Week Two - Paris



Day Seven - 6.25 – Paris

“He went to Paris, looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.” - Jimmy Buffett

Are we in France?
Up early (8a) and struggle to pack up the rest of our belongings. When we picked up the second roller it was supposed to replace two or three carry bags, it did not, and now we have one more than before – can it get worse?

Take off is very easy – cab to station – walk right on to the train – leave on time.  It is very efficient, much more so than expected. I am glad to be moving on.  

The sights in London were great but the people through me off a bit.  To me, they seem to see themselves as struggling all the time.  Maybe its deeper and they are trying to regain what they once had, a place in the world they no longer hold (whatever that means).  Opposing that impression, I sort of feel we are on the upside, we may be fiddling while we burn but we learned from the Romans and are also putting out the fires.  Maybe.  Anyway, we do have a sense purpose and a forward orientation.  Besides, we are generally a confident, happy and cheerful people: there are hardly any smiles in London.  We enjoyed our stay but it is time to move on…

On the Paris side we pull into the station and our “driver” is waiting. We grab a few Euros and off we go.  Best thing we did was pre-book a pickup, finding the apartment people to get our apartment key would have been near impossible in the afternoon traffic, heat and congestion.

Je suis en amour avec Paris!  All of Paris - Everything about it.  It is sunny and warm and crowded and loud, all in an inviting way.  The place is buzzing, almost vibrating.   It feels like we are getting ready to lift off.  And it is full of Parisians: London was full of tourists.

Vincent notes again that everyone steams, he is very disappointed, as if it was just going to be a London thing, interestingly he has gone from concern so strong that he asks people to stop all the way to resignation that “everybody” steams. And he looks resigned to it all, it’s a hard lesson for a little guy.

Our “compartment” is perfect.  We have a small one bedroom on a side street right around the corner from Notre Dame.  It is in the Marais district, I believe it is in district number 4.  We drop the bags and go shopping at the super market before our sitter arrives.  

Bette, pronounced “Bet–tee”, arrives.  She immediately settles in and the kids seem very comfortable, they start a game of Old Maid and the laughter begins.  We have sitters for four of our nights here to give Teri and me some time to enjoy the sights and sounds on our own.  After this week its two months in a camper so we splurged a bit! 

We head out to the Ile St. Louis for dinner at, as you would expect, a nice little place on a side street.  Afterwards we wander over a bridge to a spectacular view of Notre Dame backlit by the night sky.  The sides of the La Seine are packed with people, all just sitting around and enjoying conversation, I can not think of a single place back home where people do that, then again I cant thing of a single place back home like this one.  Now this is Paris!  J’taime Paris! 

Day Eight – 6.26 “ALRIGHT PARIS, RAISE THOSE FISTS UP IN THE AIR!” - Billy Joe Armstrong

Mistake number one, head to Le Tour Eiffel on Saturday morning, typical Americans, assuming the crowds will part for us and we will have the place to ourselves.  This is the first time we are really knee deep in tourists and the hair on the back of the neck raises the closer we get to the entrance.  The place is packed. Not crowded but packed.  

People are everywhere.  I don’t really have any comments on the tower except to say it’s HUGE and CROWDED and HOT!  This is the first time this trip I made a very conscious effort to keep a close watch on Teri, the kids and the money.  We leave immediately.  

I do manage to “bargain” with one of the vendors for two small statues of the tower.  I get him down from E5 for one to E5 for two.  As I say emphatically over and over, “no, no, no c’est tout cher” (translation:  no, no, no, that is all expensive instead of too expensive) Vince complains the entire time that he really wants a BIG one.  In the end, the street guy, feeling guilty for taking me for E5, actually comes back and gives me another one.  Clearly I overpaid.  However, the kids are almost happy and that is a small victory in the raising heat.  Time to get out of Dodge…

Did I mention we got up and out at 11:30?  This sleep thing is tough.  With the sun setting around 10p the kids clocks are adjusting to an 11p to10a sleep window.  So, we are all a bit tired and hungry as we wander around trying to find what our guidebook calls “the biggest toy store in Paris.”  First off it moved, second it is two rooms with a few wooden toys.  Something was lost in translation, though not lost on the kids who are looking for the giant T-Rex like the one in Toys Are Us in Times Square.  It’s time to go back the to the compartment.  Everyone mopes home through the festivities spilling over into the streets from the gay pride parade.  How great is Paris?

Then the moment arrives.   I bought the Green Day tickets months ago and decided to keep it a secret until the day of the concert.  So all though out the day I have been giving Adele clues to her night out with the parents and she finally puts it all together on the packed subway ride to the show.  She looks move excited than I am (if that is possible).

