Tag Archives: traveling

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!


Italy, Part Four: The Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast with kids

Of all the traveling decisions we made on this vacation, hiring a car service to get us to the Amalfi Coast was the best one; the ride is gorgeous, but harrowing.  Extremely narrow roads skirt cliff edges all along the coast and the guard rails leave a bit to be desired.  Local drivers speed along these tiny roads and pass anyone going too slow — we saw cars overtaking slower drivers even while going through the narrow tunnels cut into the cliffside. 

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Giant tour buses have to make three-point turns at certain switchbacks where the buses can’t make the 180-degree turn in one go.  It was terrifying.  I white-knuckled it through the entire trip and had to close my eyes a few times as we wound around the hairpin turns.  Our driver though, thought nothing of it — he lived there his whole life and this was simply second nature for him. 

The scenery was AMAZING and the destination was well-worth the drive.  My absolute recommendation though is to leave that trip to the experts and hire a car!

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We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb apartment in the lovely village of Praiano, which is situated on the coast right between Positano and Amalfi.  We were there just before the real tourist season began, so Praiano, much smaller and more residential than it’s two more well-known neighbors, was very, very quiet.  In fact, it was almost too quiet — during the high season I would DEFINITELY stay there rather than in Positano or Amalfi, which are packed to the gills with tourists, but in the off-season, very little in Praiano was open.  Live and learn.

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Praiano is an absolutely gorgeous village though, and we loved our apartment — the view from the porch was pretty hard to beat.

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While on the Amalfi coast, we wanted to relax a bit, do less touring of important sights, and just take in some of the natural beauty of the area.  We spent a day on the beach in Positano, which was gorgeous, and although the water was way too cold for me, the kids got in and loved it.  Positano was such a lovely town — there were great shops and cool restaurants and all the pretty pastel-hued houses are built into the side of the mountain, some practically hanging out over the water.

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On our second day there, which happened to be Quinn’s 6th birthday, we hiked the Path of the Gods, an amazing and famous walking trail that winds along the top of the ridge from Amalfi to Positano and offers breath-taking views of the Mediterranean and the rocky coast. 

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There is a path the intersects the long hiking trail in Praiano, so rather than go to Amalfi to start, we simply walked up the mountainside from our little house and joined the trail about 2/3 of the way through.  In order to get to the trail, though, we had to climb 1,000 steps from the road in Praiano up to the hilltop where we joined the official “Path of the Gods”.  The steps were steep, unevenly spaced and of irregular height, and some were crumbling away a bit.  And, as with everything in Europe, there were no guardrails or handrails. 

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About twenty minutes into our climb, I began to seriously doubt our decision-making; I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to make it all the way up with the four kids.  My legs were burning from all the stairs, some of which were tall for even me to step up to, so they were really tall for the children.  And I was nervous about the kids’ lack of fear — I didn’t want to scare them so they weren’t enjoying the hike, but I did want them to understand that caution was required.  Since we didn’t know how far we’d really gone and how far ahead the stairs joined the walking trail, I was hesitant to suggest turning back in case going on was a shorter, less precarious route.  Although neither Matt nor I actually mentioned turning back during our hike, we both admitted afterwards that we considered it.

I’m so glad we didn’t.

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We made it up the stairs and joined the Path of the Gods, and walked the next few miles along the ridge line overlooking the terraced farms of vineyards and lemon orchards and the impossibly blue Mediterranean. 

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The weather was perfect.  The views were amazing.  And not once did any of the children complain.  I have had quite a few proud moments as a mother, but this day, this hike, ranks high on the list.

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The following day we took a boat trip to Capri.  Boarding from the little beach in Praiano, we spent about 2.5 hours cruising across the Mediterranean on the way to, and then encircling, the island of Capri.  It. Was. AMAZING.  IMG_1379

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The water is ludicrously blue, the boat went straight into some of the caves and grottos around the island, and I could happily have spent the entire day on the boat just cruising around. 

