Thursday, September 8, 2016

Kleinfelter's European Adventure Pt. 2 - France

Click here for part 1 - Iceland

Part 2 - Paris, France

Day 4 – Fly to France, Disneyland Paris
September 5, 2016

It was a difficult travel day today.  We arrived at the airport bright and early and began the self check-in process.  We decided to check most of our bags instead of carrying them on since it didn’t cost any extra and makes it easier to get around the airport.  This was a big mistake.  The airport in Iceland has an automated baggage check that actual seems to slow the process down considerably.  So, first we had to stand in line for about a half hour to check our bags, then to use the system you have to scan the baggage tag and then scan the corresponding ticket.  The problem is that we had 7 bags and 7 people and there is no obvious marking on the baggage tag to tell whose bag it is.  After figuring that out we got a couple of bags checked and then the system went down for everyone.  The problems continued from there until someone finally sent us over to the IcelandAir desk where they were able to check our bags in less than a minute. (Doing nothing more than throwing them on the conveyor belt.) When we were finally done we took the LONG walk to our terminal and then had to scramble to find breakfast for the kids and get everyone to the bathroom with little time to go.  When we finally were getting to the gate we heard an announcement, “Would the American family for flight # (whatever it was) please come to the gate for final boarding”!  We've never been that close to being late before.

Our first croissants
Unfortunately our travel troubles weren’t finished there.  Once we arrived in France and picked up our luggage our shuttle driver was not waiting at the exit like he said he would.  After about 10 minutes of trying to figure out how to dial a number in France from Kyrie’s phone I went over to the information desk and they called the shuttle place for me.  They said they would be there in 10 minutes.  While we were waiting, we had our first real French croissants; they were out of  plain ones, so we got chocolate.  After at least another 20 minutes I went back to the information desk and asked them how I dial the number.  Basically, I had to drop the + sign, add a zero, move the other zero to the front and then dial the number – I’m only kind of exaggerating.  So I called the place and I could only understand about 20% of what was said even though they were speaking English.  They basically said that they will call the driver again, but everything should be fine.  It wasn’t very reassuring, but luckily the driver was there very soon after that.  He apologized, but gave no explanation.  He was apparently very intent on making up for the lost time because he drove quite fast!  At one point he was driving 125kmh – I have no idea how fast that is, but the speed limit was only 90.  We did arrive in one piece and were very happy to be at our hotel.
Along the way, I reminded the kids to look out the window to notice the differences in France compared to home.  Jacob was being a smart alec and said something like, “What?  It looks just like home.”  Max said, “No Jacob, I don’t just see a bunch of corn everywhere.”  Just at that moment we passed a corn field – it was priceless!

So happy to be here!
We are staying at the Hotel Cheyenne at Disneyland Paris.  It’s one of the cheaper on-site hotels.  The check-in process was long, but uneventful.  It was not quite as welcoming as Disney hotels in the U.S., but we were pleased that we got connecting rooms. We had actually booked our reservations on two different foreign countries' websites to get our best deal. Each country has its own prices and specials for the same accommodations and tickets. It took a lot of research! 

We were happy to finally get to the rooms and get settled.  The hotel is themed after an old west town.  All of the areas look like streets from an old west town, but actually they are the hotel rooms.  There is a fire pit in the middle where Disney characters come out each night.  Also there is a restaurant in the main building along with a gift shop.  I would say the hotel is basically a typical Disney value resort that you might find at Walt Disney World except it’s a bit run down (Not too bad).  Each of our rooms has a queen size bed and a bunk bed and our rooms do connect so it’s perfect for us.

One of our rooms
Soon it was 5pm, so we walked over to Downtown Disney (and I got us a little lost on the way) and ate dinner at the Earl of Sandwich restaurant.  I was a little surprised to see how Downtown Disney seems to be all about American culture.  Many of the restaurants there are at Disney Springs in Florida and even the ones that are not are still American themed.  One of them even boasted a Chicago style menu.  I read it and couldn’t figure out what made it Chicago style.  I guess it makes sense for Europeans to want to see what America is like without going there, but I’m not sure that it’s a very good representation!

After dinner we continued walking until we got to Walt Disney Studios, the other theme park there.  We were all excited to try the Ratatouille ride since it’s one of the few rides here that is a complete original.  We waited in a rather long line for it, but we all thought it was a great ride.  It uses a combination of ride vehicles, audio-animatronics, and 3-D video to give you the point of view of a rat in Gusteau’s restaurant from the Ratatouille movie.

