Robert Frost

The best way out is always through.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Au Revoir Sweet Paris (June 11, 2008, Day 13)

This entire day was bittersweet for me. The day's agenda was not going to encompass anything new (to me): Musee D'Orsay, the Louvre, the Tuileries gardens, and the Latin Quarter. Because this was the last day of our trip, I knew I was wanting to treasure a revisit of these world renowned sights. I was ready to dust off the fuzzy romanticised edges of the Parisian images from my past and replace them with the real and gritty moments of a possibly crying toddler, diaper changes, hungry grumbles and complaints of boredom. We were now in the very midst of "trip lag" where homey familiar comforts are gone, moving around hurriedly is tiring, and cultural differences aren't charming. My dear ones really did not complain. The girls (all three) were amazing travel companions. But I could see from our slower morning starts, continual straight faces, and non-excitable reactions to, of all things, Paris, that their spirits were flagging. I was the constant travel cheerleader, just hoping not to verge on the obnoxious. Now, on to day 13.
This particular morning....a blur....nada. It is as if the mental recording of my memory begins with us walking upon Musee D'Orsay from its backside....ala Metro Solferino. I remember the quiet stirring of a handful of Parisians moving between the official looking buildings near the Musee. Again I had those random imaginings of someone to whom this is an everyday place describing where they live or work as.."oh, yeah, you know the block behind the Musee D'Orsay, across the Seine River from the Jardin des Tuileries, yeah I live/work there.." Dreamy.As we approached the Musee I could hear the rumbling of a mass of people, and sure enough there was a longer line than the previous day's line at Musee Rodin. Oh, no. We shuffled our way to the back of the long meandering line and my eyes caught sight of a door at the opposite end of the main entrance where people were easily gliding in with no wait. My bunch kept our place in line while I sidled over to the man guarding the other door. I showed him the pass we had purchased the day before at Rodin that was good for all the major museums. He motioned for me to go on in and so I waved my crew over and voila---the joy of having a museum pass.
Before my first trip to Paris in 1993, I only had the movie, school room idea of Paris (Eiffel Tower, cafes,the Louvre and Marie Antoinette). I had no inkling of the delights to be found in Paris's grand museums and Avenues. Once I arrived (1993) I remember the entire of feel of Paris embracing me the moment our missions group sat down on a sprawled blanket in the incredibly lovely and underrated Parc Montsouris to a picnic of the best baguette I ever had, cheeses, fresh fruit, butter, and jams, as we sat on an acceptable patch of grass and saw the Parisian families at rest and play all around us. I remember that I took in none of the orientation info being thoughtfully doled out by our missions leader as my senses were being flooded all at once with amazing and new experiences.

How do I pass these delights on to my family? I cannot account for the remembrances the girls keep of this visit, because imparting the better part of Paris: its' cafes, history, different edible joys and adventures is just not up the girls alley at this point and time. And yes they did try from time to time to step out of their comfort zones. Honestly if this last day had been spent entirely at the Galleries Lafayette (a supreme multi-storied glittering shopping landmark) mind numbingly shopping it would have probably ended on the highest note possible. But it would have been done without the Louvre! without Monet! without the stroll through the former royal Tuileries gardens. And I just couldn't do it. Poor girls. Musee D'Orsay is so light, lovely and majestic. It fairly glows as the light streaming in from the glass paned roof reflects off the cream toned decorative ceiling tiles and white stone interior. The gorgeous gilded clock overhead hearkens to its original use as a railway station.

Talk about re purposing a building. When I first visited D'Orsay (I had been to the Louvre, L'Orangerie (houses Monet's water lily panels), and even the sewer museum, yeah, I said sewer museum) I was taken aback not only by the impressionist art that it houses, but the elegance of the interior. The girls also craned their necks to take in the height of the central walkway through dramatic sculptures and as usual, we let them lead the way picking highlights of canvases shown on the map of the musee.