All I can say to try and express how unbelievable this was is to pay the band and my daughter one of the highest compliments in rock and roll jargon – IT ROCKED!

What?  I cant’ hear anything, bon nuit…

Day Nine – 6.27

Today is our first rest day.  We are dedicating one or two days each week for resting.  What a great life.  This one happens to coincide with a weekly market held at Bastille in the Marais district.  

It is a sprawling affair and it appears to go on for miles and miles.  It is three lanes wide with two stalls on each side. There are piles of olives, big animal legs, pigs feet/noses/tongues, chickens galore, every fruit/vegetable imaginable, fresh eggs in huge baskets, bread, crepes, wine, sausages and more cheese than I have ever seen in one place.  We indulge…

Then it is off to rest.  We sit around the compartment and make phone calls, catch up on our journals and do some forward planning.  Adele and I head out to the laundry right around the corner.  I must admit this is my first time in a Laundromat in years. Not a lot of Laundromats in Malibu.   Some things never change; you still need lots of “quarters”, the machines still make lots of noise and shake you when you sit on them and the dryers’ only work on the highest temperature.  There is something relaxing about sitting there watching the water and suds slosh around while glancing at our books that makes both of us very much at ease.  It’s a peaceful process doing laundry in the Laundromat with an eight year-old reader.  Adele sits on the floor propped up against a machine and reads.  Just like the big people.  She later claims it is the one of her favorite parts of her day. Mine as well.

We head home to fold clothes and have a lunch of salad and cheese.  The afternoon blends into early evening so we also have a dinner of fresh olive and veggie ravioli in a homemade sauce and then end the day with a walk by the river to take in the evening air and amazing ice cream.

We manage to record our first video report (posted somewhere on the blog), watching the sunset over Paris.  It’s the perfect end to the day.

Day Ten – 6.28

I get up around 8a for the first time in a while: the family sleeps in to 10:30a.  It is nice to have some quiet time in the mornings.  Looks like the routine is starting to take shape.

It is a beautiful day here in Paris.  Around 11:30a or so we decide to head to Notre Dame.  So does everyone else on a tourist visa.  The line to climb the tower is over and hour and a half and it stretches way out into the midday sun. The place is just too crowded.  We do manage to get inside to walk the perimeter to check out the stain glass windows (very intense colors and detail).  I feel like cattle on parade.

Instead of waiting in line we take a rain check and walk over to Garden Luxembourg.  It is much smaller than the London parks and more urban.  People are huddled under the canopy of leaves and tucked into every nook and corner.   They provide chairs and benches and folks just kind of sit around, chat and eat.  We did manage to pick up some lunch along the way only to have Vince immediately drop all his pineapple in the dirt.  The kid can’t get a break. 

The highlight of the garden is the sailboats in the main reflecting pool.  We rent two for half an hour and the kids sail them around using long sticks to push them into the wind.   No motors, they sail on the wind, how cool for an almost four year old?  It’s great fun and the running and chasing expends much energy. Both kids are breaking a sweat at the end.  

The pond sits in front of a beautiful chateau that we think may house the French parliament.  Like everything in Paris it is an old, stately building that looks too perfect to be real.  I feel like we are standing in a postcard! 

When the boats sail back into port we load up and head to the pay for play playground.  This is a great concept we should adopt in the States.  For a small fee you enter a closed in, safe and fully supported play area.  The kids are in heaven.  

It only gets better when we bump into another Malibu family! And they have kids that go to Adele’s school.   Adele lights up with the familiar connection and the girls have a blast! There is much running, climbing, splashing and laughing. In late afternoon all the kids ride a classic old merry-go-round, one where the driver holds out keys you need to catch on a stick.  Vince watches his sister and yells “good job Adele” each time she catches one.  He focuses each time around only to miss but he finally gets a ring on the last time.  He looks like he is going to explode with pride.  

We part ways and head back to the boats for one more sail.  We pass the legal limit about five minutes in and both kids start melt down.  Within twenty minutes Vince is wailing in the stroller.  It’s clearly time to head back to the compartment.

Everyone is exhausted.  So much so that Adele mistakenly flushes Vincent’s underpants down the toilet.  The one that has a big sign on it saying, “PAPER ONLY.  NOTHING ELSE.  700 EURO FOR PLUMBER TO FIX!”  Are you kidding me?  Pray to the plumbing gods for us.

With another sitter lined up for the evening, Teri and I are off to wander Le Marais district.  It is full of beautiful artwork and shops, and has large center square with a nice little park.  We end up in Chez Janou for dinner next to a wonderful English couple.  Later on we chat with a great couple from NYC.  The conversation and food are both lively and interesting.  Home around 11:30p.