The themed queue 

Ride vehicles
After the ride we checked out a few more rides and then headed back for an “early” night.  We stopped off for a snack at King Ludwig’s Castle (and bar).  Zach slept through it and that turned out to be a problem.  He woke up soon after and everything was fine until everyone was finally in bed.  Zach decided he was hungry and we didn’t have anything to give him.  He put up quite a fit, but eventually gave in to just being tired.
Zach insisted he did not like this "home" and wanted us all to leave immediately for a new "home." 

It wasn't cold here, but these jackets are all we brought to layer. It was sprinkling rain most of this evening and the jackets are waterproof, so we chose between cold and wet or hot and dry. That's one of the challenges in packing lightly.

Day 5 – Disneyland Paris
September 6, 2016

The beds were comfortable but we soon realized that there are no air conditioners in the rooms.  I’m not sure if that’s typical or not.  It was fairly cool last night so having the windows open was fine, but if it gets much warmer it could get uncomfortable.
Perhaps now would be a good time to describe the beds we've encountered so far in Europe. The mattresses are HARD. They have a bottom sheet and then just a comforter. No box springs, pillow tops, top sheets, or blankets. It must be because their laundry machines are so small. It does make it easy to make the beds though! This has been true in Iceland, Disneyland, and Paris (since I am always writing a few days after's like I can foresee the future.)

Almost the first family to breakfast
This morning we had our first real French croissants (that weren’t chocolate).  Everyone has been telling me that the croissants in France are nothing like the ones at home, but I really figured it must just be in everyone’s head because how could a piece of bread be that different.  I was wrong though.  They are so light and flaky that they are really different and really good.  I bet the croissants are even better in Paris ;-) Other than that, there isn’t much to say about the free breakfast that’s included with the hotel here.  It was fine and it’s probably a typical European breakfast, but there wasn’t much to choose from. Bread, cheese, meat, canned fruit, juice, coffee, hot chocolate.

In front of Disneyland Hotel which you pass through to get into Disneyland Park

We got to Disneyland just a few minutes after it opened (which is quite a few minutes late by Kyrie’s standards) and walked over to Discoveryland which is the Paris version of Tomorrowland.  It’s very cool looking – steampunk style.  The rides there are all typical from the other Disney parks except that they had some Nautilus experience that we haven’t tried yet, so I’m not sure what that is.  The space mountain is pretty different from the others.  It uses a more modern track system than the American versions, but it’s still dark enough that you don’t know where you’re going next.  I thought it was fun. Jacob and I agreed that is was a bit more "oww" than "wow". We're both glad we tried it though. It was the coolest of the three Space Mountains we've been on. This one is called Space Mountain: Mission 2.  

Regarding our late arrival...We were a few minutes "late" for the early entry that begins two hours before official park opening. I never would have let us be late for the real opening but I cut them a little break today since our bodies still think it's the middle of the night.

We went to Fantasyland next and went on some of the “little kid” rides, like Dumbo, Snow White, and the Carousel.  Everyone had fun with that (though the big kids will deny it.)  

Marc and Max on Indiana Jones Coaster

Now it was 10:00am and the rest of the park was opening so we went over to the Indiana Jones ride.  Kyrie and Jacob went on first.  They thought it was fun and told Max (who was concerned that it might be an indoor coaster, which he hates) that he would like the ride.  So Max and I went on next.  What Kyrie and Jacob hadn’t told Max was that the ride goes upside down (another thing that Max avoids.)  Well, we went through the loop and Max says, “Did we just go upside down?!”  I said, "Yes." And Max said, “I do like upside down coasters!”

A really cool looking play area that was under construction

We continued going on the major rides of the park.  As you would expect, many of the rides are copies of existing rides from the various Disney parks.  We found that we actually liked most of these better though.  It’s like they took the original and just added some things to make it even better.  Pirates of the Caribbean has extra scenes and several drops instead of just one.  Phantom Manor (the Haunted Mansion copy) also has extra scenes, although it was a bit scarier for the little ones.  I preferred the original Space Mountain coasters though.

Alice in Wonderland Hedge Maze

Queen of Heart's Castle in the maze

Phantom Manor

We ate lunch at The Lucky Nugget, in the Frontierland section of the park.  This didn’t go that well.  First it was really hard to place our order.  I can speak about 10 French words total and even though almost everyone here seems to speak pretty good English, I can’t seem to communicate with them at all.  With 5 kids wanting things just a certain way and us trying to order in a way that doesn’t cost a fortune and doesn’t result in a bunch of uneaten food, our orders get pretty complicated.  We did finally get our order placed and the little show that they put on at the restaurant was fun (even though we couldn’t understand most of what they said).  The food wasn’t great, but it was fine, and the kids forced most of it down since it came with dessert.

