Tag Archives: paris

A Weekend in Paris

Rainy Paris

At the end of May my kids had a school break that coincided with a long weekend for Matt, so we decided to make the most of it and head to Paris for the weekend.  Since we’d done so many tourist-heavy things in Italy, much of not really child-centered, we wanted to make this weekend mostly for the kids and spend two of the three days in Disneyland Paris.

Overall the weekend was fine.  We enjoyed it and all the children want to go back to Paris.  But let’s just say that not every trip can go perfectly.

We arrived late on Friday night and had a car service booked to take us to an Airbnb just outside the Disney park.  Since we arrived so late, the property manager had left our keys and instructions with the host at a restaurant near the apartment.  We arrived, picked up our packet, and followed the directions to the property.  When we got to the correct floor and looked for apartment #222 as was listed in our instructions, we found that the apartment numbers only went as high as 210.  Reluctant to try the keys in multiple doors in case people were in those apartments and thought we were breaking in, we checked #202 just in case that was the typo, and were unable to get in.  Unfortunately, our phones weren’t working either, despite having gone to the service provider earlier in the week to make sure we knew the procedure for getting data and cell service abroad.

It was about 10:30PM, so we found a restaurant with WiFi and emailed and texted the phone numbers for the property managers.  But, since it was 10:30PM on a Friday night, we doubted we’d hear back.  With no other options, we searched online for a nearby hotel.  Thankfully, because we were so close to Disney, there were plenty of options.  We walked to the closest one, paid double what the Airbnb had cost us for a night, and finally got into a room and put down our suitcases at about midnight.  The big reason we always use Airbnb is that, with six family members, one hotel room is usually not big enough.  This hotel DID have a suite that slept us all, gratefully, but we paid a pretty penny for it.  At that point in the night, though, we had no other option and were just grateful the hotel had vacancies.

Sometime in the middle of the night, the property manager obviously got my message and responded saying she was sorry about the mix-up and hoped we had figured it all out.  No correct apartment number included. 

The next morning I saw the message and I was pissed.  My response was that NO, we had not figured it all out, still had no idea what apartment we were supposed to be in, and had had to pay for a hotel room.  Eventually she got us the correct info and we made our way back to the apartment building and got inside.  Unwilling to let the delays destroy our weekend, we hopped on the train at a nearby station and took the 35-minute ride into Paris.

From that point, the day was lovely; the children loved the city and so did Matt, who had also never been.  We strolled the banks of the Seine, saw Notre Dame, toured an underground ruin, and had a yummy lunch.  We walked miles and the kids never complained.

kids at Louvre

Having checked the weather forecast before leaving for Paris, we knew the whole weekend looked very rainy.  We came prepared in waterproof coats, and the temps were only in the 50s.  Paris is lovely in any conditions, so we didn’t let the occasional drizzle stop us.  We walked BY the Louvre, stopping outside to check out the fountains and the pyramid, but we didn’t go in.  We strolled through the Jardin du Tuileries, let the kids ride the carousel and play on the playground, and had a delicious pastry-break at Angelina Paris where we drank the most delicious hot white chocolate imaginable.  After our snack, we caught a ride in a giant, motorized bike taxi (that fit all of us!) down to the Eiffel Tower. 

Standing under the Eiffel Tower for the first time is pretty awe-inspiring.  Nevermind the fact that it’s one of the most famous sites in the world, it’s sheer size is just so much more massive than I ever anticipated.  It’s just huge and incredible.  Watching the kids and Matt’s amazement as they saw it for the first time was even better than seeing it myself.

Gabe at Eiffel Tower

Because we’d planned this trip pretty late, tickets for the Eiffel Tower had been all sold out online for the day we’d be there.  But the rainy, cold weather worked in our favor and when we arrived at the base of the tower, there were no lines at all!  We walked right up, purchased tickets, and started climbing.  We made it to the second level, where there’s a shop and a restaurant and some really cool views, but the line to get all the way to the very top WAS quite long.  With the fog and rain, we also doubted the view would be much better.  Walking up the Eiffel Tower was one of my favorite adventures yet because we’d been so sure we wouldn’t be able to do it, it was a fantastic surprise when we could.

climbing the eiffel tower

Coincidentally, an old friend of mine from high school was also in Paris that weekend, so we met him and his girlfriend for dinner.  As we sat in the restaurant, the drizzle turned to real rain, and the rain turned into a downpour.  We caught a cab to the train station to make our way out of the city back toward Disney, and the rain just kept on falling.