I drank in the Monet, Matisse, Pissaros, in their elegant setting. The girls picked a canvas or two they liked. Sara loved this very colorful one (no idea who painted it):
Anna enjoyed the detail of the diorama of the Paris Opera House and scale cross section model of Musee D'Orsay itself:

But again the time interrupter of hunger that is a brother to irritability and frustration swung in and stopped our tour. Instead of trying to roam about the neighborhood for a welcoming cafe or bistro we ambled into the high priced museum cafe. Just the other day I actually found the receipt for this sandwich, chip and drink lunch and it cost us a whopping $45 US. GULP. But it was adjacent to the large wonderfully situated balcony with a view of the Seine, Tulleries, and the Louvre. Our next stop. These are some truly sweet girls:

I knew that the Musee as gorgeous as it all is, was not keeping the girls attention and so we walked over the Seine by a wide foot bridge over to the Royal Tulleries gardens.
Populated with Parisians and tourists alike lounging and drinking in the day amongst the gardens sculptures, the gardens were a perfect short stop for Sophia to run around and enjoy her favorite travel activity: Picking up rocks and tossing them. Ah, simple pleasures. Hmm, life imitates art?:
As we approached the Louvre, again I could see the crowded line at the notable glass pyramid entrance.
But a diaper change was necessary and the stop proved to be completely helpful as the girls looking about noticed a near under ground entrance to the Louvre, away from the major crowds (thank you Lord). Not many people were going in, but we entered with the confidence of tourists who can plead ignorance if corrected and were rewarded with the surprise of a quick express entrance, again with our museum passes. The girls felt elated with the tiny adventure and ready to explore the overwhelmingly grand Louvre. It is a Paris MUST.
This extensive museum that houses many ages of art, is in a word, ginormous (well kind of a word). I have visited it four times and yet haven't even scratched the surface. But because my family was on museum overload, I pared down the must see checklist to the predictable highlights of The Mona Lisa, Winged Victory of Samothrace,

Venus de Milo, and the awe inspiring series of Rembrandts. David said that even though he understood why Musee D'Orsay was my favorite, he wasn't expecting how intriguing the art, history and building of the Louvre itself would be to him. Each expansive room after the other filled from floor to ceiling with amazing images and color. We kept finding our eyes being drawn upwards to the intricate details of the ceilings themselves that recalled their royal history. The grandness of the museum kept the girls' interest but the crowds were wearing them down. Once we got to THE Mona Lisa, it was like we hit the Hollywood red carpet and the paparazzi was in full force. She was tucked away in a smaller room than the others works and keeping her company was this other piece of over sized floor to ceiling canvas that no one was standing near.Here she is behind crowds and protective glass.
Sara in proximity to the Mona Lisa. "Sara what do you think?", Me. Sara, "Um, it is neat." Me, "Is that it?" Sara, "It is really small." Me, "Are you ready to go?" Sara, "Um, yes." And off we went.
This shot is the last Paris shot I have at all. Even though it was just getting near four I knew that by the time we found a place to eat and ordered we would feel like having dinner. Then the other time consideration was that I had to do some major packing. So it was going to be the earliest turn in time of our entire trip. On our way out of the Louvre we looked for an easy access out with our stroller and we got to have a ride on the circular open topped elevator that rises up the main entrance pyramid.
We decided on picking up a pizza at the restaurant (Rim Cafe) we first visited when we got to Paris (in the Latin Quarter) and waited for pizza being entertained by a street band playing Strauss. Sara passed her time enjoying her last banana nutella crepe and ate it with gusto. Then another Metro adventure ensued, seeing as it was "rush hour" for the Metro and we were loaded with our crew, plus gear, plus pizzas at the busy Metro stop. When we finally crammed ourselves into our spot we were practically body to body in the car. Then as usual, a man offered his seat to me as I was holding Sophia, diaper backpack, and some food. Sara wiggled near me and as her usual, she was staring at a young woman near her. I poked her side to keep her from staring too long and in answer to the jab Sara said, "Her outfit is really cool" in a clear yet hushed tone. All at once the girl standing near the Metro car doors as they were readying to open at the stop, turned around to Sara and said, "Thank you!" with a slight accent and a sweet smile as she left the car. Sara's face reddened to have been caught. Then she said just as I thought it too, "Glad I said something nice." Yes, indeed.
By the time we tromped into our apartment our pizza was cold but still tasty and downed with our last bit of juices and soda as we watched another movie and packed. The girls said more than a few times that they were ready to be home. Sophia wound down quite easily and after everyone was fed, showered and tucked in I still found myself packing and organizing (its my plight).
The next AM I called our apartment owners because we had yet to see them and hand off the security deposit. The owner said not to worry about it and if there were any concerns they would get in touch with us (there were none and the apartment experience was ideal). Thankfully we had set up a shuttle pick-up to the airport which arrived on time around 7am. What I enjoyed best about this ride was that our driver took us by some major sights on our way out including the Arc d'Triomphe, and our parting shot of the Tower. Ahh Paris.
Honestly our trip back home was quite a bumpy one again. And oh, so very tiring. Sophia, who had been such a trooper for the journey to Europe and all around it was having none of it traveling back home. Once again I had to pause and say that we did it to ourselves: we traded ease of travel and peace of mind for cheaper tickets and the hustle bustle. But after near 24 hours of travel back on three separate flights, a two hour drive home from Dallas airport to our boonies ranch, and no lost luggage, we were of all things: Thankful.

