We took a little bit of an extended weekend last week and took a quick trip to visit my sister in Indianapolis.
Let me first start by saying that this is probably the most I’ve ever enjoyed my sister’s dog Luna. I love dogs, but I often don’t love that particular dog. My kids are usually terrified of Luna, and I can’t blame them. She towers over them, and it is very easy to get accidentally scratched or knocked over in her exuberance, to say nothing of slobbery smooches all over your face. The anxiety of the kids kind of rubs off on me. However, this time wasn’t so bad. I don’t know if Luna is calming down as she gets older, if my kids get less anxious as they get older, or maybe it was just being in Luna’s own environment, which was less stressful for all of us. In any case, I think everybody enjoyed Luna a little bit more this time.
Of course, the main thing to do in Indy is go to the Children’s Museum. It is *exhausting* going to that place. It’s so big, and there’s so much to do, but it takes a lot out of you.
Evie enjoyed drawing self-portraits:
And we all enjoyed reproducing “American Gothic“:
Sorry Rachael and Matt, I think Sara and Ollie did it best:
Probably the most exciting thing for me was getting a chance to play Carcassonne. This is a board game that I have heard a lot about, but never had a chance to play. I have to say, it lived up to the hype. There is a lot of strategy, and I can see that each game would be a little bit different. It has a lot of things in common with other games that I like, with no obvious downsides (and you can play with only 2 players!). Plus, I won, so definitely that game is awesome.
The other best part was the awesome chocolate covered cherries Rachael made for me, which were the best I’ve ever eaten, homemade or otherwise. Therefore, I promptly forgot them in her refrigerator.
Evie found time to absolutely massacre Rachael in checkers, and we played a lot of hide and seek (and lots of hide Luna’s treat).
We took a leisurely Monday getting home, with several stops along the way including a stop at Purdue. The kids were pretty excited to see where Sara and I met, lived, and got married, and I enjoyed my trip to the APO office. I’m not sure why I get such a kick out of dropping in there, but it’s fun to see a place where I spent a lot of time, and to look at all the names and pictures of people I haven’t seen in a long time. It sure helps to have a friend of yours be the one in charge of the yearly scrapbook when we were pledging. Sara and I are well represented. And yes, I bragged to my kids about all the plaques with my name on them. (And yes Nathan, I showed them how you won the Friendship Award 6 times, no need to bring it up again in the comments!)
We even had a chance to stop in at Triple XXX and introduce Oliver to the Purvis burger:
Cheeseburger + Peanut butter = Happy Ollie
The only black mark on our trip was totally our fault. We 1) forgot Ollie’s face steroids, and 2) didn’t bring Evie’s inhaler. This directly resulted in Oliver having a massive, itchy, sore face eczema outbreak, and Evie developing a reoccurring wheeze and cough. And with Evie having breathing trouble, this also lead to a pretty rough night of sleep for the 4 of us, which never helps anything. Sara even asked me if she thought we should bring the inhaler, and I said no. Lesson learned. The problem is that, even with the proper medicine at home, if you don’t nip these problems in the bud, it takes some time to get them back under control.
All in all a good trip though; hopefully Rachael and Matt enjoyed hosting us as much as we enjoyed being there (probably doubtful).
In the past week we’ve celebrated a 60th birthday, an 88th birthday, a 39th anniversary, and of course Sara and my 8th anniversary. We also have Evie’s birthday coming up in less than a month, and then Sara’s right after. Busy times!
We didn’t exactly do much for Tom’s birthday, but I have to say it was quite enjoyable nonetheless. Basically we just had a big meal with everybody, but it was so delicious and it was actually a lot of fun. We all pitched in to make it and then sat down to a big feast (steaks, grilled romaine salads and a grilled squash medley, followed by homemade ice cream). There’s not much I like more than just sitting and visiting (for example, while the ice cream maker is running), so I guess it doesn’t take much to make me happy.
And then the next day we found out that 60′s not too old for a little wheel chair racing:
It seems like we’ve been planning Grandma Lois’ 88th birthday party for forever. Sara said afterwards that it wasn’t really that much work, but I think she is forgetting because it was spread out over a long time. However, it was all worth it, because it turned out really well. There were lots and lots of people there, plenty of food, and no issues to speak of, major or minor. We were running around like crazy the day of, but it was all worth it because I think Grandma was really happy.
The day of the party was super hot (as was every day this summer), but Sara only had pants to wear. So she improvised by borrowing some clothes from her sister. She needed a belt to match, so she further improvised by using one of her dad’s ties as a belt. Seriously you guys, she looked like a super model! It was amazing. And hilarious, because you don’t usually see super models at your grandma’s 88th birthday party. So if you thought we hired a “booth babe” to serve the ice cream, nope, that was just Sara.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good picture of her, so I guess I’ll just put some other picture instead.
We’ve been up to so much lately, I can’t fit it all in one post. Oh boy, where to even start.
We had some visitors from far off Buffalo, as Alexis and her three kids Ayla, Jackson, and Elliot stopped by for a few nights on the way through Chicago (unfortunately Gregory couldn’t get off work). We haven’t seen Alexis in years, and in fact, we had never met Elliot and they had never met Oliver. So it was really great to see them again.
Adding three more young kids to the mix with only one extra adult kind of added a surreal sense of bedlam to our house. There were kids everywhere! While us adults might have needed an adjustment period to get used to all the extra kids, the kids themselves did not, and were quickly playing together like old friends or cousins. I think Oliver in particular really appreciated having a few boys around his age to play with. Mostly he is around Evie’s friends, who tend to be girls and tend to be older.
After that, we again spent the 4th of July at Sara’s Uncle Randy’s lake. No tubing for me after last year’s debacle, but Evie and Ollie once again absolutely loved the water.
Evie did a little tubing and both did a little boat driving. It was very difficult to get them out of the water, but then again, it was difficult to get anybody out of the water considering it was sweltering hot even in the shade. I am happy to report we haven’t had any sunburns yet this entire summer!
Afterwards we stayed a few nights at Sara’s cousin Lisa’s house. Or perhaps I should say Lisa’s farm, since they are quickly moving in that direction. Since the last time we were there, they’ve added 2 pigs, about 10 kittens, and 2 baby goats to their already impressive 2 cows, 3 dogs, and half a dozen chickens. Word on the street is they’re getting ready to add about 30 more chickens!
I thought the baby goats would steal the show (who doesn’t want to feed bottles to adorable baby goats?) but the kids (and Sara!) mostly went in for the kittens. I mean, don’t get me wrong, a horde of kittens can literally float you away on a tide of cuteness, but we’re talking about bottle fed baby goats! We already have a cat at home.
Both kids were dying to hold kittens (who were very friendly), but Oliver needed some help in grabbing one. Once he had it, he wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it. He just sort of squeezed it, forcing it to stay but not exactly petting it. This did not lessen his excitement about having a kitten in his lap.
However, if she had to pick one animal, I think Evie would pick teenage girls as her all time favorite playmate. Kaycee, thanks again, and double this time since you had Oliver tagging along as well!
Finally, it was time for Sara to go to her conference. I was sort of dreading this part of the trip, because it meant handling both kids in a strange city by myself. Although it was exhausting, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. The main thing was to keep out of the hotel as much as possible, since keeping them quiet for any length of time was out of the question, and having a routine certainly helped a lot.
Every day we would eat breakfast at the hotel, and then go to Discovery Place for 3 – 4 hours (for FREE — thank you reciprocating MSI membership!). We would eat a delicious lunch of PB&J (every day), and then Oliver would fall asleep in the stroller just when we were almost home. We’d get him into bed, and then Evie and I would play a few games of cards
and read books until I fell asleep on the floor. At this point, Evie would do “exercises” for 20 minutes or so (don’t ask me, I was asleep), and then wake me up to ask if I had slept long enough. In the afternoon, we’d find something to do such as go to ImaginOn, a fantastic children’s library. Finally, we hit up a delicious restaurant for supper, and go to bed.
The hotel we stayed in was very nice. We specifically chose it because they had a suite with a separate bedroom, so Sara and I could stay up after the kids were in bed. It was really more of a business hotel, and there weren’t really any other kids staying there. Consequently, we were very recognizable (especially with all of our comings and goings throughout the day), and all of the front desk staff really enjoyed interacting with the kids.
The one snafu with the hotel was the parking. When we first pulled up, we found out it was valet, which we were unprepared for. It makes you feel a little flustered when you have to spend 20 minutes cleaning out everything from your car while a pair of valet guys look on and wait. Sara kept insisting we’d have to pay for parking and it would be expensive, but I kept denying it because the whole city seemed to be made of parking lots, and parking didn’t really seem to be at a premium. Well, she was right and I was wrong (first time for everything I guess), since after they took the car they informed us it was $22 a night. Yeowza!
Imagine my surprise when I got up to my room and opened the window to take in the view, only to see a parking lot literally across the street that was advertising $5 parking. Seriously hotel? I called down to the front desk immediately.
Me: “Excuse me, I just paid $22 to park in your garage, and now I see it is $5 to park across the street?”
Lady: “Well actually, it is $5 for only 12 hours. So really it’s $10.”
Me: “That’s seriously your argument? It’s still less than half the price!”
Now, they ended up being sort of right, because parking there ended up being something of a headache. We were right next to the arena for the Charlotte Bobcats, and twice they had a game while we were there. When that happens, the price of the lot shoots up to $10 for a couple of hours during the event. This lead to a couple times where we had to drive around a little to find somewhere else to park (we ended up finding a free spot just down the street), and then going and getting the car later at night and moving it back to the lot. So this did cause a little bit of a headache.
Maybe I was just being cheap, I don’t know. But when you consider that we were staying for 4 nights, and that you have to tip the valet every time you get your car, I think we conservatively saved around $60. And really, it was the principle of the thing, you know?
Aaaanywho, we continued our string of delicious restaurants while in Charlotte.
Midwood Smokehouse – After just eating at 12 Bones, we were desperate for more barbecue. Unfortunately for Midwood Smokehouse, we had just eaten at 12 Bones. Midwood Smokehouse was perfectly good, but it was more “polished” or chain-y somehow and just suffered in comparison. They did have bacon wrapped jalapenos, which certainly helped their case, but overall it just couldn’t compete at the end of the day, especially in the side dish arena. The barbecue was more than adequate, and on any other trip it probably would have ranked up there with some of the best meals of the trip.
Fern – Fern was a place that we just happened to see after leaving Midwood Smokehouse, so we ended up giving it a try. BEST. STUMBLE UPON. EVER. Fern was possibly better even than 12 Bones, but it is so hard to compare a vegetarian restaurant to a barbecue joint. We ordered so much food that we thought we would never be able to eat it all, and then we proceeded to eat it all. If I lived in Charlotte, I would go to Fern every day and eat Buddha bowls with forbidden rice until I puked, which I would never do, because I wouldn’t want to waste it. My only regret is that I didn’t take them up on their half priced wine night.
Cook Out – This was the one place that I actually had plans to go to while in North Carolina. I became acquainted with Cook Out while Sara was going to school in Greensboro. It’s a fast food place, but the burgers really do taste like you cooked them out on the grill. They have cajun seasoning for their fries. They have over 40 flavors of milkshakes. And if all of that wasn’t enough, their burger sizes are “Small”, “Regular”, “Large” and “Huge”. You can legitimately drive up to the speaker and say, “I’d like a huge burger,” and you will get your wish my friend. I had plans to go to Cook Out multiple times, but it didn’t really work out, so we ended up having to go without Sara. However, the kids and I enjoyed it thoroughly without her.
Afterwards, it was time to head home. I mentioned the night we stayed in Asheville, and we also stayed at a place in Louisville that had an *awesome* pool. It was indoors, heated, and featured both an enormous shallow end where Evie could touch, but also an extremely deep end that was over my head. Finally, on the last day, we met Rachael in Indy and ate a very improvised lunch at her apartment.
And then we were home! Evie did fantastic in the car all the way down and all the way back. Oliver did great on the way there, but by the time we got to the end of the trip, he had pretty much had it with the car. There was a lot of howling. No matter how much fun we had on the trip, we were all glad to be back on dry land as it were, and ready to get back into our regular routines.