We spent the next two days soaking wet right to the bone in Disneyland Paris.  We made the very best of it — we went on tons of rides and had lots of fun — but that kind of weather makes it hard to really enjoy the scenery.  I don’t think I could tell you what most of the park looks like, because I spent the whole two days with my hood up and my head down as we walked between rides.  We laughed and splashed in puddles and tried to remain positive, we hung our wet clothes to dry overnight, and we did it all again for a second day, but it was certainly not the trip of our dreams.

Disney Paris

By Wednesday, after we’d been home a few days and the rain in France continued to fall, we watched the news report historic flooding in Paris as the Seine crested its bank and the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay were forced to move art from certain parts of the museums to save it from the rising waters. 

In the end, it was a good trip and it proved that conditions don’t have to be ideal for us to have a good time.  Not every trip can go smoothly from start to finish.  Now we just need to go back to Paris and enjoy it in the sunshine!


Also, a weekend in Edinburgh and a girls’ weekend in Paris!


Did You Miss Me?

climbing the eiffel tower

Climbing the Eiffel Tower!

I didn’t set out last month to take a blogging break, but that’s what happened.  Nothing major occurred, just a lot of everyday stuff that took precedence.  Life is busy this time of the year and something had to give.  Hopefully I’m back up and running now.

This has been a month of chilly, wet weather, cricket matches, a bit of travel, and lots of end-of-the-year school events.

We traveled to Paris for three days, which was…interesting.  I’ll go into more details later, but let’s just say that not every trip can go smoothly.

Bridget had her final exams in school — although she’s only in the equivalent of American 6th grade, they had the whole month of May homework-free in order to study.  Then she had an exam week right before Memorial Day and took a total of something like sixteen exams; it was remarkably similar to a finals week in American high school, except with MORE tests than I ever remember taking in one week.  It was intense.  Although she had a few freak-outs over the course of the month, overall she handled the added responsibility just as she has handled everything else throughout the rest of this school year: with remarkable maturity and impressive organization.  She ACED the exams, coming back with the 3rd highest overall exam average in her year.  To say I am proud of this child would be a laughable understatement.

The children had an awards day at each of their schools.  Bridget earned the Academic Achievement award for her class.  Gabriel was given the “Most Improved” award, and Quinn received the Effort award.  Matt and I were basically popping with pride.  I think Owen felt a bit badly that he didn’t get any awards, but we assured him that we were proud of him anyway (and possibly may have reminded him that he has to actually, consistently, put his best effort in if he wants to be rewarded in school).  The awards ceremonies were followed by champagne and canapes at the Castle (which, remember, is the central building of the school). ‘Cause that’s how we roll here.  American schools are going to feel so lame after this.

west lawn cocktails

The British spring has been grey and cold, but the sun is shining this week and it finally feels like the end of the school year is nigh and summer might be here.  Our last day is July 6th, obviously late by U.S. standards, but a full two weeks earlier than British state schools.  I am looking forward to summer vacation.  I’m looking forward to a more relaxed schedule, and I’m looking forward to getting back to writing.


Also, I may be busy, but at least I’m not 20+ hours-per-week-at-the-baseball-field-busy


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The Right Shoes

quatre femmes Chanel

When I went to Paris, I made the ridiculous and stupid mistake of wearing brand new shoes my first night there.  By this point in my life, I really, really should know better.  But the shoes were flats, and they were really comfy when I wore them around my house for two hours before the trip.  I thought they’d be great for strolling through Paris in addition to being cute.

They shredded my heels.  In just an hour or two, they just completely destroyed my feet.  I maybe walked a mile total — from our apartment to a restaurant and then along the Seine a bit, but I had a blister that covered the whole back of my left foot and multiple small blisters on my right heel.  I had to stop in a pharmacy and buy a box of band-aids just to make it home from dinner that night.  With two days of walking ahead of me, I was so annoyed with myself.  Such bad planning!  

The other shoes I brought for the trip were all pairs I’d worn a million times and wouldn’t cause problems on their own, but I already HAD a problem because even old shoes hurt when you have gigantic, stupidity-induced blisters.

It is hard to look adorable and glamorous strolling through Paris when you’re limping.

I went out and bought sneakers the next morning.  I had no choice if I wanted to make it through the next few days of walking.  Fortunately, there are about a million cute sneaker options AND sneakers were a big trend during fashion week, so I was obviously just being super trendy and cool. 

I got these from a really cool shop called Colette.  They saved me from limping along in agony.  Plus they were cute and sporty and trendy.  Winning.  (But still replacing band-aids every two to three hours.)

new balance_coletteColette was a really cool shop and had about a million things I wanted to buy.  But nothing that looked as good as a pair of shoes that wouldn’t make my feet bleed.