Our old friend, PUSH!
We walked back over to Walt Disney Studios for the rest of the day.  I think almost all of the rides we went on there were basically exact duplicates of their American counterparts.  Rock n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror and the Backlot Tour.  It was still fun and the kids were also delighted to find that Push, the talking garbage can, was there.  They were really disappointed when Push stopped appearing at Walt Disney World, so they were very excited to talk to him here.  Zach was sleeping, so Push whispered and then sung a little lullaby.  Then when others would come near he would tell them to be quiet, there’s a baby sleeping!  It was a lot of fun.

Soon it was time for dinner at Bistrot Chez Remy (themed after the Ratatouille movie).  For the adults they have 2 menu’s.  One is about 39 Euros (about $45) and the other like 55 Euros.  I should have picked the more expensive one.  I really didn’t want to spend the money because every restaurant has been so expensive, but the dinner wasn’t very good.  It was a very tough steak with some fries and ratatouille.  The salad and the dessert were very good though and I really think the other menu would probably have been better.

By dinner time the sun came out.  Yesterday had been cold and misty, today was just cloudy and it started warming up this afternoon.

Kid's portions were a little small...

...but the dessert made up for it!

Fun with Chip and Dale (AKA Tic and Tac in France) on the way back to our room!
Day 6 – Disneyland Paris, check-in to Paris apartment
September 7, 2016

We had another fun day at Disneyland Paris today.  We got to most of the rides we missed yesterday.  I think Crushes Coaster was the favorite.  It’s a spinning mouse type coaster, but themed to Finding Nemo and mostly in the dark! 

The story of Sleeping Beauty inside the castle...

And the dragon cave underneath...

See the cave to the left of the bridge?
This is my favorite Disney Park castle now due to it having the best walk through and especially the dragon down below!

Some of the rides around Walt Disney Studios...

Tower of Terror...still Zoe's favorite ride

Crush's Coaster loading

Mater ride...can't remember the name

Nicely themed Toy Story area

Max doesn't like heights so much...

Rides at Disneyland...



Storybook Boat ride

Casey Jr. Circus Train

The boys really want these moustaches...

Jacob and Walt
For dinner tonight we ate at Walt’s.  This is definitely the fanciest (and priciest) restaurant in the park.  The food was decent, but I wouldn’t spend that much again.  It wasn’t that special, although my pasta was very unique.

 The funniest moment of the day happened at dessert time.  The waiter brought out the kids' sundaes which included a tray of toppings that the waiter would put on the ice cream if the kids wanted them.  So, he was asking them if they wanted each topping and he got to one and said, “Do you want some poopy candy?”  It was actually pop rocks, but with his accent "pop" sounded like "poop."  I clarified the name for the kids and they were all fine; but Zach said, "Did he say poopy candy? I don't want that!"

After dinner we returned to the hotel to pick up our luggage and the shuttle actually picked us up a few minutes early this time! 

Waiting outside apartment...Eiffel Tower in background.
We arrived at the apartment we are renting in downtown Paris and called the lady who owns it.  She came right over and was very friendly.  She patiently showed us how everything worked and gave us a little tour of the apartment and told us where to find restaurants and the grocery store, etc.  She was definitely concerned about our kids breaking stuff, but who wouldn’t be?  Luckily, they are good about that (when we’re away from home).  The apartment is small but very nice.  Thankfully, this one is not lived in!  We can see the Eiffel Tower if we go out to the street and she said that it’s a 10 minute walk.  The apartment has a nice kitchen and bathroom.  We had to use a pull out couch, but that’s fine for the girls.  They don’t mind, in fact they picked it!  Once again, no air conditioning.  I guess it’s a French thing.  There is a portable room air conditioner, but it has to vent outside.  Since we are on the bottom floor and there is an awful lot of security features at this place (security screens that lower over the windows and codes to get in, etc.) we probably shouldn’t keep the patio door open all night just to cool off!  At least we can use it during the day and hopefully that will cool off the place enough.  Our apartment also has a washer/dryer combo, which is great but it’s been running for over an hour and not showing any signs of stopping.  After it finally finishes, I have to take out half the clothes while I dry the other half and then switch!  I definitely like American washers and dryers better!

The beginning of my love affair with espresso 

The apartment is pretty and well located, and the owner is very nice and helpful. She even left a liter of water, a carton of milk, three packages of cookies, Nespresso pods, and a nice bottle of wine for us. It is awfully stuffy though. It's wonderful with the doors open, but that pretty much only happens while we're getting ready to leave each morning and to go to bed each night.  