The second half of our trip was quite a bit different then the first half of the trip. The first half was rustic and the second half was urban, but more importantly, during the first half of the trip we cooked most of our own food, and during the second half of our trip we went out to eat at amazing restaurant after amazing restaurant.
Our first stop was in Asheville. Asheville is a really cool place, but sort of hard to describe. There are musicians on practically every street corner. There are tons of cool, unique shops and restaurants. If I had to sum it up in one catchy little phrase, it would be “buy local”. This is probably because most of them had a sign advising you to buy local (which is probably due to the opening of a large new Urban Outfitters). I have to agree with them though; you don’t get that awesome, unique vibe without that concentration of local shops, which are bound to be more interesting than chains.
It reminds me of a day a little further on in the trip, when we just got done eating a fantastic meal at a local eatery. We were driving back to our hotel, and we passed chain restaurant after chain restaurant, Applebees, TGIFridays, and Logan’s Steakhouse, each one packed fuller than the last. “Poor fools,” I thought. “Who would want to eat at one of those chain places when there are so many tasty and interesting places everywhere?”
Anyway, I digress. We bought our only souvenirs of the trip in Asheville; local honey, hand-dyed yarn, and some homemade soap. We even stayed in a non-chain hotel, which had a great location, but was a little on the shady side. It kind of seemed like there’s not much crime in Asheville, but what crime there is takes place at that hotel.
What we didn’t do in Asheville was go to the Biltmore estate. I actually really wanted to go to the Biltmore estate. First off, when I go somewhere, I like to go do the big thing of that place. The Biltmore estate is the biggest attraction in the Asheville area. Second off, it is billed as the American version of Versaille, which happened to be the very best part of our trip to France. So I thought, conceivably, it could have been the very best part part about our trip to North Carolina. However (and this is a big however), tickets to the Biltmore estate were going to run our family about $100! Just for comparison, tickets for Cedar Point would cost about $115 for our family. Are you really going to tell me that the Biltmore estate is roughly as much fun as Cedar Point?? “Hey kids, forget about roller coasters, look at this interesting architecture!”
Before I get into the restaurants, I just want to comment on something wonderful I discovered on the trip: the vegetable or side plate. Is this a southern thing? Basically, it just allows you to order some number of the side dishes on the menu (3, 5, 7). It worked out so well to order a bunch of side dishes and then dish them out to everyone and get to try everything. It’s like tapas or dim sum with delicious, Southern-made vegetables. Way better than ordering the chicken nugget kid’s meal.
Okay, so without further ado:
Tupelo Honey Cafe – The was the first, and perhaps only, meal that everyone was happy about (and by everyone, I mean Evie). Evie is pretty picky when it comes to food, and she mostly only wanted to eat french fries. However, even she couldn’t resist steaming hot biscuits with homemade blueberry jam, cheesy smashed cauliflower, and parmesan corn on the cob (okay, we also had sweet potato fries). This was the first place we went to in Asheville, and it was very difficult to not go back again.
The Green Sage – We happened to walk by this place the night before, so we gave it a chance for breakfast. It was more like a coffee shop, but they had food too. Aaaaawesome food. They had carrot cake pancakes with cream cheese
frosting topping. And they were perfect too, not overly sweet the way they could easily have been. I literally couldn’t eat any more. The coffee was good too. However, I couldn’t handle the trash/recycling/compost division, and I totally messed it up. Hey, I said the restaurant was perfect, not me.
12 bones – This was the best meal we had on a trip filled with excellent meals. It was also the most authentic southern restaurant I’ve ever seen. I ate ribs next to a guy with a gun in a holster. Real Southern barbecue next to a guy with a real gun in a real holster.
Speaking of ribs, this was a restaurant known for its ribs, but I was a little reluctant to get them. I’m usually more of a brisket kind of guy. However, I broke down and ordered the ribs…Oh Em Gee was I glad I did. I don’t know if I’ve ever tasted anything better in my life. The chipotle blue berry ribs were good, but the brown sugar dry rub ribs were out of this world. They also had a side platter option, and the sides were all great. The collard greens and green beans were the best, with the chipotle potato salad and corn pudding a close second. Seriously, there was something so great about the sides, I couldn’t even tell you. We had collard greens at three other restaurants, and they all looked more or less identical, but none of the held a candle to these. And I’m not the only one who liked the place:
Unfortunately for Oliver, he slept through the whole thing. The nice thing to do would have been to save him some, which we probably would have done if it were physically possible to do so. But it wasn’t, so we offered him a banana when he woke up right as we were leaving. No dice, he demanded a meal to go. We had no silverware in the car, so he had to eat it with his fingers. He didn’t complain. He couldn’t, because his mouth was full of pulled chicken and green beans.
Early Girl Eatery - Okay, technically this was on the way back. After Charlotte we stayed another night in Asheville on our way North. Once again, everything was really good (try the squash casserole). Sara had the sweet potato black bean cakes, and I had a blackened shrimp salad. Both were great.
If you’re keeping count at home, that’s four amazing restaurants in one small town. And I’m pretty sure we could have hit up more, but we ran out of time. Not too shabby. However, we couldn’t hang out with the hippies and foodies forever, because it was time for Charlotte…
I have had the same reoccurring nightmare since I was a child: I am riding in the car and we have to cross a bridge that is so high, that the road is practically vertical (Is this because I am afraid of heights, or the reason I am afraid of heights? Chicken and egg.) I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the road up to our cabin was exactly the same grade as that nightmare road. Except the road to the cabin was also full of switchbacks and blind corners. I honestly did not know if my car could physically made it up the hill.
However, it was so worth it. The cabin was absolutely perfect in every way. It is indescribable how perfect it was, so I will therefore try now to describe it. It was a real log cabin, with chinking in between the logs and everything. It was rustic and luxurious all at the same time. It was on the tippy-top of the mountain, with beautiful views of the valley below. The bottom floor had a bedroom, bathroom and foosball table, and a porch with a hot tub that looked out over the mountain. The middle floor had a kitchen, dining room, and living room with a fireplace, as well as a second-level porch with a swing, rocking chairs and a table to eat outside. The upstairs had a huge bedroom with another fireplace, as well as another bathroom.
The place was so big that we didn’t even use the bottom floor; we all slept upstairs in the one bedroom. The cabin could probably sleep 10 in a pinch, so the 4 of us were no problem. Even though there were other cabins dotting the hillside with us, it felt very isolated. It was so amazing being up on top of the mountain, with clouds snaking through the valley below us and no sounds of trains or traffic or anything except nature. The view from the porch was breathtaking.
In addition to the hot tub (which the kids absolutely loved and Evie said was her favorite part of the trip), there was also the biggest bathtub I have ever seen and/or imagined in my entire life. It had an entire room to itself off of the kitchen, and it was as good as any swimming pool as far as the kids were concerned. It was easily the size of a queen-sized bed. And it had jets too! I’m telling you, bath time has never been so fun.
Fortunately/unfortunately, this was a log cabin, and there was nature all around. An ant colony decided to take up residence inside the enormous tub. The first time we turned it on, ants came pouring out of one of the jet controls. I was trying to mop them up with a washcloth, but they just kept coming and coming. Luckily (or unluckily as it turns out) the tub was so big that the kids got in anyway and just avoided that section of the tub. We didn’t really think about where those ants were coming from, so when we turned on the jets…well, lets just say the kids had a couple of extra hands (legs) to help scrub their backs that night. After the explosive armageddon of their nest, they wisely did not return, so future baths were a little less creepy crawly.
In addition to eating all of our meals at the cabin (we even had pancakes on Sunday!), we spent our days hiking in Great Smoky Mountain National park. In other words, cheap vacation spot! We never even bothered with Gatlinburg, other than a trip or two to the grocery store. The hiking was pretty great.
One day, Evie hiked about 5 1/2 miles, and Oliver made it about 1 mile. Not a complaint from either of them! I was very proud of Evie, but she was having such a great time, I don’t think it occurred to her to complain.
Every hike ended at a waterfall. I didn’t really go into it expecting to see so many waterfalls, but I guess it makes sense; that water has to make it down the mountain somehow. Still, some really fantastic waterfalls, including one we got to go underneath, and a really tall one we saw later on the Cherokee reservation. After finally getting to the end of a long hike, we were never disappointed.
The Smokies are known for having a lot of bears, and consequently the cabin was appropriately garbed in bear decor. We had read to Evie the literature about what to do if you see a bear, just in case. All of this was a little too much for poor Evie, who became so afraid of bears that she couldn’t even handle the decorations in the cabin. We had to hang a sack over the bear toilet paper holder in the bathroom.
Therefore, it was somewhat ironic that we did actually see a mother bear and a cub later in the trip, and Evie was sort of excited about it. The bear was pretty far away, so we certainly weren’t in any danger from it. I guess it was easier to see when it was moving around, because in most of our pictures it’s just a black spot. Still, it was pretty cool to see some true wildlife (with a cub no less!) and certainly the biggest and most interesting animal not named Sasquatch running around those woods.
Alas, too soon it was time to say goodbye to the Smokies and move on to (less) greener pastures…
In order to make the trip more enjoyable, we started by upgrading Oliver’s car seat and turning him around to face forward. He was pretty excited about it, he kept saying, “NEW car seat! NEW car seat!” However, once he got a little tired, he started demanding, “Lean back!” and looking around for the recline button. It’s a little harder to get a nap in when you’re not facing up at the ceiling.
Our first stop was Cincinnati, and I must report that there were dead daffodils on 3/22 in Cincinnati. That’s right, spring had already sprung by March 22nd. We happened to arrive on Anna’s birthday, so we let her pick the dinner spot. She mentioned Benihana, and I have to admit I was pretty excited for the kids. I thought they’d really enjoy the show, and I thought that Benihana is like the original Japanese steakhouse, so it would be sure not to disappoint. I was wrong! No fire and no shrimp throwing, two things that you simply cannot have a Japanese steakhouse without! So the kids didn’t really care much about the show, but they still had a good time, because there was ice cream at the end.
We didn’t stay in Cincinnati long, but we also had time to visit an extremely beautiful park, where there were white and purple trees in bloom like crazy. And thus began my long nightmare known as “Southern Allergies”. Uuuuuuuuuuugh.
After driving for a bit, we saw a water tower that said, “Florence Y’All” and Sara said, “Well, I guess we’re in Kentucky now.”
(Side note, turns out there is a funny story on how that water tower came to be — check it out!)
By the time we got to Tennessee, we started really getting into the mountains. Suddenly, road signs started warning us of construction on a tunnel ahead, combined with an accident. We were advised to use a small state highway to avoid the mess. We decided to heed their advice, despite the fact that no other car seemed inclined to agree. We got off on the local highway and took a long, steep, winding drive through the back woods of Tennessee. It seemed very remote. Just as we started to hear strains of banjo music, a really bad noise started coming from the car.
I thought maybe something was caught under the car, since it seemed to be a grinding kind of noise, but I got out and checked and there was nothing there. We didn’t know what to do. We were just coming into a little town, so the terrain was a little more level, and we figured out that the noise was related to the brakes (which we had been using fairly continuously on our little mountain adventure). Whenever I hit the brakes, it was like a grist mill chewing on a strip of metal.
Just as we were about to exit the town, I saw a shop that said “tire and brakes” on the side, and I pulled a quick u-turn and darted in there. Sure enough, the front brakes were completely shot — right through the pads and down to metal on metal (which is exactly what it sounded like).
LUCKILY, they were amazing and nice, and fixed us up in about an hour and a half, while we ate our lunch. I was prepared to pay the out-of-state-tourist tax and call myself lucky, but the whole thing cost less than $200. (A couple of my co-workers are considering driving down to Tennessee to get their brakes fixed from now on.) In fact, they said I didn’t really even need to replace the rotors, despite the fact that I had been grinding them directly, but if I wanted to replace them, it would cost “$25″. In other words, rather than being stranded in the middle of the mountains with a broken car, I got new brakes for probably less than half of what it would cost at home, and it basically didn’t even interrupt our trip. I said to Sara, “I hope nothing else goes wrong, because we just used up all of our luck.”