It took me a full week to unwind and unpack (that's me) and hey, only a year and half to retell our tale. But the girls still love travel (yes, dear friends I am about to retell our August 2009 trip with Loulou), still will go to museums, walk for blocks to a major sight, pose for random pictures, eat new things, and put up with lugging luggage to and fro. They have actually said they would love to go back to Paris (proof to me that I didn't ruin it for them) and do some shopping. David even said that he would go back. When will that be?

Well I sit here and realize that we were definitely blessed to take our entire family when we did and that Paris may not be in our near future. But these dear memories are ours and because of the blog world I can keep up with Paris adventures and sights all the time. And of course if we find our way back again y'all will be the first to know. Thanks for reading ...Au revoir.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas time is HEEEERREEE!

***WARNING*** This entry you are about to read is more than likely going to have a major tangent and a slight brag. Please do continue reading but have grace on these personal hiccups, sometimes that is just how I roll. ***

Can you just hear the Charlie Brown gang singing this little ditty? Last year I posted about favorite Christmas shows/movies that usher in this holy time to me. Yep. The list is still unchanged for me. At this writing I have heard Buddy the Elf proclaim to a mall Santa that "..(he)sits on a throne of lies.." not being the real Santa and all. And we have watched Linus tell Charlie Brown and all American viewers the real meaning of Christmas from his recitation of the Gospel of Luke chapter 2. Amen Linus. I will catch up on the rest of my faves the week of Christmas I am sure.

But just yesterday I was asking my dear family their favorite Christmas songs. And I was surprised to hear their faves. So here goes another list.:

6. I like them all. Really. I have what Jane Austen would call a "serviceable voice" (slight brag warning) and will readily belt out any Christmas song that comes to mind, Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland (Liz Phair does a great version of this), The Christmas Song (ala Nat King Cole please), O Tannenbaum, Mele Kalekimaka (Bing), etc. But since I want to finish this entry today I will try my hardest to stick to five.

5. Carol of the Bells. I like the instrumental versions a lot but the first time I heard this it was just voices and it is haunting, lovely, and evocative of the season (ooh, evocative, cool word, I even like just saying it...anyway). This was Anna's favorite. Good choice.

4. White Christmas by, who else, but Bing Crosby, of course. Well, now how in the world does a lifelong Texan, who has never seen a white Christmas (rainy, yes, snowy NO) in her whole life, find this song to pluck at her heart strings. It is EVOCATIVE I tell ya. I picture the dreamy scenes of Christmas it paints and aspire to help create that for my sweet familia, minus the snow.
3. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Andy Williams and his rich jolly voice out singing the swinging brass playing the tune. I just gotta sing along when I hear it and pump up the volume to 11.

2. Silver Bells/Silent Night. These are David's and Sara's favorites respectively. Silver Bells is such a nostalgic song of the celebration that so many share and the "Merry Christmases" you hear being shared even amongst strangers. Silent Night was my favorite growing up because the tune so easily fits a child's range. But truly this dear song of praise and worship sung at midnight candlelight Christmas mass growing up (I grew up Catholic) was a time of awe and wonder to me.

And now my tangent. My hidden secret joy about Christmas music. It cannot deny the joy of the season of God's greatest gift of Love to us...Jesus the Christ. I know secular songs are on my list and I do dearly enjoy them but the songs of Christmas that grip my heart and yes even bring tears to my eyes are the ones that give glory to our Lord and Savior and remind us of the AMAZING LOVE laid at our feet by our Gracious Heavenly Father. And people around the world are hearing these songs of the gospel everyday through the mediums of the internet, TV, radio and all around really. And His word does not go out in vain. So now to my top favorite song:

1. O Holy Night. Josh Groban, Celtic Woman, Martina McBride have lovely versions but the melody and words give glory whenever sung.
O Holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
'til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morning
Fall on your knees, Oh, hear the angel voices
O night divive! O night when Christ was born!
O night Divine! O night , O night divine!
Merry Christmas dear friends! Joy to the World indeed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Paris, Day 12 (June 10, 2008) What's happening here?

