The trip started off very stressful.
I had been working long hours for a couple of weeks leading up to the trip to get ready on the work side. The last two days were particularly bad, with nothing going well and working late into the night, and then too keyed up to sleep very well after that. Finally, on Friday night I said, “I need to start packing!” On top of that, the maids were scheduled to come while we were gone, so we needed to pick up the entire house before we left.
So I was a bit frazzled going into the whole thing. In addition, there was some question about how to actually get to the airport. Taking anything besides public transportation meant that we would need car seats. Also, we weren’t sure if we could arrange to not need any car seats on the airplane, or on the France side of things. However, we didn’t want to be lugging them all over Paris all week.
So we decided to park in a lot close to the airport and take a shuttle (I’ve never parked in a lot operated by someone other than the airport). As a compromise, we borrowed a CARES airplane harness from someone, and took one car seat that either Evie or Oliver could use. If, by some miracle, the plane was empty and Oliver could get a seat, we would put him in the car seat and use the harness for Evie. Otherwise, Evie would ride in the car seat, because we thought she’d be more comfortable (the CARES is very small, so it wasn’t a big deal to bring it and not use it).
As it turns out, the car lot was fine and Evie used the car seat in both directions. Literally as we were going out the door, I found the strap to hook the car seat behind one of the suitcases, for easy carrying. It was still a pain dragging it to and from our apartment in Paris (particularly in Charles de Gaulle airport, which is NOT set up to move wide things around)(kind of like the rest of Europe), but it wasn’t that bad.
Part 1A, Travel:
So we actually go to the airport early, and everything was fine. Not too shabby!
The flight went pretty well. Evie only wanted to eat pretzels the whole time. This sort of began her love affair with grains that would last the entire trip. The flight was direct and overnight, so Evie slept for about 3 hours and Oliver for about 3 1/2 (Sara and I got about 1 1/2 and 1 hour, respectively).
We had reserved a bassinet for the flight, which we had heard you could do, but never actually seen before. From what we could tell online, it would bolt to the bulkhead in front of you. So we were a little surprised when we got to our seats and they were just regular seats in the middle of the airplane, with no room to attach anything. We paged a stewardess over and told her that we had reserved a bassinet, expecting her to either say, “Whoops, you shouldn’t be in these seats!” or “Well, you can’t have one in these seats.” Instead she said, “Oh yes, they’re very cute, I’ll bring it out once we are in the air.”
Okay, you’ve flown before. I barely have enough room for my feet. Where the heck were they planning on putting a bassinet?? We later heard that there is something that actually slides under the seat in front of you, like a drawer. Aside from the fact that the person would have to have no legs, and that we had enough bags to take up the room under all of the seats, I am not going to close my baby in a little coffin and shove it under a seat! No thank you! So, needless to say, we didn’t hold the stewardess to her word, and we never saw the bassinet. I’m kind of wishing we had, just to see the thing.
The big trouble was trying to keep Evie from kicking the seat in front of her. At one point, when Sara was admonishing Evie for kicking, the lady turned around and said, “Thank you for trying.” When we got up to leave, the lady said that Evie had been very good, even if she was a little “kicky”. Oliver got a little fussy at times, but we mostly just had to stand up with him and he was okay.
Changing Oliver’s diaper was also very interesting. Sara managed to change him in the airplane bathroom, with no changing table. I don’t know if you’ve been in an airplane bathroom, but there is barely enough room for me, and certainly no room for a flat surface of any kind. I’m not sure how she managed it.
Especially when Oliver had an explosive one later in the flight. It was getting close to landing time, and everyone had been told go get in their seats. Sara asked the stewardess if she could get up to change the diaper. Her answer was something like, “I can’t give you permission, but…you have to decide that on your own.” In other words, get to!
Part 1B, Paris at Last:
Finally, we were on the ground in France!
The first thing we had to do was get the keys to our apartment. We decided to rent an apartment in Paris for the week, rather than staying at a hotel. There were lots of upsides: it was cheaper, we’d be in a real neighborhood with real French people, shops, etc., and we could do laundry and thus avoid bringing as much luggage with us. However, there were downsides too. We’d read about unscrupulous renters online, who nickel and dime you with hidden fees, and try to keep as much of your security deposit as they could. So we were a little nervous.
Right off the bat, things started bad. First off they told us we’d have to pay for electricity, which hadn’t been mentioned anywhere before. Then, they said we hadn’t paid the (substantial) security deposit, which we were sure we had paid. I had to run out and find a bank to get as much cash as I could (not sure how much we got charged for that), plus give up most of our cash on hand. This made us VERY nervous! (Not to spoil it, but it ended up that they were right and we hadn’t paid the security deposit, so we can’t hold that against them. However, we didn’t know this for a few more days).
Anyway, no matter how nervous we were, we walked away with the keys and a place to put our stuff, and then we hit the town for lunch. We found a little farmers market and bought a bunch of dried fruit and a few tarts. We had no idea what one of them was, but it looked good, and turned out to be pumpkin!
We spent the rest of the day more or less just walking around trying to avoid going to bed. Conventional wisdom says to try and stay up as long as possible, to avoid jet lag. For Evie and Oliver, as long as possible wasn’t that long, and they crashed hard. We weren’t doing a lot better, considering how little sleep we had had on the plane, to say nothing of the nights leading up to the trip.
We had promised Evie we would see a marionette show, but she fell asleep before we got there, and we couldn’t wake her up for anything. She was completely dead to the world. We tried and tried, and even came back for the next show, but she was out. Predictably, she was pretty disappointed later, but there wasn’t much we could do about it.
Finally we did some grocery shopping, to stock up in the apartment. Here is where I have my first tip for travel in France: how to buy wine.
Basically, we wanted to load up on wine, but we had no idea what to buy. The French take wine VERY seriously, but it is also pretty cheap. However, they don’t have the same varieties, etc. that we have here in the states, and of course everything is in French.
So here’s what you do: loiter about the wine isle as if you are really looking hard, trying to decide. Wait until a Frenchman comes in, watch what he buys, and then grab it the second he walks away. Rinse, repeat. This works especially good if the person appears to be a discerning consumer. One guy picked up several bottles and really studied them, before deciding on a particular one. We felt pretty good about buying that one!
This worked great, as all the wine was fantastic. I suppose you could use this trick anywhere you had to buy wine, not just France. But we were very happy with the ones that we ended up with. And guess what? They were under 5 Euro each!