Justice did demand that Sara leave all of her shower stuff in the hotel in Cincinnati in retribution, but I think we came out on the winning side of that karmic transaction.
Oliver’s phrase for the trip was “Oh, what is that?” He started saying it about 100 times a day about anything he could think of. Often is was about something he’d never seen before and wasn’t sure what it was, but sometimes it was about something like a door, or the spaghetti he was eating. This would have quickly gotten on our nerves, but something about the facial expression he used when he said it combined with the tone of voice made it more funny that annoying. He would just make a face and say, “What is that?” like he was just looking at the most ridiculous thing he had ever seen, rather than a ceiling fan.
We were staying just outside of Gatlinburg, and I knew that it was pretty touristy. However, I was totally unprepared for the monstrosity that was Pigeon Forge. The only thing I can compare it to is the Wisconsin Dells. It’s touristy, but like over the top, amazing touristy. Like full size replica’s of the Titanic touristy, or giant upside down Greek temples. Would you believe the kids slept through the whole thing? Thank god, because I don’t know how I would even begin to explain that place to them (although I have to admit, I’m pretty disappointed that Sara wouldn’t let me go to the Lumberjack Feud).
Finally, after a long, multi-day car ride, we arrived at our cabin…
First off, happy belated 4th of July to everyone, and happy belated anniversary to Sara and I!
We continued the tradition we started last year, and headed up to Michigan for the 4th. We again stayed at Lisa and Orlan’s house, and Evie again had the time of her life. Sara and I had a good time too, but there’s something about watching your kid have a great time that just makes it impossible for you to not enjoy yourself. Evie loves playing with Kaycee, who never seems to get tired of playing with her (I hope…and if not, sorry Kaycee!). Randi, on the other hand, has to do practically nothing to gain her adoration.
Oliver was sort of terrified, sort of curious about their dogs. I would say he wasn’t as terrified as Evie used to be about them, because whenever they weren’t looking at him, he wanted to go investigate and keep an eye on them. So he was very interested in them. But if they showed an interest in him, he would run screaming and sobbing, as absolutely terrified as anybody could ever be about anything. 10 seconds later the dogs would be off somewhere else, and he’d be begging to get down again.
Evie warmed up to the dogs quite a bit. The turning point was after she got out of the pool and was shivering cold; “The dogs have very warm tongues!” After that she seemed to have no problem with the dogs at all, and she was only really scared of them when Oliver was getting a lot of attention for being scared of them. She even mentioned on the way home that she likes their warm tongues. This is a complete 180 reversal from her previous stance on dogs, which was that she wants no smooches from them under any circumstances.
We ended up at the lake both Sunday and Monday, which worked out good because there wouldn’t have been enough time on Monday alone to satisfy all of Evie’s lake demands. She had such a great time! We couldn’t keep her off the lake: if she wasn’t in the boat, she was on a tube. If she wasn’t on a tube, she was swimming in the water. This is all fairly surprising, since she freaks out if any water gets on her face or head (especially ears!). So I’m kind of impressed that she enjoyed the water so much.
Oliver thinks the boat is a magical sleeping machine. 3 rides on the boat, 3 naps. Every time, he was out almost as soon as we pulled away from the dock. He was sort of obsessed with the lake, and keeping him from running over and diving in was sort of a full time job. He did take some breaks to play in the wading pool, where he mostly enjoyed watching the water drip out of his swimming trunks.
Evie also insisted that Aunt Pat take her for a ride on the “other boat” (a.k.a. the wave runner). She enjoyed that just as much, taking the driver’s seat. She has no problem being in charge of driving either of the boats. The only mishap was that one time her hat blew off into the lake, but they were able to retrieve it before it sunk.
We spent a lot of time “tubing”, or foolishly being whipped around at high speeds behind a boat on a flimsy inter tube. Evie thought it was the best thing ever, even though the boat was going as slow as it was physically able to go while she was on there. Even Sara went, which really surprised me. That was probably the highlight of the weekend for me. It seemed somewhat out of character, but she was grinning her head in two the entire time, and it seemed like she was really enjoying herself. That makes me happy.
As for myself, I tried tubing as well. What I learned was that tubing is not for whiners. Well, guess what? It’s my blog and I can whine about whatever I want to. Tubing is harrrrrd! My arms huuuurt!
Look, in my defense, even though I wouldn’t consider myself old, I was at least twice as old as anybody who was out there tubing with me, and probably weigh twice as much as well. My arms are definitely not used to hauling that kind of weight around!
I was on the side of a 3 person tube, and I felt like I was practically falling off the tube to begin with. When we got out there and really started whipping around in the chop, I was holding myself on with sheer arm strength (what precious little I have) and will power. I can’t even count the number of times I thought to myself, “Oh, man, that’s it, I’m going off!” but I never did. At one point, towards the end, I slid almost all the way off the back of the tube. Orlan said he felt the boat slow down like he was dragging a big-fat-pasty-white anchor (those weren’t his exact words). I knew I had to pull myself back onto the tube, but my arms were so tired, I seriously considered just letting go. So maybe that final pull-up was when I pulled a muscle in my arm.
That night and the next day my right elbow was so sore that I had trouble shaving. They kept trying to get me to go again, but I’m telling you, I was physically unable. And I admit, I felt kind of silly complaining about it, since there were about 8 other people who went a lot more times than I did, and *they* weren’t complaining. I have to assume I was doing something wrong, though I’m not sure what. My arms are still sore today!
So that was pretty much it. I can only think of three things that were even remotely bad:
- There was a lot of construction both ways that added some significant time onto our trip,
- We bought hamburger buns from the bakery on Friday and they were moldy by Monday, so that was a big fat waste of money,
- My phone fell out of my pocket, and we left Lisa’s house without it. Luckily I realized this and we were able to stop by and get it on the way home (it was in between the couch cushions, under the giant stuffed frog of course)
As soon as we got back from Mackinac, we basically turned around and got back in the car. For at least a year now, we have been going through everything we could possibly get rid of, and saving up all of our junk in our guest bedroom. So much so, that it was getting hard for people to stay in there.
Usually there is a big family rummage sale every year, but this is the first year we’ve sold stuff at my Uncle Lenny’s house. Lenny is about as close as you can come to a professional yard sale-r. He has a big barn with stuff that he collects all the time, and he can open it up at any time and start selling. So, with his stuff alone you’d have a pretty big sale, but then you add in all the stuff the rest of the family brings, and you’re in business.
The sale was huge, and we were so busy on both Saturday and Sunday, busier than I have ever been at a yard sale (and our family has a looong history of yard sales). We had about 4 tables for our stuff. I am proud to say, we made $172.50! Not too shabby for a bunch of junk that had an average price of about $0.25 (though we did sell a laptop for $80, half of which we owe to Anna).
We spent about $11 on other people’s junk, mostly on kids’ clothes. We eventually figured out that we bought things about once an hour; you would wander around and see something you hadn’t seen the first 10 times around, or you would decide not to buy something, but then after an hour of thinking about it you would change your mind.
Even with the stuff we bought though, we sold tons more stuff, so I don’t understand why our car seemed just as full going home as coming. My main goal was to unload junk (the money was just a bonus), so I wish we would have gotten rid of even more. However, it was good to get rid of what we did.
The main part is that it is nice to visit with everyone. Someone asked me, “You came here just for the yard sale?” We didn’t get to talk to many people at the wedding, so this was a little more low-key, and we had more of a chance to chat. And, of course, we always enjoy the chance to play cards at Grandma’s at night. (and Sara cleaned up at 3 and 13!)
My Uncle Lenny’s yard has always been something of an inspiration to me. He’s got some awesome fruit trees, a little pool with a waterfall and actual, flowering lily pads, and a nice little cozy yet open area off the back deck. However, this time I got to see an awesome new (to me) feature, which I never knew about before.
A large section of his yard is densely wooded, and through this area winds a series of paths. You enter through a trellis-framed door, and if you follow the main path, you wind almost 800 feet to the little cleared camping area in the back. On the way you pass through a spooky wooded section, a more open back section, and even come upon a pine-tree-fairy-ring. I cannot tell you how cool the whole thing is! I enjoyed the first trip through so much, I took a second trip. Oliver apparently found it relaxing as well, since he fell asleep on my head.
Evie and Oliver had a blast walking, playing with all the junk for sale, picking up and petting the kittens, listening to books with Aunt Kris, and did I mention there was a reindeer next door? They were just plumb wore out by all of it at the end of the day(s).
And really, I think we were all experiencing a little vacation fatigue by the time we got home. Our house is the biggest disaster zone on the planet. After returning from one vacation, we just sort of chucked everything we didn’t need to the side and loaded up for the next vacation. We have dishes and laundry stacked everywhere. We’ve made great strides since we’ve been home, but we still have so much more to do, my mind sort of boggles at the prospect.
Is there anything more exhausting than vacation??
After the wedding was over, we took off on our “familymoon”. Rather than take a honeymoon, the newlyweds opted to take their entire family on vacation with them. This worked out really well, because each set of kids had never really met the other, so this provided us a chance to get to know each other.
The kids were surprisingly good on the way up. It was a long drive, but it was no problem. They slept, played, ate, and didn’t scream too much. What more could you ask for?
Now obviously the thing about Mackinac Island is that there are no cars allowed. This means you spend a lot of time riding your bike. Before we left, Sara ran into someone at the park who happened to have one of those bike trailers that you attach to your bike to pull your kids. They let us borrow it, which was totally awesome, because we don’t really know them, and the trailers cost $40 a day to rent on the island!
So we did a lot of bike riding around the island. I calculated that pulled that trailer around for about 23 miles. When you’re riding on a flat path, such as around the outside of the island, you don’t notice it much. But when you’re going up an enormous hill, such as anywhere other than around the outside of the island, it feels like you are towing a giant anchor.
It was fun getting to know everybody. In particular, Evie just absolutely loved her new friend Makenna. Evie always has fun hanging out with slightly older girls. Makenna, on the other hand, just absolutely loved her new friend Oliver. This set up a sort of a rivalry between the two of them. All of a sudden, Evie was very keen that Oliver understand he was HER sister. This worked out semi-well for Oliver. Suddenly everybody wanted to share their food with him, take him for walks, etc. On the other hand, they also wanted to pick him up by the neck and smother him to death.
We did about everything we possibly could have done in the 4 days we were there. We hit up Fort Mackinac, the ORIGINAL butterfly house (twice actually), took a horse-drawn carriage tour, and toured the Governor’s mansion. The Governor’s mansion was free, but sort of lame. You only go through about 3 rooms, and you don’t really see much. We went early and there was no line, but by the time we left the line was pretty long. It probably wouldn’t have been worth waiting in the line. Evie worked really, really hard to sit still and get a butterfly to land on her at the butterfly house, and it paid off. We went to a free museum run by city residents (the name escapes me) which was actually kind of cool. The lady there lived on the island all her life and she was happy to talk about the history of the island. The place was pretty empty, but I would recommend that one.
One of the things that I thought worked really well was that everybody came together to eat dinner every night. This was one of my favorite parts of the day, and really the only time we were all together. I think that if we didn’t plan that out ahead of time, probably we never would have all gotten together as a group.
The food overall was sort of meh. It was expensive, but only average. I would say the best place by far was the Yankee Rebel; I think I had the best pot roast of my life. Oliver tried his first ice cream cone, and, needless to say, he liked it. I mean, first off, he likes all food. Second off, it’s ice cream!
We also took a ghost tour, and I have to say, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. In general I like that sort of thing, but it was fun to go with family and everything. It wasn’t really scary, per say, but it was a lot of fun. Especially since some of the best ghosts were centered on the place where we were staying, or places we have stayed before.
This time, we were staying at Mission Point Resort. While our room was sort of perfect (bedroom on one side and sitting room on the other, which meant that we had a separate place to go and play cards after the kids were in bed), I wouldn’t recommend staying there. In addition to some customer service issues that we had, it is also really far away from downtown. I felt like we spent a lot of time walking back and forth to the hotel. Several times I thought, “Oh man, I forgot my jacket! Oh well, it’s too far to go back.”