We actually woke up early this day (7:30am). And it must be said we did not have a bad weather day in Paris. The early summer days were wonderfully chill in the AM, sunny and warm in the afternoon, and then cool in the evenings. What roused everyone out of bed this morning was looking forward to an "American Breakfast" as promised by Rick Steves. No, he wasn't there in person but on the 7th arrondissement, Rue Cler neighborhood, near the Eiffel Tower there was supposed to be a cozy cafe he recommended that not only served a breakfast with the obligatory croissant, coffee/hot chocolate, but also threw in an orange juice (fresh squeezed of course), and an egg (TA DA!) David and the girls were ready to meet the day that included an egg.

We walked through this neighborhood from the Metro stop and quietly took in all the early (well early for us) morning sights we had been missing: Trucks unloading goods for grocers and restaurants, people in business attire heading to work and small hushed crowds at the cafes having their petit dejeuner (breakfast). We joined the early morning club at the recommended cafe, sat outdoors in the sweet morning coolness, and I ordered our breakfasts from the waitress showing her our Rick Steves guide (Steves' readers are supposed to get a 5 Euro discount!)

See our family breakfasting around the small cafe tables. Sophia, not hungry, again.

It was all delicious. I ate it all plus the hot chocolate from the bowl (I love this French habit). We were all pleased and I was ready to linger in the cafe setting but Sophia was restless, and the crew knew we were heading to the Eiffel Tower for our fist sight and they were itching to get a move on. I hurriedly gave my card for payment and as the waitress walked off I noted that the amount on the bill did not have the discount.

Now,dear reader, at this point of travel I had noticed some pricing mistakes (whether meant or by accident)along the way. A Euro here and few bits of change there and not usually in our favor. And prior to this I had kept the mistakes to myself in order to make things easy on us. But for whatever reason this was not going to happen this time. As I approached the lady at the counter she was just finishing up the charge and in my patchy French, and as politely as I could, I stated the miscalculation to her and she simply looked at me and handed me the receipt to sign. "Pardon madame" and I explained I would not sign without the change. A Frenchman at the bar turned his head to take in the scene with a slight scowl (probably thinking "ugly American"). She still paused a bit, then stated that she had already run the amount through the machine, what could she do? "Well" I paused, thinking that in the states, no matter how annoying, the customer is always right. In France it is all a matter of respect, yet I knew I was not trying to be annoying, I was just tired of getting the short shrift as a tourist. Then a thought came, and again piecing together a language not my own, the coherent thought came out that she could run it through as on the receipt and I would sign it, if she gave me the change in Euros instead of credit. The man at the counter actually smirked (entertaining as it all probably was to him), and the lady actually breathed out "Humph!" and handed me the change.

Triumphant, but weary I walked out to David and the girls who wanted to know what had happened. I reflected a bit too much on my morning grumble until a couple of blocks from Rue Cler the Tower came in to view. All annoyances melted away. I have tried and tried to think what about the Tower causes awe. I have kinda of figured out that for me it is the fact that in growing up in mostly small town Texas and dreaming that one day I might be able to travel out of state, that international travel was just not in the realm of possibility for me. Paris was a place to be seen in Lifetime shows and romantic movies (Sabrina, French Kiss, Forget Paris). Now Paris was all around me and better than the movies. And even better this time was that I was sharing it with my loved ones and could see their delighted responses.

By the time we arrived crowds were just starting to form so David and the girls immediately got in line. I realized we all would not be able to go up since Sophia had fallen asleep during the stroll to the Tower and getting the stroller up the stairs would be an ordeal up the steps. The elevator line was extremely long and pricier. I convinced the girls and David that I had been to the second level more than a few times before and tho' the view is a must I would much rather take time with Sophia and save us some money by my sitting it out this time. I was truly okay with this but I knew I was gonna miss their first time awe at the view. A neat plus was that we had scribbled out a few postcards over breakfast and the girls were going to send them out at the first level post office on the Tower. They actually stamp the Tower on the mail that goes out--what a treat for loved ones at home.
All in all my wait was not long (about an hour) and Sophia got in a respectable nap and snacked a bit before we regrouped. David took the camera and got some impressive pics:

This is my fave. They are touching the Tower. Look at the painted fingernails....how cute.