My friend Allison made the same mistake and also needed to get sneakers.  Honestly we are at a point in our lives where we’ve had enough uncomfortable shoe experiences that I would think we’d know better, but sometimes the allure of new shoes before a trip is too great to turn down.  So you buy new shoes but don’t break them in and end up with blisters.  (Although then you do end up with new shoes DURING the trip to save your feet from the blisters, so maybe it’s not so dumb after all.)

She got some insanely cool Ash platform slip-ons.

Ash platform sneakers

The right shoes can seriously make or break a trip.  To be fair, I really thought that since they were flats, my new shoes would be fine for walking through the city.  I think they will be after I’ve worn them for more than two hours and the leather softens up.

If I need any new shoes for my Italy trip coming up, I better go buy them now and break them in before we arrive in Rome. 


 

Also, some observations on European vs. American style, and a philosophical question about shoes.


 

Solo Travel

jess eiffel tower

Solo travel is so different, obviously, from family travel.  It has its merits and its downsides, but whether you love it or hate it, it’s just a completely different experience.

I’ve traveled alone a fair bit.  Most of my solo trips have been short ones — DC to NYC or DC to Boston.  A weekend away from the kids once or twice a year. 

All those trips have been so easy though — I know my way around that part of the world like it’s the back of my hand.  I’ve traveled up and down the Northeast corridor more times that I can count.  It’s easy for me.

My trip to France recently, though, made me realize that I’d gotten complacent.  Any time I’d driven to New York for a weekend visit, I’d had my cell phone, my car, I knew my way around, and if, by some chance, I did get lost, everyone around me spoke English and I had google maps and Matt on the other end of the phone in a heart beat.

My trip to Paris went a bit differently.

I took the train from London, a really easy 2-ish hour ride during which I read my book and ate a lovely lunch and sat across from Ralph Fiennes’s doppelganger.  Not a bad start.

I intended to take the Metro from Gare du Nord to the Airbnb apartment we had rented for the week.  I’d looked at the map of the Paris subway when I was still at home, and it was only four stops from Gare du Nord to the stop closest to our apartment.  Easy-peasy.

When I got to Paris, though, my phone wouldn’t work.  I had thought, based on my brief glance at the cell provider’s website, that I could have international coverage on my phone by texting a certain code to the provider once I was in France.  Turns out that my cell plan doesn’t include that option.  (I really should have gone into a store to double check.)  When I got off the train in Paris, I had no internet access and no ability to place calls.

My French is limited to Bonjour, Au Revoir, and about four other generally non-useful phrases, one of which is “voulez vous coucher avec mois”. Not helpful.

I couldn’t remember the exact name of the subway stop close to the apartment or which line it was located on.  I couldn’t fully read the signs in French in the train station.  I spent a few minutes poring over the map, hoping it would jump out at me when I saw it.  At that point, though, I realized that rather than standing there staring at the subway maps on the wall and searching for the stop I was only somewhat sure I remembered the name of, a cab was infinitely easier. Thankfully I had the address for the Airbnb where we were booked in my inbox, which was still accessible.  

My cab driver spoke French and Arabic.  I speak English, Russian, and un pocito Spanish.  But we figured it out.  I got out at the apartment and realized I didn’t know WHICH apartment number was the one we had rented — only the street number had been listed on the website.  Two of my friends were already there, and had been the ones to sort out meeting the woman who ran the Airbnb listing.  I didn’t have a way to buzz up to the apartment because I didn’t know which apartment to buzz.  And my phone wasn’t working.

Luckily — miraculously — I stood on the sidewalk in front of the apartment building trying to decide what to do for about three minutes when one of my friends walked out on to the balcony above me.  I shouted up, she shouted down, they let me in.  Crisis averted.  But man, that could have gone very differently.

All this made me realize three major things: first, I have become complacent about travel and just assume things will work out without my having a plan for how to make them work out.  That is not a safe way to travel.  Second, I rely on Matt too much for these details — he is the one who always looks at the maps, memorizes the train stops and locations of things, and I leave that stuff to him.  I shouldn’t.  There are plenty of other things I handle when we travel,  but in general he is the one who makes sure we know where we’re going when we get somewhere and that’s not okay — I need to know the way around too.  And finally, I am far too reliant on my phone and instant access to information.  I need to remember this experience and have the information I need accessible when traveling even if the internet is NOT at my fingertips.

Thankfully everything worked out on my Paris trip, but that was more luck than anything else.  It’s serves as a good reminder, though, and I know I won’t make the same mistakes again.

What are your best tips for traveling solo?


Also, here’s why I think solo travel is important.


 

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