Obviously we had to get fudge since we were at the fudge capitol of the world. I have to say, the fudge was sort of a letdown! Perhaps my tastes are changing as I get older, or maybe we didn’t go to the right fudge shop (there are only 1,000 to choose from), but I think I like the fudge that Sara makes better than what we bought. It was more sweet than flavorful (specifically the chocolate wasn’t all that chocolate-y), and it was creamier in the center than I like. Don’t get me wrong though, we polished off that fudge no problem!
I always like to play the “high/low” game with Evie, where I ask her what her favorite and least favorite parts of the day/trip/what-have-you were. One day I asked her about this, and she told me her “worst favorite” part of the day was, “when daddy called the pirates soldiers” and her “best favorite” part was, “the pirates”. It took me a while to figure out what she was talking about, but then I eventually figured out that there were some animatronic soldiers at Fort Mackinac, and she apparently thought they were pirates. (In her defense, they were dressed sort of fancy, like pirates, and also it would have been a lot cooler if they were pirates.) This stuck with her so much, that she said me calling the pirates soldiers was her “worst favorite” part of the trip!
Of course, Evie being Evie, her other favorite part of the trip was seeing Skull Cave (too bad they don’t have any guillotines on the island). Her sitting next to the sign was the picture she wanted to take to school and show everybody when we got back. Apparently she even told them the whole story about the guy hiding in there and finding all the bones. Ah, kids will be kids!
So, all in all, this was a great trip and we had a really good time. I wish we could have spent even longer on the island (and we even stayed one day longer than we intended to!). To all my “new siblings” (should any of you read this now that we are Facebook friends), you’re a really nice bunch of people and we enjoyed getting to know you. Evie is already making plans to fly to Colorado for a play date.
One thing I should mention is that we really missed having Nathan on the island with us. I’m sure he was bummed about not being able to go, but we definitely felt your absence bro. You would have really completed the trip.
Last weekend, we took a quick little vacation down to Indianapolis to visit my sister.
One of the first things I saw when I stepped out of the car in Indianapolis was a man with phone taped on his head. Forget bluetooth, this guy just grabbed some masking tape and wound it around his head 3 or 4 times so he could work and talk at the same time.
I’d like to think this set the tone for the whole trip.
So we got down there Saturday, and Saturday was the Jewish holiday Purim. The whole week at school they had been building up to Purim, so Evie was really excited about it. So before we went we found a Jewish deli downtown to stop in and get a traditional hamantashen. Evie had made hamantashen at school and couldn’t stop talking about it, so we knew she would be pretty excited about this.
So we’re standing in the Jewish deli and I didn’t see any hamantashen. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Do you have any hamantashen?”
Me: “Hamantashen. You know, triangles? Today’s Purim?”
Guy, confused: “No, we don’t have any of those.”
Now look, even a year ago I wouldn’t have had any idea what hamantashen were or when Purim was. But then I don’t own a self-proclaimed Jewish deli. I wasn’t standing under a sign that said, “Let’s Nosh“.
I was probably more disappointed with this than Evie, since she had an M&M cookie instead. That tends to make the disappointment disappear.
So we checked into the hotel, and luckily, Evie managed to slip some castanets into her suitcase before we left, so everybody was very happy to see us, I can assure you. We were right next to Lucas Oil Field (where the Colts play) so it was very easy to find our hotel. I found Indianapolis to be very navigateable.
We hit up the Saffron Cafe for dinner, and it was very good. As expected, Evie loved the falafel, and Oliver loved the spinach dip stuff. As for myself, my tilapia tajine was awesome. A tajine is like a beautiful clay bowl with a pointy lid, so when you cook the food all of the juices are kept in.
The hotel provided breakfast, but Sunday morning could only be described as a breakfast disaster.
There was some kind of big hockey tournament going on, so there were about a hundred 11 year old boys and their associated families, all trying to eat breakfast at the same time. Evie was set on making a waffle, so we had to wait for about forever in line for that. They actually ran out of batter at one point, so we had to wait on that. Finally I got her squared away and decided to go for a waffle myself. I was only the 2nd person in line at that point, and there were two waffle makers, so I figured I was set. Well, the guy at the first waffle maker secretly had several cups of batter and proceeded to make waffle after waffle. The kid at the second waffle maker couldn’t figure out how to do it, and ruined a few waffles before finally getting it right. Just as he was about to walk away…waffle on the floor. Finally I gave up and settle for just a bagel.
Afterwards, there was no trash bag for my trash, so I stood around waiting for that for about 5 minutes. The family made it all the way to the room and then came back looking for me, since I had the key. “No worries,” I thought, “At least Evie isn’t around to see me snatch one of these delicious looking doughnut holes…” Or so I thought, because the lady in front of me took all 6 remaining doughnut holes. All in all, it was a sad 45 minutes.
As sort of a side note, why does the world hate decaf drinkers? Sara and I got coffee from the lobby Saturday night and it was awful. On Sunday morning the decaf was out, so we got regular. It was about 100 times better! If they hadn’t been out of decaf I never would have known that they don’t just have crappy coffee, they just have crappy *decaf* coffee!
Obviously the main event was the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. I would have to say it lived up to the billing. We spent SEVEN STRAIGHT HOURS at the children’s museum, and we definitely didn’t see everything. This is unprecedented, and I never would have guessed that we would have lasted that long.
The museum is expensive, but it turns out it wasn’t that bad of a deal. Once you’re in, there are quite a few free programs, in addition to the museum itself. In particular, we caught a free showing of One World, One Sky in the planetarium, something that we had happily payed to see all by itself.
There were plenty of neat things to see, and a pretty good mix of things for younger and older kids. I would have loved the dinosaur stuff when I was a kid. As an adult though, my favorite was the Chihuly glass, which made for some great pictures.
One other funny thing from the museum: I have seen toys from my childhood on display in museums before, but this is the first time I’ve seen my first car as an exhibit. They had a Chevy Celebrity in one of the exhibits! Way to make me feel old.
After the museum marathon, we were worried about the kids’ behavior, so we hit up a pizza joint, Bazbeaux. Very excellent pizza and just what the doctor ordered for dinner. We had enough for leftovers the next day as well.
We had tentatively planned on going to the zoo the next day, but it seemed like a little much, so we decided to spend a little time at the Eiteljorg museum instead. The Eiteljorg is a Native American museum, and it was a lot better than I thought it would be! First off, the building itself is beautiful, maybe my favorite part. The Red/Black exhibit about the interrelated history of Native Americans and African Americans was fascinating. And the kid’s section was much bigger and much more interesting than I was anticipating. Well worth a short trip!
One thing I didn’t mention was the amount of time we spent swimming in the hotel pool. This is certainly something I enjoyed a lot as a kid, and one of the best parts about staying in a hotel. We sure got our money’s worth out of that pool, believe me! Oliver really loves playing and splashing in the water. Evie likes being in the water, if not splashing.
On the way home we decided to stop off at Fair Oaks Farms. We had seen the signs from the highway, and an organic dairy seemed like a good diversion. However, I have to say, “No thank you”. It would have cost us $27 for our family to go, which seems very excessive. Call me naive, but I thought they just opened up their operation to tours to spread their brand name. We’ve gone to all kids of cheese factory tours, etc. that didn’t cost anything. We ended up getting an ice cream, but even that was pretty expensive. In my opinion, not worth the stop.
Overall, I would say Indianapolis is a great little vacation from Chicago. We had a great time. I was specifically impressed with the food. There were a lot of great looking restaurants, and we had trouble deciding where to go. And the Children’s Museum was everything it was billed to be. So for kids or adults, it’s worth a short trip!
I mentioned that on Sunday most things are closed. So we had to go do the things that actually were opened.
Part 8A, Triumph
For us, that meant we finally made it to the Arc de Triomphe. It turns out that they have an elevator they will let you take if you have a stroller, even though it is supposed to be for handicap use only. However, we didn’t know that, so we took the stairs (it turns out the elevator was broken at the top anyway). We had read that it was supposed to be a free day, but when we got there it apparently wasn’t (either that or some very inventive crooks took in a loooot of money that day).
Everybody had been saying about how the stairs were so big and roomy. Well…I’d hate to see some of the other staircases. I suppose it was roomy in the sense that someone could *technically* squeeze by you if they had to. I still wouldn’t describe them as roomy.
I carried Evie and Sara carried Oliver, and I have to say, the climb wasn’t really that bad. Just when I started to breath hard and think, “Okay, how much farther?” we were at the top. The view was nice, but I’d imagine it would be even better after dark, with the lights in the trees down the Champs-Élysées and the glittering Tour Eiffel.
One thing you do see during the day are a bunch of maniacs driving in the enormous roundabout around the Arc. It’s probably like 6 or 8 lanes wide, with no markings, and there are 12 streets stemming off. So it’s kind of like a big round parking lot, and everybody is just sort of driving whichever way is most convenient for them. The amazing part was that there didn’t seem to be any accidents!
After the Arc, we hit up a supermarket (they’re open on Sundays) to get some food for lunch and then we went back to the apartment and worked on packing and cleaning. We had a lot of bread crumbs to vacuum!
Part 8B, Back for more
After we had the apartment squared away, we went back to the Jardin du Luxembourg. The previous time was when I was working, so this was the first time for me. If you recall, the first time they went the place was pretty much empty. This time, however, it was totally different. Packed. This is where Parisians hide their kids! (For a city the size of Paris, there didn’t seem to be too many kids.) It wasn’t just kids though, there were tons of adults just strolling the park as well. It was quite the scene.
The main reason we were there was to see another marionette show. The first show went so well, that we really wanted to see another one. The one at Jardin du Luxembourg was much more involved. It was more like going to see a play. There was an indoor theater with a ticket seller, stage and curtain, and even an intermission to go catch some refreshments. Therefore, Evie was a little scared.
Being as this was much more of a production, there was actually a storyline, Puss in Boots. The puppets were much larger, the sets were more elaborate (like a spinning windmill or a carriage with moving wheels and puppet horses), and the scenes required several puppet masters, not just one. Evie was looking forward to seeing Guignol, but I was a little nervous maybe Guignol wouldn’t be in Puss in Boots. However, I now know Guignol is in ALL French marionette shows. So we weren’t disappointed there.
It was interesting to see the elaborate puppets and sets, etc. but I have to say that I kind of preferred the first one we saw. It was sort of the “working man’s” puppet show and seemed more authentic to me. It was more straightforward and had more participation from the kids. Evie liked them both, but I think she preferred the first one too. But I’m still glad we saw this one.
After the show, we walked around the park a little bit and watched people play Pétanque (a.k.a. Boules or Bocce ball). This wasn’t just an idle game, this was serious business! There is a coat rack for people to hang up their coats so it doesn’t mess with their throw. People had utility belts with little tools, like a little measuring tape. My favorite accessory was this little magnet on a chain for picking up your balls, so you don’t have to bend over. People were very serious; they had a special stance, special throw, etc. It was fascinating to watch. I would have stayed longer, but they dragged me away.
Evie continued to grab every chestnut she could find, building up a sizable collection. She tried keeping them in her pockets, but she had too many and they kept falling out. Consequently she had full pockets, plus all she could hold in her hands. We told her we wouldn’t be allowed to bring them home with us, and she’d have to throw them away when we got home. She was a little bummed, but not as upset as I thought she’d be. We promised her we could take a picture of them, and we could take the picture home instead. So she proudly posed with her enormous pile of chestnuts in her lap. Later we found out that was only about half of them. She had squirreled them away in every nook and cranny of the apartment, and every bag or piece of luggage we had.
Part 8C, Busking don’t pay like it used to
On the metro, you very frequently see accordion players playing for money. Occasionally it would be other instruments, but there was a heavy emphasis on accordion playing. Evie loved it (me too!). One time Sara gave her a coin to give to one of the players and Evie thought it was so cool. You could tell how big of a deal she thought it was by the way she made nervous eye contact and solemnly put the coin in the cup.
