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!