Day Eleven – 6.29

Today is supposed to be an early start buy we miss the wake up call.  At around noon we manage to get in gear and walk to Le Gare D’Lyon and grab a train to Melun.  From there we take a quick taxi ride over to Chateau de Vaux-Le-Vicomte.   
The place is huge.  The guys that designed Versailles designed the Chateau, only it is on a slightly smaller scale (standing in the gardens it is hard to imagine this being considered small).  Apparently King Louise XIV liked the place so much he took it over, threw out the guy that built it and forced the designers to build something “grander”.  Those were some crazy times!  

This is our first sort of up close experience with the sheer wealth and power of the ruling class back in then.  It is staggering to think how vastly different the wealthy were from the poor.  I guess to some extent it’s the same today with the truly rich in our world.  We had a taste of that in London with the Middle Easterners in Harrods. 

Today it feels like wealth is held by a broader swath of people – that it has tricked down across many.  But here, imaging back to the day, it is just overwhelming.  It seems that all the wealth was concentrated in the hands of so very few.  And those few, ruled with iron fists to keep it.  This may sound crazy but it actually feels cleaner in a way.  You certainly knew your lot in life.  And there was little reason to try and climb the corporate ladder.  Maybe here in lay the origins of “you get what you get and you don’t get upset.”  This is what happens when you sit under trees at Chateaus for too long.

By the way, there is no one here! We eat lunch in a pretty courtyard, tour the castle, discuss adding a moot to our place back home, get a case of the willies in our first dungeon, wander around the grounds, rest/play on a hillside for awhile, take a “secret passage” way back to the main house and retrace our steps back home.

Everyone is tired at the end of a great sight seeing day.  After a quick stop to pick up dinner we head home to cook, eat and sleep.  Except for Vince who decides to stay up to midnight again...

Day Twelve – 6.30

People are grouchy, present company included.  It is one of those mornings.  I mean it is not just me; everyone is grouchy, at least from my perspective.  Anyway, with that context for the day, here we go.  

Notre Dame part deux.  Adele and I head over early to try and beat the crowds.  We are on line (is it on or in?) at 9:30a ready to climb.  To our surprise the Malibu family from the Jardin Luxembourg is standing right next to us.  What a small world.  After some delay, unexplained of course, we do manage to start climbing, and climbing and climbing.   There are 400 stairs all in, exactly 400 per the girls. 

It is great fun this stair climbing thing.  You get to count each one as you go and add in any side trips to see big bells and things.  You also have to focus and remember what step you are one while your Dad points out all the things you can see from the top of Notre Dame, how the stairs get narrower the high we go, asks how thick the walls are and keeps making noises like some guy named Quasimodo or something.  398, 399, 400!

Wow! Le Sacre Coeur, Tour Eiffel, Louvre, Pompidou, the Sorbonne, and on and on.  It is like a who’s who of the France’s most recognized structures.  And to top it all off, we are surrounded by gargoyles!  Tres cool.  What goes up must come down, for a total stair day of 800.  Not quite St. Paul’s but a close second.

We wander back to the compartment for a quick lunch and then all head off to Jardin des Tuileries.  The metro is hot.  In fact it feels like someone turned up the heat in Paris.  The temp is rising buy the hour.  Not good mix with grouchy folks.

The Tuileries have an amusement park type thing going.  The Ferris wheel is gigantic and gives us a great view of all of Paris.  I am not sure it is worth going around twice for $25 but then again when in Paris.  Adele and Vinny drive racecars, probably the highlight of Vinny’s trip to date, jump on trampolines and whine a bit in the heat.  We try and find a playground but it is closed.  Did I mention that it’s hot? It’s a tense walk through the garden.

You know the weird thing about Paris?  Here the absolutely stunning and remarkable becomes and/or mixes with the ordinary.  When your faced with a perfectly square park surrounded by 16th century buildings and tree lined streets dotted with cafes and you catch glimpses of arches and doorways that look like they have been there forever, it all sort of numbs you.  The senses are so overwhelmed, in the best way possible, on ever front, that you need to resign yourself to taking it all in and sorting it all out later.  No wonder the city stays with people for so long.  It may take a lifetime just to sort through the images, memories and passing thoughts.  

To avoid the heat we step into the L’Orangie (sp?) for the water lilies and another who’s who of impressionists.  By chance there is a Paul Klee exhibit.  He was late 1800s to mid-1940s and was all over the map in terms of style.  It’s very interesting.

Pretty much stretched to the limit, we all return home to Bet-tee.  I think the kids are happy to let us go.  I feel for her as we walk out the door but she seems handle things pretty well.