Next on the agenda was Musee Rodin. I had missed this famous sculptor's museum on my two previous trips and had heard raves about the lovely gardens and well-known sculptures. As we approached the line came into view before the museum and this was our first encounter with amusement park like crowds and lines at a major site. I think the waiting killed my family's desire for the museum. We waited about 45 minutes. Not a tremendously long amount of time but when you add the hour or so they hung about as I lingered amongst the sculptures reading the stories and history it was all too long for them. Yes, I loved it. Here's the kiss,

the hands,

the thinker.
And for some dreamy reason could picture myself touring it all slowly, quietly, in the fall season when the crowds are far fewer. Maybe for another time? We shall see.
But at this time it was hot in the mansion that housed the sculptures, crowded, and the girls were hungry. Sophia wanted to run about. We attempted to eat in what Rick Steves described as a well stocked garden cafe, but when I ran in with Anna to get an idea of what was available her hopes were dashed as it was all vegetarian friendly, with mostly unfamiliar veggie salads, cold pre-packaged meat sandwiches filled with un-Sara and un-Anna fillings. So we turned around and I announced that a Mc Donald's could be found on the Champs d'Elysees and it was a location of some cool shopping (mostly the window variety) and the Arc D'Triomphe.

It was such a lovely walk down the Champs d'Elysees toward the McDonald's near the Arc de Triomphe. The sidewalks were streaming with people but not overly crowded. We ordered our hamburgers and big icy drinks and surprisingly found a table for us all in the very busy and ultra crowded Mac Doughs. Hmm. The French detest the American fast food you say. I think maybe "non!" I have since heard that France is the country with the second largest consumption of McDonald's food after the US and that soon there will be a MacDonald's in the Louvre! Oh, my. But actually I am not a McDonald's fan. It is not a social protest. It is just personal preference. I find our Texas Whataburger hamburgers and fries to be exceptional and probably only get something from Mickey D's about once a year at most. But overseas, each time, I have noticed it is a welcome sight when unfamiliar foods have disappointed and cost us more than the few Euros for a combo meal.

Once done our energies were flagging. Oh, no. I suggested the also familiar and decadent Haagen Daz across the Avenue. Everyone perked up enough to get the treats and then Anna felt uneasy. She liked her ice cream but knowing that the Arc de Triomphe was almost 3 blocks away I could see her calculating the energy she didn't have to walk there and then on to another Metro and so on to our apartment. She said she wanted to nap. I didn't want to be uncaring but I suggested that we were so close to other things I wanted to show them, Laduree (a elegant and landmark patissierie/tea shop), Sephora, um, Sephora. Maybe a small rest would help? No. Then she said that she wasn't feeling well tummy wise and I knew we were trudging back to the apartment. Later both girls regretted this but Anna says that she knew at that moment she needed to rest. And she is not usually a girl to poop out.

When we returned to the apartment David, Anna, Sara, and Sophia vegged in the living room and picked a kid friendly movie from the stack provided by the apartment agency. I could feel a cloud come over me. Selfishly I whined in my head that if I was touring Paris on my own I wouldn't waste a moment. But I knew in my heart that if I was taking in Paris on my own it would be sad indeed because I love sharing these experiences with my crew. I needed a getaway. Yes, I would take a stroll. I asked David if he minded if I strolled and took in a cafe. He drowsily said that sounded great, that he and the girls would nap/chill. I think I skipped on my way out the door ready to spend a couple of hours exploring on my own.

This was thrilling to me. I knew I would simply amble about the neighborhood. Ah the stairs of Montmartre.
Then this cafe invited me in.

It was neatly tucked around the corner and I found a quiet tiny table in the midst of the chattering, visiting French. It was perfect. I ordered my Kir (dry white wine with cassis) and nuts were the companion nibble provided.
I wrote in my journal, planned (well trimmed down the plans) our next day,s schedule, and just took it all in. The thought came to me that all the delightful Parisian characteristics around me: cafes, cobblestones, old architecture, were the Everyday things to most all the French people around me. This was some one's everyday. Man, oh, man.

I stirred from my daydreaming revelry in just enough time to hurry back to the family at the apartment. They had just finished their movie and wanted to slip in another when I rounded them up to find a place for dinner. No one wanted to sit about a table and wait when they could pick up something and enjoy it at "home". But first we wanted to see the beautiful Paris landscape at one of Paris's sights that was only a few minutes away by foot--Sacre Coeur Cathedral.

