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May 13, 2012

Off we go!

After months of thinking about this and then the last minute rush to get everything booked and organized (why do I wait?) we are finally off for our three month European trip. I have Jake (22), Ben (17), Max (9), and Charlotte (6) with me and hopefully Grandma will be over in a few weeks.

We left on US Mother’s Day from Tampa and flew easily over to London. Charlotte was very excited and fun to be flying with. She loved her kid’s meal on the flight especially as she got hers before anyone else did (when you are the youngest of five little things make you happy).

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BA flies into Gatwick and out to Europe from Heathrow but I had booked a minivan to take us across the city. For a family of five this was cheaper than taking the bus that is also available. http://www.londongatwicktransport.co.uk/

It was an easy trip of about an hour which wasn’t too bad for a Monday morning at 8am. Drizzling a bit but I still found it hard to be in England but not stay and explore. Hopefully we will be back in a few weeks.

The trip to Paris was short and when we came out we managed to get everyone into quite a large taxi. This was pretty good given we had 4 large suitcases, 2 small ones, 5 backpacks and a computer bag – oh and 5 people! We came out so fast I forgot Euros (duh) but the taxi driver said no problem because I could use my credit card. However once we got across Paris we found out the American credit cards do not work in European push in machines that require a chip. Luckily he took dollars. Still this credit card issue has been something to watch for. Unless the place has the old style of machine where it slides through, cards will not work. Luckily no issues in ATMs. So we have to plan ahead and carry cash.

The hotel we had booked in Paris was located in Buttes Chaumont: The Adagio. http://www.adagio-city.com/gb/home/index.shtml

It was in a side street so we had to walk down to it and located in a non-tourist neighborhood but once in we loved the little apartment. Very clean and relatively room for Paris. We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and living/dining room. The kitchen was fully set up with all we needed. I could have stayed there for a month or two easily.

We were all a bit exhausted and wandered around the neighborhood, bought a few groceries (hallelujah but the wine is cheap in stores here), and then ate outside at a cute pizza restaurant – it was close and I had hungry children but we did have brie on the pizzas☺

May 15, 2012

Seeing the Sights Day One

We couldn’t believe it when we woke up at 10a.m after all sleeping about 12 hours solidly. So we quickly set off to see the sights. It was colder and rainier than the previous day and in fact the few storms we ran into also created problems for France’s newly sworn in president as his plane was hit by lightening when he flew out after the ceremony. We did not see the motorcade but heard many sirens while on top of Notre Dame so think that was related.

We purchased 2 day cards for the Metro (expensive!) and quickly became acclimated to jumping on and off trains. The little ones did great and by day 3 were pros at this. I am surprised as neither of them has any real experience with trains and buses before now.

Our first stop as Miss Charlotte demanded was to the Eiffel Tower. It never fails to wow me and the children felt likewise. We huddled together for photos and wandered around a bit but did not go up. One elevator was broken and tickets online were already being sold a month ahead. No one felt any desire to climb stairs in the blustery weather.

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So then since it was raining a bit it was off to take a boat trip on the Seine. Very cheesy but fun for the children (and I always like seeing cities from this angle). Then we went to Notre Dame and even climbed the tower which has 387 very windy steps. Max was very happy that the highest floor was closed because of the weather so I think we only climbed about 200. He did fantastic though and was a real trooper even though climbing stairs is hard for him. The views were worth it.

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After a nice but expensive Brasserie late lunch, we bought brie and bread and made big sandwiches back at the apartment hotel.

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May 16, 2012

Paris third day

An earlier start today and warmer! We headed up to Montmartre (more steps) and wandered around Sacre Coeur. Amazing views of the city again and there was a service going on inside so we got to see some of that and hear the nuns singing – pretty. Charlotte wanted to light candles and I can remember always wanting to do similar when I was her age and visiting various cathedrals. I think I got into trouble once lighting about 15 before I was stopped!

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We found a neat restaurant and sat in the window consuming moules-frites in big quantities. All the children like these so it was a shuffle on the table to get the huge buckets on. We do pack a big crowd with 5 of us and of course tables and chairs just tend to be smaller and often rickety in many restaurants. But somehow we all manage. Waiters have all been so nice to me and to the children. No Parisian snootiness once on this trip! In fact people have been very friendly and helpful everywhere we go. The children do know a little French and so they are able to say thank you and goodbye types of things, which always makes people we deal with smile.

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Charlotte wore her pink beret style hat around town because it was chilly but she had also specifically bought it to take to Paris (and by golly she wanted to wear it). She also bought a “real” French one – pink of course. She plans to wear this back at home for art classes and when she paints.

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So after lunch we went off to the Arc de Triomphe and a walk down the Champs Elysees. The stores and restaurants there are a bit disappointing as they are now chains found all over the place (H&M, C&A,) and tacky burgers and souvenir shops. Every time I go back it seems to be bit lower in style but it’s still fun I guess. Jake shopped a little and then we hit the park where the kids had huge candy floss. More walking past palaces and bridges and through the Place de la Concorde. The history stories my mom used to tell me about guillotines and heads on bridges still remains in my memory and so I shared those with the children – hey have to pass on those things!

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Then on to the Louvre. We went in about 4pm as it was late closing on Wednesday and is actually half off after 6pm but since the children were all free and only Jake and I had to pay we didn’t wait. We of course made straight for the Mona Lisa as both younger children had this on their must-do lists. It was not that crowded but still full in the room and of course now is behind glass and there are barriers in front to keep the crowds away. Max too one look and said “wow that’s lame,” and Charlotte announced “It looked a lot better in my books.” Isn’t that the joy of traveling – you get to see for yourself what all the hype is about and make your own decisions!

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I am always surprised at how some art that is hyped up by the “experts” actually fails to wow me in person and yet other huge or intricate pieces stop me in my tracks and yet I have never heard of the artist.

We made it around the exhibits for about 2 hours but by this time were close to collapsing. Max was the most determined to keep going as he was loose in the Egyptian wing. He loves that and could spend hours looking and examining anything with hieroglyphs on it!

Another dinner of great wine and sandwiches and then collapsed into bed.

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May 17, 2012

Paris and then off

Even nicer weather today. We packed up and left all the suitcases at the hotel and had until 4 pm. We walked through the park right next to us – Buttes Chaumont
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parc_des_Buttes_Chaumont

It was a really lovely park on a high hill with rivers and cliffs to climb up. I was amazed at the numbers of people jogging/running. People of all ages and shapes were out there in force exercising. Very nice to see.

This area has been fun to stay in because it is a regular neighbourhood and not touristy. It’s nice to see regular stores and people going about normal life.


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We hit the Metro again and headed over to our favorite area: The Latin Quarter. I guess that’s expected our group would like this as the Sorbonne and other universities are there and it’s quite lively with college students. The mix of restaurants and people is fun. We went traditional food though and had a late prix fixe (price fixed) lunch of 3 courses. Max really wanted escargot as he loves them but wanted to try ones actually in Paris. The desserts were best to me – crème brulee and chocolate mousse!

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We staggered back to the hotel, picked up bags and taxied off to Gare du Nord for the trains to The Hague. We had to change in Rotterdam with 7 minutes to get from one platform, downstairs, upstairs and onto new train. We could not have managed this without amazing help from a couple of Dutch men. Everyone is so nice.

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We arrived at Holland Spoor station, the boys ran across the street to buy some fast food to take home, got in a big taxi and headed to the house. It quickly felt like home.

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