Our family’s biggest vacation this year was a week in London and Paris from February 9-16. It’s too big a story to put in one post, so it will be spread over a few. This is the first!
Saturday – Getting the Dug Settled
Since we were going to be away for a week, we needed to be sure Meg was well taken-care-of. All of our dog-walking friends from the beach near our home recommended Happy Dog Holidays, where I dropped Meg at 6pm, using a rented e-car. (Funny to write this now in June, just after the solstice, when it seems ludicrous that it would have been dark at 6pm, but such are the extremes at this latitude.) You can text Happy Dog Holidays and see how your dog is doing, but we will held off for awhile, because we didn’t want to be helicopter owners.
Sunday – Trains, trains, and crêpes
Our whole family caught a cab from St Andrews at 6:45am and got to the Leuchars rail station well before before our train. We changed trains in Edinburgh, and we did not have reserved seats on that one, so we had to sit in whichever seats were marked available. This split our family into two different carriages for the whole journey, which was over four hours. But some of the scenery was nice.
Then we got to London and Lydia led us to the Eurostar train to Paris, on which we had reserved seats. We ate pastries and cookies.
The Eurostar is a nice train and goes under the English Channel, traveling over 200km/h (125mph) when we were on it, up to 350km/h (215mph) at maximum.
Once in Paris we had to begin to navigate in French. We bought some RER tickets to use for the visit and took the B line south to Denfert-Rochereaux, from which we walked to our hotel.
The hotel clerk spoke to us in French at first, and I understood her first two or three sentences, but when she got one about photocopying a passport, I gave a blank look, and she switched to English. We checked into our three-room “apart-hôtel,” with two bedrooms, one living room/kitchen, and two bathrooms. We dropped the bags there and then went out for dinner at La Creperie de Josselin. It poured rain and hail on us on the walk to the restaurant, so we were completely soaked when we ate there. But it was very tasty because it was almost 9pm and we hadn’t had dinner.
Everyone was exhausted so we came back to the hotel room for bed.
Monday – So. Much. Walking.
We (okay, the parents) got a little too ambitious regarding what we could cover and accomplish in Paris in one day. I suppose if it had been only adults, we would have done even more, but we did not take into account that it’s easier for an adult to walk long distances than it is for, say, an eleven-year-old. We walked, stood, or rode a subway for about 7.5 hours, and after checking the Google Maps pedometer app, I estimate our total walking at about 7 miles.
We left our hotel at about 11am and went northeast, to the Jardin de Luxembourg, looked around and took photos, then went past the Palais de Luxembourg, on further northeast. Just before crossing the river we found a few fun shops and purchased some art supplies, a fedora for Adeline, and two fun button-up shirts for the other two kids. (For Mary Ella, the pattern on the shirt was turtles, and for Jesse, maps of the Paris metro.)
We then continued northward across the Seine right near Notre Dame, and on into Le Marais, a shopping district. We didn’t find much there that we liked; we entered a vintage clothing store, but the prices were extremely confusing. For example, a shirt was marked 150 euros, which didn’t make any sense. It didn’t even make any sense for it to be 1.50 either, so I was too embarrassed to even ask which price was correct, and we didn’t buy anything. (Yes, I did not even know whether the item was dirt cheap or super fancy.)
At that point, some kids were getting tired of walking, but we pushed on west and crossed the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, which had a carousel that the girls chose to ride. Mom and Dad also got a kiss photograph there, as is traditional.
We continued past the Louvre and into the Tuileries, then turned north half way through to get to Angelina. This was recommended to me by a friend from my university back home, who had been there with her daughter. It was excellent, a famous tea room with fancy ambience and fancy chocolate–extremely thick, rich hot chocolate. Each of us got afternoon tea, which came with tiny sandwiches, tiny pastries, and hot chocolate with whipped cream.
This energized people enough to walk further to Les Galeries Lafayette, a huge department store with a terrace on the top level that looks out over the whole city. We took escalators up there and took photos from that view. At some point we discussed the fact that Paris has been called the city of light and the city of love; Jesse says it’s more like the city of smoking.
We then had some trouble figuring out the correct Metro station to use to get home, which added tons of walking before we got on the right train. On the walk to the hotel, we got some fruit and some wine, which I got to pick out as a reward for trying to speak French on behalf of the family.
We got back to the hotel at about 6:30 and just crashed.
Tuesday – Butchering the French language.
Jesse and I walked to the franprix supermarché on Avenue de Maine and got provisions for the day and the next day. Somehow, by the time we actually brought them back, ate them, made lunches, and did some other logistics, we didn’t get out the door until 11:30am.
We took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower and walked around it, then had our picnic lunch near it. Mary Ella and I went through security to go underneath the tower but the lines for going up the stairs or elevators were very long, so we didn’t go up.
We walked together from there to the Port de la Conférence, where the Bateaux Mouche embarks. On our walk there, Jesse bought a little Eiffel Tower statue from a guy who sells them on the bridge, from a tiny blanket, and Mary Ella got to see the “love locks” bridge (which now has many fewer locks than it used to).