All week Evie had been saving up her “collection” of coins, some of which she found on the ground, some of which she earned by being good. As usual, she wanted to spend this money on ice cream, but we told her she didn’t have nearly enough. So instead she asked if she could give it to “someone playing music on the train”.
On the walk to the train, that money was burning a hole in her pocket. She couldn’t stop playing with it, jingling it in her pocket, or just holding it in her hand. We were worried we wouldn’t see anybody and she would be disappointed. However, right away, there was someone on our train. Her face was just shining.
When he finally finished playing, he came through the car for money. Evie carefully reached in her pocket and pulled out…1 cent. She reverently placed it in his cup, and he thanked her. I’m telling you, watching her face, I almost wanted to cry. The whole scene was so beautiful. Although the man was very nice and seemed grateful, I’m sure he almost wanted to cry too. 1 whole cent. But if he knew how much that 1 cent meant to Evie, he would probably never spend it.
Part 8D, Time to go
Alas, our time in Paris was just about up. Evie didn’t want to leave.
Me: “Are you ready to leave tomorrow?”
Evie: “No. It’s a good life in Paris.”
Evie: “I want to get on your shoulders.”
Me: “That costs 2 smooches.”
Evie: “How much smooches does it cost to live in Paris forever?”
Oliver, however, was ready to go. He did not like being full-body-rash-baby or being stuffed in the ergo anymore. He was tired of the few toys we brought for him. He was tired of being out of his routine. He wanted home.
I can’t say I blamed him.
Part 7A, Sing the bells of Notre Dame
First up for Saturday was a trip to Île de la Cité, an island in the middle of the river Seine, the river that goes through the middle of Paris. Île de la Cité is known as the “heart of the city”, so its no surprise that it is home to “Point Zero” the place from which all distances in Paris are calculated. However, it’s a little more well known for being the home of the cathedral of Notre Dame (Our Lady). Paris tip #7 – don’t pronounce Notre Dame like the University in South Bend! (Correct: Note-re Dahm. Incorrect: Noter Daaame)
The inside of the church was plenty impressive, but it was the outside that was really awesome. It’s kind of like with the palace at Versailles: I’ve seen churches that are similar to the inside, but the outside was unlike anything I’ve seen before. In particular, it is covered with interesting gargoyles. I think I could sit and look at them all day long. Flying buttresses are significantly cooler looking than they sound. This was definitely the best outside of all the churches we went to in Paris.
Sara and I were thinking of putting out a book entitled, “Oliver pukes on the sacred relics of Europe”. It would be a picture book, maybe something nice with big glossy pictures, like a coffee table book. We certainly got a head start on this book during the course of this trip. Notre Dame was no exception.
You can climb the tower of Notre Dame for a good view (like everything in Paris) but we skipped it (as we did with Sacré-Coeur). The thought of all of those tight, cramped stairs with the kids and all of our gear just seemed like trouble. We decided to save it for the Arc de Triomphe, which we heard had a nice wide staircase.
Just outside of Notre Dame is the entrance to the Paris Archeological Crypt. I wouldn’t really recommend it, it’s sort of boring, but it is pretty quick to go through, covered under the museum pass, and has one other big advantage: buttons to push. There’s nothing Evie likes more than pushing buttons in a museum, and this was the only one in France that we went to with buttons. So she was happy.
We went to a restaurant for lunch, specifically a crêperie because we knew that Evie liked crêpes, and Sara and I wanted some authentic ones. However, Evie’s behavior convinced us not to go to any more restaurants for the rest of the trip. Her behavior was abhorrent; having fits, not listening, obsessing about desert (to the point that she wouldn’t eat anything), spitting out her food, etc. It was a pretty ugly scene (and the waitress wasn’t very nice to begin with). We got out of there as soon as possible.
To top it all off, I was getting a cold, and I was feeling pretty miserable. Specifically a nice little sinus headache was settling in.
Part 7B, Deport me from this memorial
After lunch we headed over to the Mémorial de la Déportation (we had tried to go before lunch, but it had been closed for lunch, so we came back). Basically it is a memorial to the 200,000 people deported from France to Nazi concentration camps. The pictures we had seen looked pretty cool, with a hallway containing 200,000 lighted crystals, one for each deported person.
As we approached the memorial, we saw a lady standing in front of the stairs, a little stick thrust into the bush blocking the way with a little stop sign on it. She stopped each person before they entered and lectured them on the solemnity of the memorial, reminded them not to take any pictures, and telling them not to touch anything.
When it was our turn, she told us that Evie shouldn’t go in. She made us go read the information on the side (which told us nothing we didn’t already know) and told us, after reading it, we could decide if she could go in or not. This of course caused us to reconsider going in. This was about concentration camps after all, maybe there were graphic pictures or something. So we agreed that I would go check it out first, and if it was okay, everyone else would come in.
Here’s the thing: there was nothing graphic in any way. The lady was just concerned whether or not Evie would be solemn enough for her liking. There really was almost nothing to see down there at all. It was just a little stone room with a bunch of writing in French on the walls (they did use a cool font, I will give them that). Anything of interest was behind big, locked gates, including the hallway with the 200,000 crystals! So like, the entire point of the memorial was blocked off, and you had to peek between bars to see it. And why did they close it for lunch, if there was nothing to see or touch or anything?
Well, because the gate keeper couldn’t be there to lecture you and make sure you were solemn enough. I’m sure her head is in the right place. She wants to make sure it is treated reverently. The problem is that, who says her way is the only way to enjoy it? We weren’t there to make trouble or to disrespect anything. So, in trying to make sure the monument is enjoyed “properly”, she ends up making sure nobody enjoys it at all, and misses a great opportunity to educate people (and kids!) about what the whole point of the memorial is.
So I told Sara not to bother and we left. This is probably the only thing we saw in Paris that I would not recommend. It definitely wasn’t cool enough to justify the lecturing (especially not with everything blocked off).
Part 7C, More stuff
Once that was done, we walked over to Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel). There was a long line and we smugly strolled past it, looking for the museum pass line. Unfortunately, when we got to the front, there was a clear sign that said museum pass holders must wait in the line like all the rest of the schmucks. We couldn’t skip the line. Not only did we just get done with a bad experience at the deportation memorial, we had to wait in this long line with misbehaving kids and a sinus headache. Spirits were low.
Just before we reached the pits of despair, a security guard pulled us out and skipped us to the front of the line (I guess because we have kids? He didn’t really explain, at least not in English, and I can’t think of any other reason why we would get to go first). As we got up there, we quickly saw that the line was for security, not to get into the chapel. The chapel shares the building with the court house, so the security was really for the courthouse. There was a separate line to get into the chapel, which we *could* skip with our pass.
Security in Paris is so funny. They peek in your bag, but they don’t dig around or anything. In many cases we happened to have a blanket or something on top, such that you couldn’t see anything in the bag at all, and they waved us through. On top of that, if you set off the metal detector, they just wave you through anyway. Like, “Ah, go ahead, you have kids and about 100 bags, you’re fine.”
Anyway, our mood was perked up a little bit by the unexpected line jumping. Once we were inside, we were standing off to the side to collect ourselves a little bit, and Evie just started jumping off a low stone step. Oliver thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen in his life. Every time she jumped, he would just start laughing his head off. We probably stood there for 10 minutes with her jumping. This was just the mood-lift that we needed.
Sainte-Chapelle is kind of an un-church, almost like an unexpected, nondescript little building in the middle of a bunch of unrelated buildings, as opposed to the big gothic structure of Notre Dame. And yet, it had (probably by far) the best stained glass windows of all the churches. I was pleasantly surprised, it was better than I expected. I would recommend a stop here, although I think it is the only church we went to that you had to pay to see (unless you have the museum pass!)
Sainte-Chapelle is just like two rooms, so we were quickly on our way to the Conciergerie, which also ended up being better than I expected (another use of the museum pass here). Conciergerie is an old prison for guillotine victims, most specifically Marie-Antoinette, but it’s actually pretty cool looking inside (at least compared to what I thought a prison would look like). Specifically the vaulted entrance hall is cool and makes good use of lighting. I think maybe it started its life as a palace, so that could explain it. We were hoping maybe to see a guillotine, but there wasn’t one. There was, however, a series of mannequins in cells to demonstrate what life was like in the prison, and Evie liked that a lot. And plenty of talk about guillotines, of course, so she was pretty happy.
Part 7D, Parlez vous espagnol?
When we were leaving the Conciergerie, Evie was again having a fit, strapped into the stroller and yelling “No! No!” One of the guards started laughing and shouted, “Sí! “Sí!” back at her. This was the 3rd day in a row that Evie was mistaken for Spanish. Why?? Does she look Spanish?
I continued to notice that French babies are ridiculously decked out, and everybody judges us ahard core for 1) freezing oliver, 2) putting Evie in the stroller and not making her walk (and/or having a crappy stroller), and 3) when she falls asleep every day people think she has a condition.
Part 7E, Boats and home
Next up we caught a Bateau Mouche, which is like a big flat boat or barge that takes you on a tour of Paris via the Seine river. The tour was okay. It would be good if you had less time in Paris, or if you did it at the beginning of your trip to sort of orient yourself. By this point in the trip we had pretty much seen everything that we saw on the boat tour. I will say this, there were a few good angles for pictures that you couldn’t get any other way than on the river. Still, in our case, it was just okay.
The one thing we saw that we hadn’t seen before was Pont Neuf or “new bridge” which is, ironically, the oldest bridge in Paris. I really liked all the faces or masks around the edge of the bridge.
We got a little turned around coming home and ended up in a fancy chocolate stop, Le Maison du Chocolat. Evie was going to have a fit, but the man swooped in and gave her a chocolate. He’s like a chocolate superhero! We bought the cheapest thing we could find because everything was so expensive, but it was wonderful!
So we somehow ended up being a nice day despite my bad head cold and some of the worst behavior I’ve ever seen on Evie. It was just a long, long day and it’s really not surprising that Evie was due for some bad behavior. We were so far out of our normal routine, and we were pushing long days with a lot of walking and fresh air, every day for (at this point) a week. So I can’t say that I blame her for that. Plus, we usually require good behavior outside of the house, but we can relax when we are at home. Here, we were worried about the thin walls/ceilings of our apartment, so we were requiring better-than-usual behavior, even at home. I think it was a lot to handle for a little girl.
As for Oliver’s part, between his horrible rash and his growing dislike of the ergo, he was declared the saddest boy in France. He wasn’t really naughty (can babies really be naughty?), just very, very sad. But of course his crying didn’t help anything. Again, not really his fault, and being declared the saddest boy in France is something of an honor.
Still, at the end of this day, I was ready to go home.
One quick thing that I forgot to mention yesterday: Ladurée! Ladurée is a super fancy macaroon shop. The French version of a macaroon is a bit different than what I think of as a macaroon. It’s like a fancy cream filled sandwich cookie that comes in different flavors (and colors!). We had planned to visit Ladurée on the super-posh Champs-Élysées, but they had a dealership at Versailles, so we ended up going there.
I say dealership because buying these cookies was quite the experience. We got an English-speaking shop girl to personally oversee our purchase, and to put the cookies in a nice box, suitable for keeping (we still have it, even though the cookies didn’t last 30 minutes). It was very fancy, and a very big deal. Well, we didn’t buy them as a gift, we just ate them. And they really were delicious! They weren’t so good as to justify the price, but we specifically wanted the best in France. Afterwards we bought cheaper ones at a regular pâtisserie, but I can’t compare the two because Evie didn’t let me have a bite. I’m guessing they were pretty similar.
On Friday we decided to just sort of hit some random museums and things around the city that we had been meaning to get to.
Part 6A, Guillotines
First up was the Carnavalet Museum. The focus of this museum is the history of Paris. I don’t know if we would have went to this museum or not, except for one fact: we heard a rumor they might have some stuff on guillotines.