Day 7 - Eiffel Tower, Orsay Museum
September 8, 2016

Okay, whoever invented these European washer/dryer things needs a new career.  It takes forever to wash and dry enough laundry for one person!  It says to only load 2.5 kilograms of clothes at a time.  I have no idea how much that is, but apparently it's one shirt and a sock.  I realize there is a space issue, but there has to be a better way.  I really doubt anyone actually uses these things.

Anyway, after starting a LITTLE BIT of laundry, we headed out to the Eiffel Tower.  We didn't get there quite as early as we intended so the line was already pretty long.  We had tried to purchase our tickets a couple weeks ago, but they were already sold out, so we had to stand in line.  It took about a half hour so it wasn't that bad.  I was surprised by how big the Eiffel Tower was in person.  Usually, I find the opposite when I'm used to seeing something on TV it usually looks smaller in real life.  We took the elevator to the top and it seemed like it must be the tallest building in the world, but of course it's not.  It was a great view of Paris.  It's kind of amazing how big the city is.  I've read that it is much smaller than Chicago, but it looks quite large to me and things are definitely built much closer together here.  I don't know how people even drive down some of those narrow streets.

At the top

After the Eiffel Tower we took a taxi to the place where we needed to go to pick up our Paris Pass.  We had purchased it online before we left, but not early enough to have it shipped.  I would definitely recommend that everyone have it shipped before you leave.  It was a long taxi ride from the Eiffel Tower to the Paris Pass place. But we didn't have the exact Euros or the ability to navigate public transportation yet, so taxi was our best choice.

The Paris Pass includes a museum pass to allow entry into all of the popular museums, an attractions pass that gives you the Big Bus Tour, River Cruise and other attractions, and a transit pass to use all of the public transportation.  It's a pretty good deal and it's definitely a lot more convenient than standing in line to buy tickets everywhere.

One of the streets of Paris...
The streets here are really amazing to look at.  They are a horrible mess for traffic, but they look beautiful!  We need more pictures of everyday Paris.  It's a really different culture than home.

We were in the biggest traffic jam in an intersection that I've ever encountered. I thought motorcyclists were going to get smashed into the side of our taxi. At one point, our taxi driver tried to get Marc to make a rude gesture to another taxi driver. When Marc wouldn't do it, he called up the other guy to have words, so apparently he knew him. After the fake (?) fight, our driver was more talkative and put some Blues music on figuring that's what we like since we're from Chicago. 

After picking up our passes, we picked up lunch at Shine Garden.  This place had some really unique dishes all packaged up and ready for a picnic.  It was really good and amazingly economical.
We need something like this in the U.S. The food is fresh and can be warmed in nearby microwaves. Another thing I like about Paris is they often group foods together for a single charge. For example here you can order an entree (which we call appetizer or salad in the US), plat (main dish or incorrectly called entree in the US), dessert, and boisson (drink) for one price. They also had an option for either entree or dessert along with the plat and boisson. 
This brownie was not as sweet as typical in US but very good

Kyrie's pasta and fresh citrus drink 

Then we headed to the Tuileries Gardens so the kids could run around a bit.  Kyrie found this great app that we used to help us plan our our days in each of the places we went.  (Visit-a-City)  Besides having our itinerary available right on the phone, it also gives directions to your next stop with just the touch of a button.  It even lets you select whether you are walking, driving, or taking public transportation and tells you how long each will take.  So the gardens were a bit of a walk, so we decided to try out our transit pass.  The app told us exactly how to get to the correct metro station and which direction to go and how many stops it would be before we should exit.  It was awesome!  Definitely made things much easier.

Tuileries Gardens

Viva la France

Concorde Plaza across the way

I don't know how Kyrie got this picture, it didn't look anything like this!
We only toured a small part of the gardens, but we weren't very impressed with what we saw.  First, there was no grass at all.  Just some powdery gravel stuff that made a big mess as our kids played around in it.  Then, the gardens themselves seemed to just be afterthoughts and not very integrated into the space.  The ones we could see from the part we were at were just tucked away in a couple corners.  Touring the area did lead to a conversation about the guillotine, since that was were it was used a lot.  The kids had a lot of questions and comments about that!

We soon moved on to the Orsay Museum.  This museum is dedicated to impressionist artists.  It was pretty neat to see some famous paintings up close and in person.  Some of the art was really impressive.  We definitely aren't art people, so a lot of it wasn't that interesting to us, but I'm glad we got to see it.  We had a funny moment when we were on the second floor of the main section of the museum.  The main room is about as large as a football field and it's like 3 or 4 stories high, so it's mostly a big empty space.  Well, I sneezed (and I usually sneeze pretty loud) and the sound reverberated throughout the place and seriously like everyone in the place stopped what they were doing to see what happened.  The kids thought it was hilarious.