Teri and I head over to the Louvre, for an hour or two.  Did you catch that?  The Louvre for an hour or two - probably a bad call in retrospect.  We storm by the Mono Lisa, with everyone else, run around the second floor like we are doing laps and finally give up when we see one too many paintings by a bunch of artists neither one of us has every heard of.  Did I mention we are all grouchy and it’s over a thousand degrees at 9p?

When you are collapsing far from home there is only one thing to do, find a diet coke at the golden arches.  God bless Ray Kroc.  Now, if the French would only start using ice.  We’re back home at 10:30 and off to bed shortly there after. 

Day Thirteen – July 1

Now it’s really HOT. I’m not kidding around.  We all sort of lull ourselves out of sleep and stagger through breakfast.  It’s HOT.  I mean really HOT.

Adele and I pull a repeat performance and head out as a dynamic duo for a trip to the hallowed ground of the Tour de France finish, the Arc de Triumph.  En route we meet our first “typical” Parisian at the Metro station.  I cannot buy two tickets from the machine for the life of me so with the line building behind me and people mumbling loudly at us in multiple languages I decide to ask the nice “information” booth lady for help.  And I ask in French.  And she takes one look at me and says, “non”.  Pardon?  She looks at me again, “non.” And then she shuts the window.  I start to weep openly.  Not really, but I do way over pay for two tickets just to get out of line.  Note: never buy train tickets in a foreign country on the first day of the month when the locals really want to buy new monthly tickets.

Adele and I are having fun.  We jump on the Metro and by chance meet the family from Malibu again.   That is three days in a row.  Perhaps the gods say not by chance?  We have already planned to meet them later in the day so we part for a bit and head on to the Arc.  

Climbing only 285 steps feels easy after the last couple of marathon stair climbs.  The views however are equally stunning.  The green leaves lining the streets below all merge at the Arc and look like the veins of the city.  Think of them as the lifeblood of the Avenues flowing in every direction.   It reminds me of the Gates in Central Park only green.  

For me seeing the cobblestones up close was a highlight.  After watching Lance and crew race the Tour for so many years it is surreal to be here in person. 

Wandering down the Champs d’Lyce with Adele is a treat:  we chat, she tells jokes, hold hands when we cross side streets, buy Vincent a toy car at the Disney store, have diet cokes at McDonalds, (where, by the way, they really do serve a Royal Cheese for those of you Pulp Fiction fans), find our way around sans map, have lunch in a small sandwich shop, have a star sighting (Owen Wilson bumps into us) and finally meet the crew at the Rodin museum. It’s a great few hours with my daughter.

The Rodin is impressive.  It is laid out in a Mansion and the surrounding grounds making it small and intimate.  We see the Thinker and The Gates of Hell, a few Van Gogh’s, a Monet, two Lauren’s and lots of Rodin’s work.  The kids all play in the leaves in the shaded garden while the adults rest a bit.   Then we take a long walk for ice cream, head home to the compartment, do another laundry run, fold, have a nice chicken dinner, pack, and fall into bed around 11p.

It is our last night in Paris.  Je t'aime Paris!!!

Day Fourteen – July 2

“I left Rome and landed in Brussels on a train ride so bumpy that I almost cried.”  -Dylan via Garcia 

Today is a travel day.  We get up in the heat and sweat for a while. IT IS STILL HOT, There is time to shuffle our stuff around once more to try and fit it all in. Teri heads off to the post office to mail home a box of gifts and extras.  Our new Malibu friends stop by one last time to exchange kids clothes.  It all moves along in quarter-time in the heat.

Vincent, the name of our driver (to which Vinny whispered with eyes wide, “no way”) drives us to the station in a big fancy AIR CONDITIONED car over to Euro-star for the train to Brussels.  And we leave.  Just like that.  I already miss Paris.

The trip is painless taking about an hour and small change.  The countryside is beautiful. More small towns and church spires.  There are a few cows, sheep and a horse or two.  The kids watch various “i” gadgets (iPads, iPods) and time passes.  

When we pull in to the station I actually think we may have jumped off at the wrong stop.  There is no one in Brussels.  I mean no one.  It is sort of freaky.

Eventually we do find the cab and get to our hotel on square, in the heart of tourist county.  There is a park nearby but nothing like the big city parks we are used to.  Where are the people?  It looks like they build this beautiful city and forgot to tell anyone about it.  Maybe it’s fatigue.  After a quick dinner and a few hours of World Cup in the hotel lobby, we all crash and try to sleep. 

Did someone say that the Netherlands beat Brazil?  Sorry, I can’t  hear over the noise from the celebration!