The Bateaux Mouche is a boat tour up and down the Seine, which we took. It was really enjoyable for the adults, and the younger kids and I took a lot of photos, but Addy found it cold because it was windy and February and she had a bit of a cold. But its indoor zone was heated.
We then walked from there to the Musée d’Orsay, but didn’t go in since we were going to the Louvre the next day. We bought roasted chestnuts from a street vendor.
We walked to Ladurée, the famous macaron shop, or rather, to one of its many locations, the one at 21 Rue Bonaparte. We bought twelve macarons, two for each person plus Mary Ella sprung for an additional two for herself.
We then proceeded to the same art supplies store we went to yesterday because the bullet journal kit Adeline purchased didn’t have all of the pieces that the box said it would, and we had to swap it for another one. That was probably the most challenging French task I had been given so far. (No, I don’t know how to say, “This box advertises four types of product, but only three are inside.”) I tried first asking, «C’est posible parler anglais?» and got a very hesitant and reluctant face in response. So I forged on with French and I think said something atrocious like, “Yesterday, we buy this here. There are four things. Three are in here. The four, no.” It worked; she knew what I meant. I was pointing. She summoned an underling and bid her to get us a new one.
We took the Metro back to our apart-hotel.
I made pasta with red sauce for dinner while Lydia and Mary Ella explored Rue Daguerre a bit (right near the hotel). We ate pasta with raw carrots, a baguette, and butter that they bought on Rue Daguerre, plus the macarons.
Jesse really wanted to go to the top of the Tour Montparnasse, which we had heard was great at night, especially at a few minutes before the hour, when the Eiffel Tower is supposed to do a light show. The girls had had enough for the day, so they stayed home to text friends (Addy) and listen to audio books (Mary Ella) while the parents and Jesse went out again. The lights from the top of the tower were very pretty and it was fun to identify the landmarks we knew and the places we’d walked. And we got to see the Eiffel Tower light show just a few minutes after 7:55pm.
We packed everything we could pack and went to bed early so that we could take the Metro to the 9:00am slot we’d booked at the Louvre.
Wednesday – The Louvre
Everybody did a fabulous job of getting up and out of bed and packed so that we could check out of our hotel at 7:45am. We left our bags at the hotel and walked to a Metro station to go to the Louvre, stopping for pastries along the way.
Unfortunately, once we got to the station, we realized that it was rush hour on the Metro (13 line from Gâite) and there was simply no way that all five of us were going to muscle our way onto one of those already-packed subway cars. We watched several trains come and go, but they never got any less packed, and we were afraid of trying to push, lest some of us be left on the platform. So we gave up and walked to the Louvre, which took almost an hour and did NOT make people happy. But we still got there at about 9:20am, and even though that was 20 minutes after our scheduled time, it was still 10 minutes before the next reservation time, so we were still able to skip the lines and get in rather quickly.
Our older two children were not at all enthused about the biggest and most famous museum in the world (!?), other than to take a few photos of its architecture. Our youngest was quite happy to go around seeing the famous art and taking photos. So after briefly forcing culture on the whole family, we dropped the older two at a museum café with beverages and let them use their phones so the rest of us could enjoy the museum.
We visited the galleries containing the works of the Italian, Spanish, and French painters, and also saw some sculpture.
Lydia was particularly interested in the Spanish painters and I was particularly interested in anything strikingly realistic in style or Biblical in topic. Mary Ella was particularly interested in anything that didn’t include naked people (which narrowed her options considerably).
We left the Louvre shortly after noon and took the Metro 1 three stops east to near Notre Dame and ate our lunch as we walked from there to the Berthillon Glacier, a fancy ice cream store. (Fancy in this case means that four double-scoop cones was €22.) I got mint chocolate chip and white chocolate. The former actually had ground up fresh mint mixed into it, and tasted entirely unlike any other mint ice cream I’ve ever had. The latter was perhaps a miscommunication, because it was quite dark and rich, but excellent, so no problem.
We then walked past Notre Dame, where we had planned to take time to go inside, but we were cutting it too close to get back to our bags at the hotel and then make our train time. So we just took a few photos outside the cathedral…
…and then tried to take RER B back to the hotel, but once again, the metro system betrayed us. Due to some problem with abandoned baggage on that line, it was running behind, and we needed to make a quick switch to Metro 4 to get home instead. This really put us cutting the time close, so we had to scurry back to the hotel, grab the bags, and jump back on the Metro heading north on 4 to Gard du Nord, where we made it through security and border control in time to make our Eurostar train.
We decompressed by video gaming (Jesse), listening to audio books (Mary Ella), and knitting while listening to Spotify (Addy). Lydia actually decompresses by being responsible, so she took notes in her grey folder of travel logistics. No aliens have captured any member of the family on this trip.
Next stop, London…