got to kiss the one you love on the top of the Arc de Triomphe in the City of Love helps to compensate for any photographical deficiencies.

Lukas looking at all the sights of the city from his vantage point on the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
Lights on.  Periodically they sparkle and flash.
With my love.
Then we went home and crashed.  The great thing about having such busy days is that we all sleep like logs.

Bon voyage!