As you may recall, one of the main things that Evie was interested in seeing was a guillotine, and we hadn’t seen one up to this point (for some reason the French don’t seem to keen on remembering this bloody time in their history). So we thought we better go seek one out. And Carnavalet gave us what we were looking for! A model guillotine! Pictures of guillotines! (These pictures were no joke, there was one painting where someone had just had their head cut off and blood was spraying out everywhere. Evie loved it.) We didn’t see a full sized guillotine, but Evie got some pictures in front of the model ones, and she seemed satisfied.
Part 6B, Falafel
For lunch we headed over to the Marais neighborhood to look for some falafel. Falafel? you say. In Paris? Oh yes my friend, falafel. We were looking for L’As du Falafel, which is supposedly the one place in Paris that Lenny Kravitz goes out of his way to eat at. What’s good enough for the stomach of Lenny Kravitz is good enough for me. However, when we got there, we found out it was closed. This turned out to be only a minor set back, however, because the rue des Rosiers is apparently FULL of falafel restaurants (I suppose because it’s the center of the big Jewish neighborhood in Paris?)
So, since we were already in the mood for falafel, we ended up in line for King of Falafel. I have to say, this wasn’t just any falafel sandwich. There was artistry involved. I feel kind of funny saying it, but I think this was the best thing I ate in Paris. It was delicious! Well worth the trip! (to the neighborhood I mean, it’s probably not worth flying all the way to Paris for) Highly recommended. (Hmm hmm, yes, we ate at all the fanciest French restaurants in Paris. Have you heard of, oh what’s that name again? I’m so bad with French. Ah yes, King of Falafel?)
We at our falafel at a park and Evie made friends with two British girls (“Her name is Olivia, but her name is really Livie!”). They invented some kind of game that involved throwing a ball backwards over your shoulder into a sandbox. For our part, we mostly just tried not to drip purple cabbage juice all over Oliver.
Part 6C, Genital panic
Once our lunch was done, we headed over to Centre Pompidou. The Pompidou houses modern art, but is know as much for the outside of the building as the inside. Basically the building is “inside out” with all of the structural elements, like the pipes, escalator, etc. are on the outside, and each one is painted a bright color. Consequently we spent a while outside admiring things.
The outside was pretty cool, but it quickly was overshadowed by a large flock of pigeons that someone was feeding nearby. Evie once again chased the pigeons all over the place, but this time there were hundreds of them. Terrified pigeons were flying all over the place, but they just couldn’t resist that delicious French bread (who can?) so they kept coming back.
Finally we decided to go inside. As I mentioned, the escalator is on the outside of the building, so riding it up to the top is pretty cool, with a good view of the city. I always like modern art, so overall I enjoyed the museum a lot (it’s a nice change of pace after all of the “old” art museums you go to in Paris). However, our visit wasn’t without incident.
The first room we went into was entitled “genital panic” and, let me tell you, the name was appropriate. There were a lot of genitals, and I was quite panicked, pushing Evie in the stroller. Most of the exhibits in this room were extremely, as Sara put it, “intimate”. How do you answer your 3 year old’s questions about a video of a naked woman hula hooping with barbwire, such that every time it goes around it cuts her? You don’t, that’s how, and we got out of there as fast as we could without raising Evie’s suspicions that we were fleeing. (She was mostly unaware of what was going on, but probably would have taken an interest if she caught the vibe that we were trying to hide something from her!)
The rest of the museum was okay, but we had to check everything first, before allowing Evie to go inside. I felt a little better when we got upstairs and saw some groups of school kids.
Overall I think Evie prefers modern art that allows some interaction, at least at her age.
Evie: “Can I walk on this?”
Evie: “Can I do somersaults on it?”
Sara and me together: “NO!”
Part 6D, Trains, art and food snobs
After this, we finally headed over to a more traditional museum, Musée d’Orsay. Although it’s pretty famous, this was not nearly as crowded as the Louvre. The Orsay is actually in an old train station, and I found the building itself to be the most interesting part. I really liked the big open center part with the statues, in what would have been the main concourse. The rest of the art was like, famous and stuff. I don’t know. Maybe I was just starting to get museum-ed out.
On the way home we stopped off at the Bon Marché, one of the first department stores, since it was right next to our apartment. Actually, we really only went to the Grand Epicerie, which is sort of like an enormous fancy food store. It’s hard to describe how this place was different than like a supermarket, but it was more like a bunch of independent little French stores that happened to be under the same roof. They had like different little areas for cuisines from different countries. I later heard from some Frenchman that the Grand Epicerie is one of the best in Paris, if a little pricey. We were looking for something to bring home for dinner, and we didn’t really find too much, although we did wander around looking at all the delicious foods.
The longer we stayed in Paris, the more snobby we were becoming about food, even Evie. We were so used to getting fresh bread every day, that when she had to eat some bread for breakfast the next day after we bought it she said, ”this bread is too thick, it needs jam!” We ended up throwing it out and going down to get new bread.
I told you we were becoming French!
One final note, as the week was wearing on I noticed that Evie just started talking made up nonsense, and it was happening more and more! She would say a sentence and then add a few words of gibberish on the end. Or you would ask her a question and she would answer in gibberish.
Me: “Do you want to eat any of this?”
Evie: “Blarsigite. Woof woof!”
Me: “Answer in English please.”
Sara: “She said ‘woof woof’…”
This was fascinating, because it was clearly in response to being around so much language that she didn’t understand. I was wondering how she would react to being in a place where people were speaking another language, but she really hadn’t had much of a reaction. I guess it was finally getting to her!
Thursday meant more work for me, so I again slept on the couch to avoid waking everybody in the morning. The meeting was at a French company and I was the only one who didn’t speak French. So I was sort of useless here (I prefer to think of myself as eye candy). I did have this moment where I was like, “Whoa, I’m here in a country where I don’t really speak the language on business. I’m an international businessman!” but it passed quickly.
My meeting was close by the Château (castle) of Versailles, where the Sun King, Louis XIV, built an enormous palace and moved the French court. So Sara took the kids on the train and we met there for a picnic lunch (the sandwiches sat in my backpack at my fancy schmancy international business meeting). We spent the rest of the day there, which meant I was stuck in my suit. I shed the jacket and tie, but my shoes weren’t exactly the greatest shoes for tromping around in.
Part 5A, Versailles
The château itself was pretty cool, but I’ve seen palaces before, and this wasn’t a lot different. But the grounds, on the other hand, are flat out amazing! This Louis XIV was immensely rich and powerful, and he kept a huge staff to keep his grounds constantly beautiful. The palace is situated on about 200 acres of land which includes fountains, flowerbeds, decorative hedges, statues, and even an area with a forest of orange trees in containers so that they could wheel them inside during cold weather. Even now it must take a huge staff of people to care for all of this, but imagine what it would have taken before modern conveniences! I imagine there was a grumble or two about hauling gallons of water up to water those stupid orange trees. I guess it’s no wonder the French revolution came just a few generations after.
Evie and I used the “free” bathroom, and I gave her some coins to give to the bathroom attendant. In Europe it is pretty common to pay to use the bathroom (it seemed common in France, but not as common as it was in Italy). Often there is a bathroom attendant who does nothing all day except clean the bathrooms, and your money is sort of a tip to him (it might even be his wage, I don’t know). I saw the bathroom attendant working his butt off all day, and I saw the coins left by others, so I figured we’d toss some on as well.
After she gave him the money, he asked me (in French) if Evie was from Spain. When I answered that we were from the United States, he gave a big booming laugh and clapped me heartily on the back. I don’t know if it was because I answered him in French, which is probably not very typical of Americans, or if it was because we actually paid for the bathroom, which is also probably not very typical of Americans (or maybe just because Evie was dressed so stylishly), but he seemed to find us quite amusing.
Evie and I mostly spent the time pretending we were kings and princesses, respectively. Like, “Oh, I think I will use this room for dancing. What do you think, Princess?” “Oh yes, will you invite me to the dancing, King?” Evie’s favorite parts were the bedrooms. I guess there’s something particularly exciting about seeing where a King/Queen/Princess actually slept. Maybe it’s because the tour covers a lot of rooms that don’t mean much to a kid (dancing rooms, sitting rooms, drawing rooms, meeting rooms, war rooms, etc.), so a bedroom was sort of the only tangible thing she could understand.
Speaking of things that were confusing, when we were walking through the château, we kept encountering very, very strange pieces of art that didn’t belong. Next to some beautiful old ornamental candle holder, you would see a giant fiberglass man-eating plant, or *ahem* a generously proportioned anime babe (whose clothing was not generously proportioned). As it turns out, Versailles had apparently teamed up with famous anime-style artist Takashi Murakami to put some of his art on display. It definitely added a weird, surreal aspect to the tour.
We also took the little train out to the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, and it was surprisingly cool! The story goes that Marie-Antoinette wanted to “live as the peasants did” so she built this little estate on the grounds of Versailles. I thought, okay, who needs to see a farm? However, that’s not what it was at all. Marie-Antoinette was so rich and protected that she was completely disconnected from reality (this is the “let them eat cake lady, after all), and her “peasant farm” was sort of how you would imagine such a thing if you had only had it described to you through fairy tales (and if you had an army of loyal servants to do the upkeep an make it seem nice). It was actually a really cool place, and definitely worth checking out (at least it is if you have the museum pass and don’t need to pay anything extra to go see it!)
We really liked Versailles. Sara and I both agreed that it was our favorite part of Paris. If you’re considering going out there (it is a day trip from Paris), I would say you should definitely do it. It was well worth the trip.
Part 5B, A long day
After a stressful train-ticket-buying experience, we managed to get back on the train to Paris. It was packed and we had lots and lots of bags. We were getting a lot of dirty looks from people for taking up so much space, but I don’t know what we could have done about it. We had to sit in two different seats with a kid on each of our laps and our bags, stroller, etc. pooled all around us. When it was time to get off the train we had to gather all of that up, manage the kids, and push past everybody to get off of the train before the doors closed. We barely made it on time. This, of course, was followed up by a long walk home loaded down like a pack mule. We were exhausted.
We weren’t the only ones who were suffering. Oliver had developed a bad rash over his entire body, especially his chest, back and face, and he was just sort of not in a great mood. As I said he wasn’t really digging the ergo anymore, and didn’t really want to be carried around all day.
This was the first day we started bribing Evie with a coin for her “collection” if she made it through the entire day without causing any trouble. There’s nothing Evie likes more than money (including, as it happens, foreign money), so this was a pretty effective motivator.
For my part, I spent a lot of the day silently congratulating myself on how excellent my French was. It’s been more than 10 years since I took French, but I found myself able to read most of the signs and understand most of what was said to me. Sara, however, was not impressed. This was mostly due to the fact that 1) I wasn’t great with answering her specific questions about menu items, which are full of idiomatic expressions (for example, you might be able to understand English perfectly well, but still not understand what “over easy, scrambled, or sunny side up” means in terms of eggs), and a lot of times I would freeze up when I actually needed to speak. There were numerous occasions where I understood the person perfectly well, but still couldn’t respond. Then, after the situation was over, I could think of all sorts of French I could have said. Oh well.
Wednesday was the first day totally on our own, not meeting up with anybody who spoke French. Actually, it was kind of nice. We didn’t have to meet anybody at a certain time or anything, so we were able to go at our own pace.
Part 4A, Museum Day
So where did we go? First up was the world-famous Louvre.
The Louvre is huge and crowded! I’m sure there are tucked away corners that you can catch your breath (seriously, the place is huge), but we were looking to get in, hit the major sites, and get out. Apparently so was everybody else, especially the tour groups.
The museum pass saved us from the massive line. We tried to go in the side entrance that nobody knows about, but they told us we couldn’t because we had a stroller (I think maybe it was just because they thought we would want to use an elevator, but there was a little language problem). No problem though, we strolled passed the entire line with our museum pass. Sayonara, suckers!
This is Paris tip #6: buy a museum pass! Even if you end up losing money on it, it is well worth it to skip all the lines! (I guess you could consider this tip 2A, since it is very much like buying a timed ticket for the Eiffel Tower) On top of that though, if you make any effort whatsoever, I can’t imagine you would lose money on it. I think we saved over 50€ (about $70) in museum admissions. Well worth the money!