Some of the paintings that we saw...

I don't know why this is famous, other than it must have been difficult to paint.

Where I sneezed REALLY loudly and startled everyone in the museum!
We then walked back and forth a bit getting lost trying to find the Army Museum.  I read the app wrong and went the wrong direction for quite a while.  We ended up giving up on that and headed back to the apartment for a quick break before dinner time.
Okay, I'm not sure what happened to Marc. He's usually good with directions, or at least I think so because I am really terrible at it. BUT this trip he has led us astray A LOT! And not short walking until our legs are about to fall off and then realizing we went exactly the opposite direction that we needed to go in and must now walk back just as far as we've come just to be at the starting point again. I have actually had a bit better sense of direction than he has had and am starting to trust my instincts. My theory is that I always feel lost, so this is nothing new to me. My normally poor directional skills (in the US) are not too bad here since it's all the same to me.
The only people I've seen wearing berets

Finally found a bakery!

Max couldn't be happier!
We went to Cafe Beaugrenelle for dinner and it was excellent.  It was very reasonable compared to anything else we've had on this trip (except maybe today's lunch) and it was definitely a gourmet dinner.  Now we're getting quite spoiled!

So far, I am surprised how many Parisians speak English and how polite and helpful they have been. It has been much appreciated!

This is the street right in front of our apartment

Day 8 - Bus Tour, Notre Dame, Museum of the Army
September 9, 2016

Well, the laundry struggles continue.  Seriously, it takes me forever just to figure out how to get the stupid door to open just so that I can see that my clothes are still wet!

So here are some observations about Paris that I've noticed in our short time here:
- Soda costs more than beer or wine when you order it at a cafe.  It's seriously more than 5 Euros for a little 8oz bottle of Coke.  I'm sure it's just as well that they don't drink it, but for me it's annoying.  I've been trying to figure out what to order instead, but I haven't found a good substitute that's cheaper.
Speaking of wine though, I think it's cool that there are different prices for different size pours or carafes. When I feel indulgent, I order a size up from a glass. Plus it looks cooler when they bring it in a carafe and pour it from there or just a bigger wine glass.

-It costs a lot more if you want to sit down.  At most of the cafes the drinks are about half price if you just order them from the bar and don't sit down anywhere.  Space is at a premium so they charge a lot more if you're using any of it. And we use a lot of it!

- This city is not made for strollers.  The sidewalks are quite narrow and are completely uneven and falling apart.  Also, the museums were all made long before anyone cared about making things accessible, so the elevators are inconveniently located if they even exist.  It's still good to have the stroller, but I'm glad that we bought a super light one before this trip.  We've carried it as much as pushed it!

- The French people are not rude - probably.  I've always heard that French people are rude to Americans.  I haven't found that to be the case.  While I wouldn't say that they are overly friendly, I think they have been fine.  Considering that they have to deal with another language (and probably several languages throughout the day) and that most of the people we are dealing with are very busy, I think they are just being business like and trying to get the job done.
Not only are Parisians pretty polite, it seems like the French are pretty big fans of the USA. I've seen statues of Washington and Jefferson and even a metro stop named Franklin D. Roosevelt.

- There isn't a bakery on every corner.  There have been many times during these few days in Paris that all we've really wanted is a little snack, like maybe one of those French baguettes that people are always walking around with in the movies, but we can never find one!  There are lots of cafes, but we have had a really hard time finding bakeries!  We have found a couple, but never when we needed one.  We did stock up for breakfast though.
I've only see three patisseries in three days! And I've only seen one lady carrying around a bag with two baguettes she apparently had just purchased. Big bummer! We want more! Only a few fruit stands spilling onto the street like I had imagined before visiting.
I have been happy to see crepe carts and stands though. Still only once when we needed one.

So we had another amazing day in Paris today.  We started by taking the Metro to the Arc de Triumph.  That was much larger than I had thought and I was surprised to find that it has 12 streets coming off of the circle that leads to it.  I don't know how anyone drives through that, but apparently they do.  I guess roundabouts must be the way to go!

We picked up the Big Bus Tour there.  The kids were excited to sit on top.  I thought the tour was very informative.  With 5 kids and a stroller it wasn't that easy to get on and off of it, so we only left the bus a few times.  The tour was a good way to figure out where everything is in comparison to each other, so I would recommend it early in your trip.