We walked past our restaurant from the night before.

We walked past the artists all set up with there easels. We spotted one of these fanciful water fountains that actually flows with water you can drink, just fill up your water bottle.

We found the steps teaming with people around the church....

all taking in this view.

Talk about a spot that Parisians and tourist alike sit and share. Sacre Coeur is not remarkable because of its age. It is only over a hundred and some years old. A baby compared to the likes of Nortre Dame, and the Louvre. But its perch on this hill in Montmartre, its luminous white exterior, its beautiful mosaic ceiling, and grand view of the entrancing city of lights all make it a notable sight to see.

But the girls took a look, said, "Cool" and were ready for some dindin. So we set out to find some food "to go" and after some trepidation on what would suit us we found a small four table restaurant whose outside menu also said "emporter" (take out). Yippee.

The more we studied the menu, the more we wanted. The gentleman taking our order (Middle Eastern looking) smiled kindly as I added one item on top of another..."one sausage, no, make that three sausages, 3 orders of fries, no make that 4. Two Belgian waffles, no, make that one waffle, and one banana nutella crepe (of course), some roast chicken"...and he chuckled at me trying to interpret as my crowd was calling out to me what they wanted and how they wanted it. Then he asked where we were from. See, I am decidedly Hispanic looking and in Europe actually get mistaken for being Italian or Greek. Mexican-American is not on the local radar. He wondered because David and Anna, and Sara are so blond, blue-eyed and German looking and Sophia is a blend. He asked the French version of "What's up with that?" And I appreciated his honest curiosity and stated our little family was a melting pot and very much all-American. He nodded away apparently tickled at the answer and tossed in a few ketchup packets and a couple of drinks for free (I guess he heard the girls asking us for both as we waited for our order). What an opposite scenario from my morning's quibble over our overcharge for breakfast. We all uttered Mercis as we waved goodbye. Again, a small kindness buoyed our spirits. Ah, Paris.
We got home and unpacked all the surprisingly delicious goodies (Thank you chuckling man and thank you Lord) and watched The Holiday with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet. I so truly enjoy this movie for more than one reason. David and I always tear up at the part when Cameron Diaz's character surprise visits Jude Law's character (a widow) at his home and is surprised herself to discover that he has two adorable small girls. When David and I met (family set blind date) I was not surprised by his two adorable girls, but the night I met them for the first time was so much like that part of the movie. We all loved each other from the start. Thank the Lord. The girls gave the movie two thumbs up (we fast forwarded a couple of parts) and we actually rested our heads at a most decent hour. Well honestly......

At night, I organized our packs and outfits for the next day. I packed some items up hoping that the next night I wouldn't be overwhelmed with getting us completely packed to leave. I watched as Sophia and David slept soundly, listened to the sounds of the neighborhood from our opened windows that allowed the cool night air to waft through. I walked over to the sleeper sofa and watched the girls, sleeping almost head to head and thought how astoundingly sweet was this Paris moment. We only had one more day in this dreamy city.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lazy Monday (June 9, 2008) Day 11

Yup. We woke up without any alarm....slowly. David took care of us and had his own Parisian experience by traipsing out as we got ready and scrounging us up some lovely pastries. There was a patisserie nearby, and David used the little bit of French he had gleaned to this point on our trip and came back with exactly what we ordered. He said he felt a rush as he ordered alongside hurried locals who knew what they wanted and didn't suffer fools holding up the line. On the third morning that he sweetly did this for us, he said that he hesitated in ordering for a moment and a French customer called out his order only to get put in his place by the proprietress who was helping David. David was encouraged in his efforts and we even discussed the fact that these interactions make the traveling experience richer; Not all the standing back and taking pictures and observing (which we do plenty of ). The direct learning as you go communication, mistakes and all.

Well, we downed our so yummy breakfast and finally hit the Metro around 12pm. We headed to the Latin Quarter arrondissement again to check out the Musee Cluny (National Museum of the Middle Ages). Medieval artifacts abound along with the well known Lady and the Unicorn tapestry. Here we are in the Cluny courtyard:
Built as an abbott, I think, in the 1400s, it is a remarkable building. But it was under construction, partially. As we entered the lobby under scaffolding, I hoped we would be able to go inside (it was not crowded!). The desk attendant said that, "yes, of course" we may enter free of charge. "Pardon?" He explained that because of the construction the exhibits were somewhat incomplete but the tapestries were open to viewing--"enjoy." Wonderful.
I love museums and on my own I would read each item's description and take it all in. Not so fully educated on all things medieval though, and with a family of two preteens and a toddler, drinking in all the details was not gonna happen. We did all enjoy the tapestry and the small gift shop but as we departed I could tell my troops needed a pick me up. Ice cream.