On Winged Victory: “Lets keep our eyes open for her head!
On Venus de Milo: “I liked the statues WITH arms.”
On the Mona Lisa: “Why is she smiling?” - Good question! People have been wondering that for years.
I think the thing that Evie got the biggest kick out of was the Mona Lisa. I think that was the only one that was famous enough for Evie to have encountered before in her short little life. She definitely recognized it and gave an appropriate “Ooooh!” when I lifted her up high enough to see it over everybody’s head (did I mention it was crowded?)
One thing that really annoyed me at the Louvre was the disrespect. Here we are amongst some of the most famous, priceless works of art in the world, and people just can’t stop touching it and taking flash photography. “This vase lasted 1,000 years, so I must get a picture of me touching it!” How do people not realize that *everybody* thinks they are the one special person who is allowed to break the rules? And if every person touches that vase, it’s not going to make it another 50 years, much less 1,000.
And there are signs everywhere about flash photography. If you don’t know how to turn off the flash on your camera, then just don’t take pictures. It’s not that important. Buy a post card, the picture is going to look nicer than your blurry, cheap, 50-heads-blocking-my-shot picture anyway. But I saw you taking picture after picture, just flashing away. “Oh well, the rules don’t apply to me, but I’m just one guy! What kind of damage can my one camera do?” It turned my stomach. (I would also like to say that I don’t know what percentage of the people doing these things were American, certainly some percentage, but not the majority. I’m looking at you Asia.)
After we were done with the Louvre, we needed some outside time, so we ran around in Tuileries, the big open park outside of the museum. It’s actually worth going to Tuileries even if you aren’t going to the museum, it’s a pretty nice park. In particular, you can see kids renting batteau (boats) and floating them in the pond. They have these really long sticks to push them away from the edge if they get too close. Evie liked watching the boats, but we tried not to hang around there too much because we didn’t want her to figure out that you could actually rent the boats.
Next we had originally planned to go to Musée d’Orsay, but we thought that might be a little much to do in a day. So instead we decided to go to the closer and smaller Musée de l’Orangerie. It ended up being a wise choice!
We couldn’t completely skip the line with our museum pass, but we were able to go in an expedited line. This was really a gem of a museum. It was small, but the big draw are the extremely large water lilies by Monet. Everybody was really nice here. They practically forced us to take our stroller in (at many museums you have to check them) and stoic security guards would break their cover to tell us how to get to the secret elevators. We were pleasantly surprised at how nice of a museum it was! Unfortunately, both kids fell asleep before we got to the water lilies. However, that did justify us going to l’Orangerie instead of Orsay.
Part 4B, It’s all about the kids
Next up, we went back to Champs-Élysées to make another attempt to catch the marionette show. Evie LOVED it! I thought I could sit by her and sort of explain what was going on, but I couldn’t understand anything. A true French marionette show requires a lot of participation by the kids, and Evie was right there with them yelling, “Oui! Oui!” when the other kids were yelling, even though she had no idea what she was saying. She was just giggling away. It was awesome! I would never have guessed she would have liked it so much. All French marionette shows star a particular puppet named Guignol (pronounced something like “Geen-yol”) and there is always a lot of shouting for Guignol. This became a MAJOR theme of the trip, shouting “Guignol!” at each other probably a hundred times a day.
Evie also managed to snag a crêpe on the way, which she ate on a park bench. She loved “French pancakes” (it was a traditional one, with just sugar) and made grand plans for eating more of them. She was literally only eating bread-like things at this point, but she was willing to add crêpes to the line up, next to baguette and croissants. Eating nothing but bread is a crumby, messy way to go through life. Evie didn’t really hold herself responsible for that. We were complaining about the state of the floor under the table and Evie declared, “Someone even put crumbs under MY chair!”
For Oliver’s part, he was getting really sick of riding in the ergo (the baby carrier we use). I think it was hot and sweaty, and he’s not used to being so tied up for most of the day. At home he gets some time to spread out and play a little bit. He was starting to get fussy every time we put him in there. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of options (though we put him in the stroller now and again, when we had the chance).
Part 4C, Nous sommes Français
At this point I really felt like we were getting into a rhythm and starting to assimilate: we went shopping for toilet paper at our “usual” grocery store, we were eating stinky cheese and baguettes, and getting to know the people at the boulangerie (another 3 trips! I expect a personalized thank you card!)
A side note about the apartment: it feels really chintzy to leave everything almost used up. There were only 2 half rolls of toilet paper. Every cleaning supply (including dish soap) was just a finger’s breadth from the bottom. It could be coincidence that every single last thing was just about to run out when we got there, but I somehow doubt it. I really don’t want to accuse someone of emptying out dish soap and stealing toilet paper, but that’s what it felt like. Another scam somehow. If you don’t want your place to seem sleazy, just go through ahead of time and spend the $10 and stock up on a few things. It will be money well spent. (Too bad we gotcha and took home the rest of the toilet paper we bought! Looks like the shoe is on the other foot!)
One more thing to mention: if French people see us coming, they should run. We’re an omen of death.
Two times during the day we were witness to some horrible incident that involved an ambulance. The first was while Sara was waiting in line in the Louvre gift shop. An old man collapsed like a ton of bricks and smashed his head onto the stone ground. She did eventually make it out of there, but there was quite a scene with a ring of people around the guy, trying to make him comfortable until the paramedics got there. We didn’t wait around to see what happened after that.
However, a short while later, while we were waiting in the park for the marionettes to start, we heard some kind of commotion. Our best guess is that someone had found a body lying behind some hedges. Maybe a homeless man? Or maybe something happened to someone that the guy was with? We’re not sure. Anyway, he alerted a security guard who got the police who called for an ambulance, and there was another big scene. We couldn’t see the person from where we were standing, but there was definitely someone on the ground. Before the situation could resolve itself, we had to go in for the puppet show.
The moral of the story is, if you’re old, don’t come anywhere near us! (Maybe this death aura only applies in France, but better safe than sorry)
On Tuesday I had to do what we actually came to France to do, namely, work.
I had to go to Brussels for the day, so I had to get up very early to take the train. In order to avoid waking everyone up, I slept on the couch in the living room (side note, probably the biggest benefit of renting an apartment versus a hotel room, having a separate bedroom). Unfortunately, the apartment did not come equipped with an alarm clock.
My phone didn’t work there, but Sara’s did. Unfortunately, it was on Chicago time, so I had to calculate what the correct time would be to set the alarm. I didn’t completely trust that, so I set a backup alarm in the form of a borrowed French cell phone. However, it turns out that the time wasn’t set right on that, and the alarm went off about 30 minutes after I fell asleep. So I had to re-set the time, using all-French menus, and I wasn’t feeling too sure about everything. All this anxiety caused me to not get very much sleep.
However, everything worked out well, my alarms both went off (on time, and yet, too early!) and I caught my cab for the train station. The cabbie found out I was from the states and proceeded to ask me questions about L.A. the entire way to the train station.
Part 3A, Alone in the City
In the meantime, Sara took the kids out all on her own. They spent some time walking around before eating lunch by the Panthéon. They met a man who was so delighted by Evie that he started blowing her big, French mwa! mwa! kisses. Afterwards, they visited the Center de la Mer (an aquarium), and finally ended up at the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden).
Jardin du Luxembourg is sort of like a weird kid’s paradise (weird that it is a paradise for kids, not a paradise for weird kids). There are huge playgrounds, but you have to pay to play on them. It’s not too expensive though, and it’s worth it because the stuff they have to play on is truly awesome, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen on a playground in the states. There are food vendors and carousels, and just a lot of cool kids’ stuff. People said that was a good place to take kids, and they were so right. Best place for kids in the city. Plus it was close to our apartment.
And, in the irony of all international travel, Sara ran into someone from music class at one of the playgrounds (the one with the miniature Eiffel Tower that you can climb on)(and by miniature, I mean not that miniature!)
Part 3B, healthy, wealthy and wise
Brussels went really well work-wise, better than I could have expected. I didn’t have much (any) time to see the city, but what I did see of it was not very impressive. Sara had been debating about whether to come to Belgium or not, and, in retrospect, I think she made the right choice in staying in Paris. I don’t think there is much of a comparison.
We finished our business early, and we had about 3 hours before our train left. Rather than wait around with nothing to do, we hopped on a train just as it was leaving the station. Now, the train tickets work like plane tickets: you have assigned seats on a certain train. If you want to change that, you have to change your tickets (and probably pay). So, being the goody two-shoes that I am, I was a little nervous about this ordeal. “Don’t worry about it,” said my boss, “most of the time they never check tickets anyway. And besides, the next stop is Paris. So if they throw us off, we’ll be in Paris anyway!”
We couldn’t go to our seats, since we didn’t have any, so we were just sort of hanging around in the hallway like vagabonds. A conductor came through and, just as I was about to get nervous, someone else stood up and blurted out, “I don’t have the right ticket, I was supposed to go on another train later.” The conductors took him off to be guillotined (I assume), and we were safe for the moment. But it was very obvious that we didn’t have the correct tickets, or there would be no reason for us to be standing around where we were. “If he comes back, just act American, like you don’t know what you’re doing!” said my boss. A few minutes later, the conductor came back and told us there were seats further in the car. Hey, he told us! So we were home free.
We were sitting in the very last seats in the very last car, which would explain why the conductors didn’t get back to check our tickets until we were just moments from pulling into the station in Paris. I started speaking loudly in English to sort of set the tone, but they immediately started conversing with my boss in French. It went something like this (except in French):
Conductor: “These are the wrong tickets. You shouldn’t be on this train.”
Boss: “I’m sorry, I didn’t look at the tickets. I live in the United States…”
Conductor: “But you’re speaking French.”
Boss: “Yes, but I’m not…”
Conductor: “But you’re speaking French.”
For my part, I just tried to look dumb and concerned, as if I had no idea what they were saying. In other words, American. The conductor seemed pretty annoyed. He told us that it was going to be a 93€ ticket (about $130). Yikes! I think the only thing that saved us was that we were so close to Paris, that he didn’t want to take the time to write the ticket up. Whew! So our luck held, and we got home 3 hours early.
Of course I had the ring the buzzer like 10 times to get Sara to open the door, since she wasn’t expecting me so early. But at least I didn’t have to sit out on the stoop for 3 hours.
Part 3C, General Musings
Another day, another 3 trips to the boulangerie. I bet they’re missing us now that we’re gone. We started noticing that the final price was always less than we expected. Obviously we weren’t complaining, since it was cheaper, but it always surprised us. Eventually we figured out that the food got cheaper through the day, as it became less fresh.
So this leads to Paris tip #5, don’t buy your food in advance! It’s so much better fresh, and everything is set up in such a way to make it easy for you to get things fresh. And on top of that, it gets cheaper through the day! So don’t go in the morning and buy bread and deserts for supper, wait until you’re on your way home (the downside is, you have less selection at the end of the day).
French kids must love carousels. They are everywhere!
Going out of the country with kids definitely changes the whole dynamic. People everywhere go out of the way to talk to you or help you (or judge you for not having socks on your baby…some things are the same no matter where you are)(And can I just mention, he had socks but he can kick them off like nobody’s business! The streets of Paris claimed 3 socks from us.)(And by the way, it was like 70!), even when they can’t speak English (although, it turns out, very, very few people in Paris can’t speak English). Evie and Oliver can charm people across language barriers. This made the trip just totally different than when Sara and I have been out of the country on our own. Much more social.
One other thing to mention, and that is in relationship to the homeless people of Paris. First off, there’s not nearly as many as you would expect in a city the size of Paris. I probably saw less than I see in my neighborhood. Second off, the vast majority of the homeless people have dogs! This was strange to me. It just seems like you’re struggling to take care of yourself, why add another dependent? On the other hand, maybe the dogs are so cute they make you so much extra money, that they end up more than paying for themselves. This seemed to be the case. Finally, the poor people of France seem to be extremely hard working!