Les Invalides (Houses Napoleon's tomb)

Just a typical street scene

Musee de Louvre, of course

I think Marc left the Garnier Opera House pictures off on purpose. We were torn between stopping at the Opera House to look around and trying to make it to the included walking tour at Notre Dame. We didn't think we'd make the tour in time, so got off at the Opera House. First we were hungry, so as our luck here would have it, finally decided on an expensive cafe since there were really no other options. By the time we finished lunch, and entered the Opera House, the next English tour did not start for a couple of hours and the unguided tour was not included on the Paris Pass. We decided the little glimpse we had was good enough rather than paying more admission. So we ended up just getting on the Big Bus again and going to Notre Dame which had tons of food choices of course.

One of our stops was the Notre Dame Cathedral.  It's a place I've wanted to see for many years and it didn't disappoint.  It's a really amazing piece of architecture and the fact that it was started almost a thousand years ago makes it even more incredible.  It took about 800 years to build it to the way it is today.

Standing in the exact center of Paris

Our other stop today was the Museum of the Army.  We only went through a couple wings of the building.  One was about the two world wars and the other was ancient armor and weapons.  Both were very interesting and it was a good opportunity to teach the kids about the United States involvement in World War II.  It was weird seeing a picture of Hitler by the Eiffel Tower.  The other thing near the Museum of the Army is Napoleon's tomb.  It's in a very ornate building and there are several others entombed there (including more Napoleon's), but I had no idea who they were.  By the time we left, I understood less about Napoleon than I did before.  I knew that he was a French general and that he eventually became the leader of France, but apparently they called him Emperor?  That seems strange.  I was also thinking that he was a traitor, but I guess I was thinking of Benedict Arnold.  I told the kids that we have some homework to do to figure all of this out.

I really liked seeing Army uniforms from many different countries here. I never wondered what the African Army uniforms looked like, but I found it interesting to see them and many more.
Again, the U.S.A. was featured in a very positive way. Of course, we did help the French out a lot in the wars. I never really thought about it before. I thought history was boring in school and now I can't get enough of it when the context is concrete.

The armor was fascinating too. Why so much armor for kids? I still do not know the answer to this.

We were getting quite tired by the time we left the museum so we started walking home.  We picked up some groceries for breakfast and then stopped at a cafe that had pizzas for dinner.  It was very good and the kids were glad to have food that seemed like home. Funny statement, since this is obviously Italian food. We do eat Italian food fairly often at home, but clearly this is not American food. It was REALLY good Italian food!  It was also a nice break from our long walk. We split three pizzas and one order of spaghetti (4 meals) making this one of the more affordable meals we've had here also.

I've been meaning to talk about the time change ever since we got to Iceland, but I keep forgetting to mention it.  So, Iceland is 5 hours ahead of Illinois and France is 7 hours.  It's been fun telling the kids what time it is at home.  We were on the Eiffel Tower at about 2:30am Central Time and we put the kids to bed at 2:30 in the afternoon Central Time!  We adapted immediately to the time change.  We were all quite tired the first day in Iceland, but half of that was just because we couldn't sleep on the plane.  It's pretty amazing that the human body can adapt that easily!

Max's Post - The bus tour was really boring.  All we did was sit around.  My favorite dinner was the pizza place.  I liked the pizza and the bread.  I got a beret.  The apartment is nice, except I don't understand why the washer and dryer are the same machine.  I liked the Eiffel Tower, except how high it was.  I liked seeing the horse armor at the Army museum.  There were a whole bunch of locks on a bridge and there were people selling locks on the bridge.  And they were writing on them too.  I'm glad that there was Youtube in the apartment.

Day 9 - Louvre
September 10, 2016

My Nemesis
I guess the laundry machine won today.  We took a break this afternoon and I took our remaining laundry to a laundromat.  It cost me about 20E, but it was about 21kg of laundry which would have been 10 loads in the little washer in our apartment.  So, I guess it was worth it. 

We started our day at The Louvre.  I really had no idea what to expect of this museum and I was pleasantly surprised.  My favorite thing, of course, is the building itself.  It is in a former castle that was rebuilt into a palace after defensive walls were no longer necessary.  It's very ornate inside and out and big!  The foundation of the castle, from where the moat was, is still intact.  That's where we began our visit.


The museum is a good mixture of paintings, sculpture and other artwork.

I don't understand why this sculpture is so much more famous than the hundreds of others in the museum (some even include the arms!)
The kids thought it was funny to wonder which museum had all of the missing arms, heads and other items from the broken sculptures.

The ceilings contained some of the most amazing artwork...

We quickly made our way to the Mona Lisa to avoid the impending crowds.

