Paris Part 9 – The long road home

Monday finally arrived, and it was time to start home. And what a day it was.

Part 9A, Apartment no more

Everyone had to get up at 5 a.m. to get dressed and get out the door. The guy showed up at 5:30 and we returned our keys and (::whew::) got our security deposit back.

Side note, when we got home and I checked my emails, I saw that they had sent a few emails during the week saying that we owed them 50€ (about $65) for “early checkout”. Now, this fee was never mentioned at any time, including when we told them what time we would have to leave and arranged for them to get the keys. So 5 days into the trip you’re going to drop a $65 fee on us? I don’t think so. It’s not like we’re talking $10 here. Of course I didn’t have email access so I didn’t see those emails, and he didn’t mention it at all when he picked up the keys. For his sake, I think he made a wise choice there.

Overall, renting the apartment was a good move. It ended up being about the same as what we would have spent on a hotel room, but it was bigger, was in a better, more livable neighborhood, allowed us to do laundry (and thus take less luggage), allowed us to cook supper, was close to 4 (4!) metro lines, let us put the kids to bed in a separate room, and, to tell the truth, felt kind of cool, like I was really living in Paris. So there were many, many advantages. However, buyer beware! There was clearly a lot of shady stuff going on, and could easily have been way, way worse. It worked out well for us, but it just as easily could have gone sour. And nothing that happened in the trip made me feel better to where I wouldn’t worry about it just as much next time.

Part 9B, The race for the flight

After turning in the keys, we had to walk quite a ways to get to the train station. When we finally got there, we walked all over looking for the bus stop that would take us to the airport. We were a little late for the first bus, but we caught the second one. Once we finally got on the bus, but the bus driver told us we should get off at terminal F, which contradicted what we had been told previously, that we should go to terminal 1. We were a bit suspicious about this (how does the same airport have a terminal 1 and a terminal F? That’s not even the same numbering system!) but he seemed confident, so we took his advice. After wandering around terminal F for some time, we finally found a person to ask. She was like, “Why did you get off at terminal F? You should be at terminal 1.”

No problem, just hop on the airport monorail and take it to the opposite end of the line to terminal 1. We were a little nervous, but we just kept telling ourselves, “There is plenty of time, we built time into the schedule for things like this.”

However, when the man with the giant assault rifle told us we had to wait in the hallway until the bomb scare was over, we really started to worry. We would have worried even more if we would have known there was a serious national security threat to Paris that day, but as it was, we were totally disconnected from the news, and didn’t really have any idea until later that day. At the time, we were more worried about the nuisance and making our flight on time.

We debated leaving the terminal and getting a cab to the other side of the airport (that can’t cost that much, right?), but they finally let us through. We had to check in, check our bags, go through security (although, admittedly, French security is a little more lax than in the U.S.), and walk through what felt like half of the airport (the moving walkway was broken of course). Finally, however, we made it to the gate. We had given ourselves 5 hours lead time, and we didn’t even have time to buy coffee, because they had already boarded half the plane!

This time we had a seat behind the bulkhead and a “real” airplane bassinet that bolted to the wall. However, Oliver wanted nothing to do with it. The stewardess asked if we liked it and we were like, “Yeah, he didn’t like it” and she said, “I know, I heard from the back of the plane when you tried to put him in it.” It did provide a nice shelf to set things on, and the extra leg room was *very* nice.

Evie was pretty set for this flight, she watched Toy Story 3 3 times in a row, back to back to back. She kept saying she wasn’t going to watch it again, but then a few minutes later, she’d be hooked. I think she might have slept through the end the first time. Oliver was pretty fussy and we were constantly doing whatever we could to keep him happy (with mixed results). So it was good that Evie didn’t take much effort. Hey, at least they had changing tables in the bathrooms on the airplane.

Finally, after a long exhausting flight we made it. To Newark. Paris travel tip #8: for international flights, DO NOT choose a connecting flight. Fly direct, it’s worth it, even if it costs a little more. We had to get off the plane, claim our baggage, and go through customs before re-checking our bags and re-going through security. So it was like all the bad parts of going to the airport, twice. Not to mention the fact that we had gotten up very early and traveled on an exhausting flight already.

Evie did a good job of holding it together all day, except for one little exception. When we were going through customs, she had an absolute meltdown. This was, of course, the worst possible moment. We’re trying to be all calm and serious and making sure we do the right thing, and she is just screaming like a demon is trying to crawl out of her nose. We strapped her into the stroller and pushed her through the airport, kicking and screaming.

When we got to customs and the guy was looking through the passports, he said, “Is there another little girl down there I can’t see?” Evie immediately answered with something like “RAAAARGH!” It was sort of like transporting a Tasmanian Devil through the airport. Luckily, the guy was very nice and understanding, and he let us through.

I think, at this point, Sara and I were delirious. We were standing in line to go through security, and we realized that we had filled our water bottles before getting on the last plane, but we were going through security again, so we would have to empty them (for the 20 seconds that we went through the metal detector, after which, of course, we could fill them up again). I just remember at one point we were chugging these water bottles and then I dropped all of the passports all over everywhere and Sara and I were laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes. I was probably literally insane at that point (as if taking 2 small kids on a 12 hour airplane odyssey wasn’t proof enough already).

We had 2 hours to make our connecting flight, and it couldn’t have been 1 second shorter or we wouldn’t have made it. Finally we touched down in beautiful, blessed Chicago. The second I stepped off the plane, I was crushed in the face with a big allergy fist. It was weird, how immediate it was.

So now we’re back in Chicago, our long road is ended, right? Wrong. After we got our bags, we had to take a shuttle to the parking lot and then drive all the way home in rush hour traffic. Evie crashed hard in the car and couldn’t be roused for anything. It was a long, long, rough day on all of us, and I couldn’t blame her. Of course we were all up by4 a.m. the next day, but what are you going to do?

Part 9C, The End

So that’s it! 9 posts and over 14,000 words later, our trip is complete. I don’t know which was more exhausting, coming home from Paris, or writing these posts. But it was a good trip, and very complete, much like the aforementioned posts.

So, let’s review, shall we?

You can see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 here (this, of course, being part 9).

My tips for Paris travel:

  1. Watch what wines the French people buy, and buy those.
  2. Buy a timed ticket for the Eiffel Tower.
  3. Walk to Trocodero for good pictures of the Eiffel Tower.
  4. Dress up a little bit, or you’ll stand out like a sore thumb.
  5. Take advantage of the fresh food options.
  6. Buy a museum pass.
  7. Notre Dame Paris is not equal to Notre Dame South Bend.
  8. Fly direct.

And if any of you are still reading at this point, thanks! We’ll soon be back to our regular schedule of bacon and zombie links.

Paris Part 8 – Coasting into the Finale

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.

Paris Part 7 – A rough day

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.

Paris Part 6 – Kicking around town

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?”
Sara: “Yes.”
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!

Paris Part 5 – The Château

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.

Paris Part 4 – Striking out on our own

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!

We saw Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo, and La Jaconde (a.k.a. Mona Lisa). Evie had a running commentary on everything.

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)

Paris Part 3 – Working hard for the money

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!