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The island of Capri was beautiful, as well — and all the cabs had convertible tops! We didn’t do many of the recommended tourist attractions there, though.  All we did was take a stroll through the adorable and quaint main part of town, have some lunch and, of course, gelato.

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Then we walked down the hill to a lovely beach where Matt and I plunked down on the smooth rocks (no sand on this beach) and the kids joyfully plunged into the (freezing) sea. 

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The Amalfi Coast was by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited and if we had planned correctly, we’d have flown straight home after our relaxing few days there. 

Instead, though, we headed back to Rome for one more night.  While it was lovely, we were all quite over the tourist-ing.  The kids didn’t want to see another single sight (although we did force march them to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, both of which were very cool but ridiculously crowded).  We were done with restaurants (although we did head back to Trastevere and have one more amazing meal).  We were tired.  We were ready to go home. 

Our trip to Italy was, in a single word, epic.  It has now moved into first place on my list of favorite countries, and I can’t wait to go back.


Also, read about our other Italian Adventures: Rome, Florence, and Naples!


 

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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Italy, Part Two: Florence

Florence with Kids

When we first booked our trip to Italy, we planned on spending the first two days in Rome.  In our planning, though, we learned that our second day there was the day of the Roma Marathon.  Because of that, many train stations and tourist sites would be either closed down or completely packed.  Not wanting to spend the day fighting crowds and getting stuck in travel delays, Matt and I looked for an alternative and decided to take the train from Rome to Florence for a day.  I am SO glad we did –Florence ended up being my very favorite city of the whole trip.

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The train from Rome to Florence could not have been easier and we basically spent the entire ride looking out the windows and gasping at the gorgeous scenery.  It took us a little over an hour, and the train station in Florence was walking distance to the city center.

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Have you ever been somewhere, and even though it’s your first time, you immediately feel as though it’s familiar and you could happily live there?  That’s how I felt in Florence.  It was just a gorgeous city and an amazing day.

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We saw Il Duomo, which was so completely unlike every other building I’ve ever seen, it took my breath away.  It is simply majestic.

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We strolled across the Ponte Vecchio.  We explored narrow little winding roads and went in shops both high-end and low. 

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Our day in Florence was one of the least structured of the whole trip — maybe that was why we all loved it so much!  We didn’t do any tours, just strolled around this gorgeous city, saw the big sites from the outside, popped into shops and ate a lovely lunch in a gorgeous piazza looking at a replica of Michelangelo’s David. 

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As we sat at lunch, I squeezed Matt’s hand in total joy — it was exactly how I pictured our Italian vacation when I dreamed about it for the months leading up.  It was so perfect, I couldn’t believe it was real.

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Everywhere you looked, there were artists setting up easels and painting.  There were leather shops where old Italian gentlemen sat at giant industrial-looking sewing machines and stitched soft leather bags as you watched. The pace seemed slower than in Rome and the city smaller and more quaint. 

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On the advice of friends who’d been there, we took a long-ish, practically vertical walk through the city up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and were rewarded with the most picturesque views imaginable. 

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The uphill climb was completely worth it, even though I did end up giving Quinn a piggy-back ride for the last mile or so because his legs were just spent.  Gelato helped him regain some energy though.

On the train ride home, we all sort of dozed off, tired from the busy day before and another full day of walking.  It was a lovely, quiet, calm train ride.  We got back to Rome in time to grab some delicious sandwiches from the shop across the street from our apartment.  We ate dinner at “home” and the children watched Dora the Explorer in Italian on television.  Relaxing nights like that are one of the main reasons I love Airbnb so much — we’d be cramped and annoyed trying to eat dinner in a hotel room, but we were all tired and didn’t want to go to another restaurant.  Having an apartment of our own is the perfect set-up.

When we go back to Florence someday — and I know we will, because it was one of my very favorite places I’ve ever been — we’ll plan much more than a single day in this gorgeous place.

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Also, Part One of our Italy trip is here.


 

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