It is behind glass so it doesn't photograph well, and they don't really have a system in place to deal with the crowds.  Everyone is just in one crowded area and it's hard to really take any time to look at the painting.

After that we were able to enjoy the museum at a more leisurely pace.  

A courtyard at the Louvre

Marc commented that the above bust was more intricate than most of the other busts and statues in the museum, so it should be the most famous.

Before today, I had no idea that there was a mall underneath the glass pyramid and courtyard of the Louvre. Our metro stop let out into the mall and we entered the Louvre from there. We had to exit the museum and purposefully walk to the courtyard just to take a picture when we finished here. 
I enjoyed the mall. There were lots of good lunch offerings and I bought some nice shampoo and conditioner that smells like roses from L'Occitane.

Some more streets of Paris...

It's a really beautiful city.  

This is one of the only free public bathrooms we've seen in the city.  Most cost about 1E.  We've learned to adapt and make everyone use the bathroom whenever we are eating at a cafe or before we leave a museum.  The businesses don't let you use the bathrooms unless you are a customer.  I wish I could say this leads to cleaner, better bathrooms, but it doesn't. We filled up our water bottles here. Zoe said, "Mmmm, tastes like lake water."

We've seen some military presence around the city, but I really wouldn't mind a little more! They are the only people we've seen wearing berets besides our kids.

Another amazing cathedral.  I wonder if people will ever build like this again.  It's a real work of art.

Getting plenty of exercise on this trip! 

Somehow Kyrie got this picture while we were on the moving Metro!

We headed back to the apartment to do that laundry and take a break.  Zach ended up taking a late nap so we decided to stay in.  I took the older boys to the grocery store and we found some "dinner".

The kids were happy for the break and I think we all needed a rest anyway.

I would really recommend this apartment to people staying in Paris.  It's just a few minute walk to a large grocery store and a street full of cafes, patisseries and shops.  Plus, it's close to the Bir Hakeim metro station which will get you wherever you need to go.  The Eiffel Tower isn't that far either, but the rest of the attractions require transit.  The apartment is listed on Airbnb as Eiffel Tower Luxury 90m2, 2 terraces.
Added after our trip: The apartment we stayed in was nice, BUT after staying on the best street in the world in El Born in Barcelona, I bet there is a better street/area to stay in Paris with patisseries and restaurants that is also well located. I'm sure there must be! I would also choose second story to feel safer leaving our windows open for ventilation and would look for air conditioning. 

Day 10 - Palace of Versailles, Seine River Cruise 
September 11, 2016

I’m surprised by the lack of air conditioning in France.  This time of year it is okay, but I would think that summer must get fairly hot since it’s still in the 80’s in September.  Of course, none of the cafes have air conditioning since they are open to the outside, but I would have thought to have found some on buses and stores.  I guess it’s probably hard to add air conditioning to the buildings, since they have no duct work, etc. 

The Palace of Versailles was our destination today.  It was about a half hour train ride outside of Paris.  For some reason I had pictured it being out in the country somewhere on its own, but I guess that wouldn’t have made any sense.  It is in a town, although the palace itself takes up miles and miles when you include its gardens.

We arrived before it opened and there was already a rather large line.  It moved quickly though.  The line got much longer behind us.  Versailles was built by Louis XIV and the next 2 Louis lived there as well. (The last one, who was married to Marie Antoinette, was beheaded during the French Revolution.)  After that, the people of France turned the palace into a museum. 
Speaking of Marie Antoinette, I am wondering why she is so much more infamous than King Louis XVI.  You would think it was his policies that the people rebelled against, so why does she get the blame?  I guess I’ll have to figure that out later, because while it’s fun to tour these places with the kids, it’s hard to find out all of the details of what we are seeing.  One thing that we did learn about Marie Antoinette was that she had a little village built nearby (which you can tour) where it’s said that she would play commoner tending to her perfumed sheep and manicured gardens, while in grimy Paris the people were living in terrible conditions and starving.  I have to say that Paris is still pretty grimy, but the food is good now.

Okay, so back to the Palace.  The outside gate (which was destroyed during the revolution and rebuilt recently is covered in gold and has carvings of the sun on it because Louis XIV was called the Sun King.  There is a clock in the middle of the wall facing the courtyard and right below that is where the king’s bedroom was.  Apparently, every action of the King was to be watched and admired.  He had one bedroom where he would actually sleep and then a show bedroom where he would go and present himself waking up.  Very strange, but I’m sure it got a lot weirder around there.  The king sounded very full of himself.

Speaking of that, the first room we enter is the royal chapel.  The tour information said that Louis would go there every week for a service.  The king would sit on a throne or something on the second level and everyone else would kneel facing the king. Basically they were worshiping the king worshiping God. 
Regardless of all that, Louis XIV was loved by his people.  France was very prosperous at the time and he was a kind ruler.