Everywhere you go, you see people selling crap, playing the accordion in the metro, or at the very least trying to run some scam about how they are deaf and dumb and need help. Very rarely do you see people just standing around begging (the traditional mode of bums around my house). The only ones I saw truly begging were a few outside of churches with some obvious physical ailment (in other words, people who, in a sense, truly deserve it). I think my favorite were the ones who collected chestnuts from the ground and then roasted them in trash cans perched in their shopping carts. I don’t know how much they were selling them for (or who would buy them), but you have to admit, that is ingenuity!
Considering the size of Paris, and the amount of it that we covered, it was amazing that we never really saw a bad neighborhood or a situation that felt unsafe. I had no problem taking the metro or walking all over everywhere, day or night. Good work Paris!
Monday morning felt like the first real day. We woke up more or less fresh, ready to face the day. On Sunday, pretty much everything in the neighborhood was closed. The place was dead. On Monday things started to liven up a bit (although only about half way… apparently it is a French tradition and about half the places are closed on Mondays as well). In particular we were able to hit up the boulangerie / pâtisserie that was two doors down from our house.
A boulangerie is a bakery, and a pâtisserie is a pastry shop. Most places, including this one, are both. These things are all over the place in France, and I would say maybe they are the best part about Paris. The pastries, tarts, deserts, etc. are absolutely amazing, and taste as good as they look. They’re not that expensive either!
And the bread…oh man, do they have good bread. How good can bread be? Well, ask Evie, who pretty much ate nothing but bread from this point forward. In fact, Evie couldn’t even wait until we got home with the baguette, and nibbled the end off before we got there. I don’t blame her, it is addicting!
Actually, nibbling the end off your baguette is sort of another French tradition, and you can see people all over the city carrying baguettes with little nibbled off ends. It’s kind of funny, because it is such a stereotype to have a baguette in France, but you really do see people all over everywhere carrying them.
Part 2A, Tour Eiffel
Anyway, the first stop in the morning was the Tour Eiffel (or Eiffel Tower for you English types). Here’s Paris travel tip number 2: a timed ticket for the Eiffel Tower is a must! You buy it online, ahead of time. We had some trouble with the trains in the morning and ended up puffing up to the base of the tower just as our time was coming up (and we had specifically gotten a later time!). No problem! We strolled past the long line and right up to the ticket taker.
There’s not much to say about the Eiffel Tower. You know what it looks like, and taking the elevator up is pretty much like going up any touristy destination, such as the Sears Tower, or the Empire State Building. You have a nice view of Paris, but Paris is a city designed to have nice views: pretty much every major attraction involves climbing a bunch of stairs to the top for a good view. That being said, Paris is truly a beautiful city, and you never really have too many views of it.
So going up the tower was really cool, and a must do for any tourist to Paris, but at the same time there wasn’t much to say. We only went up to the 2nd level, not to the very top (the top requires an extra ticket and an extra wait in an extra long line), and I think that was fine. I’m not big on heights anyway.
The other thing to say about the experience is that the base is crawling with people trying to sell you souvenir Eiffel Towers. I cannot imagine how there can be so many of them! They are all selling the same junk for the same price, and nobody is buying from them because they are so annoying. I don’t know how they can make any money.
Afterwards we went over to Trocadero for pictures of the Eiffel Tower. This is Paris tip #3. When you’re at the base of the tower, you’re too close for good pictures. Walk across the Seine and up a bunch of stairs and you’ll have just fabulous views of the tower, for free no less. I think these were some of the best pictures we took on the trip.
Part 2B, Sacré-Coeur / Montmartre
Next we went over to Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart), which is a really big, cool church set high on the hill of Montmartre. It ranked up there with some of the cooler churches we saw in Italy. In particular, it was very dimly lit with hundreds upon hundreds of candles lighting it. It was a pretty spectacular effect. (Of course the candles are paid for and lit by tourists, but it still looked good.)
Afterwards we walked around Montmartre, which is an area that always has been and still is dominated by artists. You may have heard of some of the more famous ones who used to hang out here like, oh I don’t know, Dalí, Monet, Picasso or van Gogh to name a few.
This was a really cool part of the city, with old cobble stone streets, an open-air artist’s market, houses previously owned by famous artists (see above), and street musicians. There’s a certain pride to the artistic history of the place, and the street musicians we saw certainly upheld the tradition: they were awesome! We caught some gelato and listened for a while. We debated buying a CD and now I wish we would have.
We also took a break somewhere in here, and Evie and I rode a cool 2 story carousel (the French are apparently really into carousels), and Evie took plenty of time to do some pigeon chasing. There really aren’t that many pigeons in Paris, all things considered, but they do tend to congregate where there are tourists, because there is usually food there. They are quite bold. I don’t think anybody really objected to Evie chasing them around for a while.
Finally Evie fell asleep…on Aymeric’s (my boss) head. He had been giving her a ride on his shoulders and she just conked out, resting her head on the top of his and snoozing away. He said that he felt her sort of nod down a few times and then just smash into his head.
We were walking around Montmartre, looking for famous houses and windmills, when we eventually realized we had accidentally wandered into Pigalle. For those not familiar with Paris, Pigalle is sort of like the red light district. So of course, Evie immediately woke up. I don’t think she managed to see too much. The stores and things are shockingly obscene, but only if you can read the signs. I would say there was less to actually see than I saw on the streets of New Orleans. Still, it was the middle of the day, and I’m sure nights are a little more…rowdy. We also crossed the street and realized we were standing in front of the famous Moulin Rouge; a fortunate accident.
After this we went to Aymeric’s cousin’s house to use the computer and find out that we had not, in fact, paid the security deposit. I dashed off a quick email apologizing to the land lord (Did I say quick email? Did you know that the French keyboard is subtly different than the American one? It took me like 15 minutes to type a 3 line email).
Part 2C, Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose:
Even in France, Oliver gets lots of pointing, smiles and goofy faces made at him. When we were riding the metro, he kept grabbing a lady’s paper out of her hands. She loved it. Evie, on the other hand, gets lots of “what’s wrong with that girl, is she sleeping?” faces. Every afternoon she would just pass out, boneless. You would think kids in Paris never sleep, the way some of the people were looking at her. Like, “Does she have some kind of condition?” She was pretty out of it though.
Just in general, you notice a lot of differences between the way Europeans live and the way we live at home. Kids are living in the lap of luxury in Paris. Every kid is dressed up in super fancy, expensive duds, sitting in an expensive stroller. We kind of got the impression that kids are a big status symbol, at least among the people with money. So maybe we were being judged more on the quality of our little umbrella stroller that didn’t allow Evie to recline, more than the fact that she was sleeping.
Maybe the kids are just dressed like the parents are dressed. Paris tip #4: don’t come wearing your Abercrombie sweatshirt and your grubby jeans and expect to fit in. These people know how to dress. I think that they tend to buy less clothes, but more expensive items. Even teenagers are awesome at putting together an outfit, and putting on makeup. And everybody is thin! There really were times when I thought I was walking into model-land. Tourists were easiest to pick out by their dress than anything else. So I guess it’s no surprise that every kid was dressed to the nines.
Also, everything in Paris was smaller. Tiny cars, tiny apartments, smaller portions. The apartment we rented was significantly bigger than the one Aymeric’s cousin lived in, and believe me, it wasn’t big. And you know what? It was the perfect size for what we needed. It was really just sort of refreshing to see people living like that, and not just sort of urban-sprawling all over the place.
Although I still don’t understand why the toilet and the rest of the bathroom are always in separate rooms…
We just got back from Paris. Please bear with me while I get some things in order. Details will be coming forthwith.
(Not our picture)
If you are going to come while we are on vacation (so that we have to stress about picking up our house while we are trying to get ready to go) and won’t be home for a week, then please make sure with ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY that you do not leave the door to the litter box shut. Because that would be bad. Almost like the opposite of cleaning our house.
In other news, does anybody know what about 7 days of cat urine and feces does to a treadmill?
Next up was the portion of the trip through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (or the U.P. as it is commonly referred to). Evie had been talking about “the upper peninsula” for weeks at this point, telling everybody she saw that’s where she was going. So I knew this would really be the exciting part of the trip for her.
One of the first things I did on the trip is stop at a shop and try a pasty. Pasties are a big deal up there. They are sort of like a savory pot pie, but very dry inside, not soupy. I went for the traditional beef with rutabaga, which I really liked a lot. Evie had a pizza one which was really delicious, but it was stuffed with cheese and sausage and pepperoni, so how could it not be good? The downside is the heart attack you have afterwards, but you can’t have everything.
In general, the U.P. gave me some flashbacks to when I was little and we used to own a bit of land outside of Wisconsin Dells. Driving around the country side there had the same sort of foresty, nobody’s-around-but-me feeling. This was a good thing.
The other thing about going up North is how ridiculously friendly everybody is! I know this isn’t news to people, but seriously, it is so over the top you would think you were in an SNL skit or something. I’ll give you an example.
There was a group of guys camping next to us. This was like a “guy’s weekend” type deal, with a bunch of guys on a fishing trip. One morning I was taking a shower while the lot of them were in the bathroom. When you get a bunch of guys together, they inevitably start making fun of each other. It’s just what they do. Usually, this good natured ribbing is anything but good natured. It can get pretty nasty.
Not with these guys though. This was the most good natured ribbing I could ever imagine. It redefined good natured. I could barely keep from bursting out in laughter in the shower.
Guy 1: “Got enough shaving cream there, eh?”
Guy 2: “Yeah, I’m gonna shave my back!”
Guy 2: “Hey, did you bring your swim suit, eh?”
Guy 1: “Yeah, I brought my speedo!”
Guy 1: “Oh, was that you in there taking that long shower?”
Guy 3: “Yeah…I’ve been in there since 5 a.m.!”
Seriously, there was absolutely no malice in these guys. These were also the guys who got visibly upset that someone might have played a prank on someone that went on a little too long. I just wanted to pinch their cheeks.
and Kitchitikipi spring:
Tahquamenon Falls was pretty cool, but I really liked Kitchitikipi. A water fall looks like what you would expect: a water fall. But kitchitikipi looked like something I never really imagined before, namely, water 50 feet deep that was so crystal clear that you could pick out the one fish in the entire thing.
Orlan brought his speedboat, so Evie and I went for a ride, and Evie got to drive. She was pretty good at steering (as long as you like going in circles), by which I mean if you said, “Go over there,” she would point the boat in that direction. The problem was that she would usually try to do it at about a 90 degree angle, and I think she almost flipped the boat a few times.
Evie had yet another birthday party. It was a good thing too, because she had been complaining all week about how she hadn’t gotten anything she wanted for her birthday. That was because we knew she was going to be getting everything everything she wanted when we got to the U.P. For the record, everything she ever wanted was a basket for her bike, and a yellow raincoat that, “covered [her] bottom” and matching boots. She’s not too hard to please as of yet.
Lisa and Orlan also got Evie a Moose CD, which entered the rotation with Wicked. Every song on the CD features a “moose” singing in a big goofy voice (I’m not sure Evie understands it’s not really a moose), and usually involves some horrible pun on the word moose (there is a whole block of songs about Christ-moose). Naturally, Evie loved it.
Another highlight was watching Evie fish. Tom had gotten her a fishing pole for her birthday, so we went over to Seney Wildlife Refuge, and Evie caught not one, but TWO fish! I couldn’t believe it. I was all prepared to explain to her about how you don’t always catch a fish and within like 5 minutes, she had a fish on the line! Then she caught the second one shortly after that. Needless to say, she had a really good time and probably has an unrealistic view of what fishing is like.
Of course the rest of the trip has more or less been covered. One thing I forgot to mention was Ben driving the 13 wheeler: in his car he also had a wheel chair, a bike, and a tricycle. So if he had to ditch the car, he was going to have a lot of options.
So that was pretty much it. This was the first trip we’ve taken with the digital SLR camera, and I’m ashamed to admit, we took over 800 pictures! According to my quick google search, if those were old school film pictures, it would take about $153 to develop them all (that’s 2010 dollars). So I guess that’s the upside. We haven’t even been able to go through them all ourselves, so I think you’ll have to wait for awhile before we get any uploaded anywhere.
I think that’s it! Already can’t wait for the next vacation!