The ceilings in many of the rooms are painted very ornately and in some cases they would combine painting and sculpture to make the art more 3 dimensional.  It was a nice tour, but I don’t know that we really got a feel for what it was like there at the time.  The rooms were all so crowded with people that it was hard to really look at the smaller details.  I would have like to have seen more of the behind the scene kind of stuff, like servants quarters and kitchen, etc. 

I had downloaded an audio tour by Rick Steeves to listen to as we went room to room. It made the tour much more interesting as otherwise we would have had no idea about the detail or significance of the places we were allowed to see.

The royal bedroom

Hall of Mirrors
This optical illusion was added at the end of the hall of mirrors as some kind of modern art in 2016.  It's an interesting illusion, but it's terribly out of place in a palace from the 1700's.  It's just one of several things that were added.  I'm sure that they are just temporary, but they are an awful idea.

Snack Break!

The Versailles gardens are extensive.  They go on for miles, although a lot of it is lakes and trees.   We only saw a few flower gardens, most of it was hedges and fountains.  There are about 300 fountains remaining out of the 1500 that were there at one time.  I had to do some research to figure out how they made the fountains work hundreds of years before electricity.  They built a huge machine on the Seine River (which apparently made quite a bit of noise) with large paddlewheels that would pump the water up a hill to Versailles.  It pumped over a million gallons of water per day, but it still wasn’t able to supply all of the fountains at once.  They had to divert the water to power whichever fountains the king was near. We happened to be here on a day the fountains were turned on. That also meant we had to pay to enter the gardens; on days the fountains are not running, it is free.

We were going to walk to Marie Antoinette’s little village, but it was too far away and we knew we would have to walk all the way back. Having walked 30 minutes or so to the "end" of the formal gardens, it would have been another 15 minute walk to the village and then of course all around the little village. These times are for normal people, not people with 5 kids in tow. I'm afraid we missed something pretty interesting here, but it took all the energy we had to make it back to the train station.

We spent a good part of the day at Versailles and were pretty tired of walking by the time we got to the train station.  We found out we were in zone 4, so we needed a different train ticket to get back to Paris.  Not a problem, just a bit of a surprise.

Saw this go by as we were walking back.

We took a break at the apartment before going out to dinner at the same Italian place we were at a couple days ago.  We took a nighttime river cruise.  It was nice to see the city all lit up at night. 
We had a great time in Paris.  We didn’t get to nearly as many things as we expected, but that was okay.  The architecture was my favorite part – the chapels, old buildings, traditional French style, and narrow streets.   The kids are mad that we didn’t take the sewer tour!

The river cruise was the grand finale to our time in Paris. We left just as the sun set, and saw all the lights turning on. Paris is a very beautiful city. It was nice to cruise past the places we had visited and get another view of them. The weather was perfect for the cruise...a little chilly with the breeze on the top of the boat, but that made for nice cuddling with the kids. Au revoir, Paris! We will be back someday.

Day 11 - Train to Barcelona, Spain
September 12, 2016

Now that we are safely out of Paris, I will say that I did feel a little on edge while touring the city.  There were two incidents while we were there.  They evacuated one of the train stations because of a suspicious package and a crude car bomb (possibly not completed yet) was found across the river from Notre Dame a few days before we went there.  They arrested the people connected with the car and found that they were actually planning on attacking a train station.  Thankfully, we were no where near these areas when these things occurred, but it was disconcerting to realize that this was going on.  I personally think there are places where the security could have been much tighter considering the level of threat right now, but hopefully that's just because we didn't realize how much security there really was. Thankfully, I am reading this for the first time, Marc did not share this with me, although he did uncharacteristically keep mentioning he would like to see more security. There were armed guards outside each tourist location and some wandering the city too, A lot of the security check points were rather lax.

We are on the high speed train to Barcelona now.  It says we are going 300km/hr.  Not sure how fast that is, but we are really cruising along.  It will take a little less than 7 hours to get there, with about 6 stops on the way.  The French countryside is beautiful – lots of trees and rolling hills with the occasional chateau, village, or chapel along the way.  

Ella – Paris had really good pastries and we went on a lot of subways.  The museums were fine.  There was a really big bathtub at one of the museums.  Our apartment was nice and big (for a place that you stay a few days).  The food was delicious! 

Zoe – I liked seeing the Eiffel Tower from the boat ride.  I liked that the most.  The cereal at Disneyland Paris was good (like chocolate Frosted Flakes.) 

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