As we wandered aimlessly (this is dangerous to morale people, I tell you it is dangerous), looking for ice cream, Sara uttered that she would actually like to eat a meal. Anna and David agreed. Somehow the nearby Mickey D's, oh, excuse me, MacDough's, was looking good, but I just couldn't have us eat there. It wasn't good for my morale. After some unfruitful brainstorming on what could possibly please everyone (uh, it does not exist), we compromised on a sandwich (panini) stand in eye shot with reasonable lunch specials advertised. Now it was my turn to cause a stir.
I ordered, then was whispered to by Sara on how absolutely PLAIN she wanted her panini. I changed the order, and was corrected by Anna on something else she decided she wanted. I changed the order, again. I ordered my sandwich, then being told it wasn't a special, changed my order (small line was forming and hovering around me). David assured me he would eat whatever was put before him, "let's get it goin'". And thankfully, a sweet local lady standing in line eased my anxiousness by clarifying our orders in her quick French as she had understood our English. All was set to right. "Merci, madame, merci!" (Mercy me) When the busy sandwich man handed me our bag I took it quickly without double checking it.
Jardin Luxembourg was nearby and we found a friendly bench in a shaded area and picnicked. Perfect. This grand garden in the 18th arrondissement is a very familiar sight to me. A few times during my mission trips before, when I had empty free times, I escaped to the Jardin and would have a quiet time in God's word, journal, pray,and watch the changing scene around me. All those times I was so astounded by the place and time I was in and the blessing the Lord had provided in the reason I was in Paris. Little did I know that years later I would be able to share this tranquil yet popular and active setting with my foursome.
All our orders were correct but the sandwiches were just "okay." Sophia munched on some of my chicken and otherwise loved being freed from her stroller. We had plenty of space around us for her to wander about.

The girls and I went to the below ground toilette (we used them whenever available) and here we were specifically told (by a middle aged nicely dressed man) that children and adults had the same charge to use the bathroom. All the times before the girls got in free and generally without waiting in line but once into the restroom we saw that there were special toddler/child toilettes.
Note the shaky picture because the male attendant was eyeing me suspiciously and I took it quickly. The entire bathroom was very clean. So clean that David said as he was "busy" in the men's side, the lady cleaning the area was even sticking her mop into his stall (under the door) making sure to get everything clean. We lingered in the park a little too long I think because as I suggested the possible spots for the evening, David asked if we needed to get Sophia more groceries. Um, "Yes," I answered. So his suggestion was that we should head back to the apartment, chill (nap), and let me get the groceries before the stores closed, then go to eat near Sacre Coeur. Anna and Sara readily agreed because it had been a full day. What? When I recapped to them that all we had done was Musee Cluny, and late lunch at the Jardin they looked taken aback, "That's all!" Anna said. And the silence pretty much decided that our day's excursion was done and so were the girls. As we headed out the park gates two friendly ice cream stalls enticed us to taste and the girls found a little more energy to stand in line for a scoop for the road. I've tried a few boules in my day and this little stall's pomme verte (green apple sorbet) was both refreshing, and creamy.
Quickly, we were back at the apartment and I strolled solo this time to a further off larger grocery store. I actually loved this opportunity to take in the day and place at my own pace. Once in the Monoprix I found all I needed and yet realized that my leisurely stroll was quite a ways away with groceries. I wished Anna had joined me. I got quite a workout on my walk back only to find David and the girls still napped out and Sophia up and hopping. It took a while to wrangle the drowsy bunch to move for dinner. I had no idea what we could/would find in the busy touristy Montmartre square, La Place du Tertre, but I didn't want it to take a long time to find it.
Needless to say our walk was oh, so lovely:
My van could crush these dainty Frencymobiles.
Zowie--makes you want to nosey around the neighborhood.

Such a cool sculpture that is supposedly taken from some French short story.
Though it was a short stroll no one said it was easy. I could totally work off some pounds going up and down the hill of Montmartre. But just at the top of this hill was this....
the winding roadways/walkways of the Place du Tertre and the Sacre Coeur.
Montmartre's history is rich but more well known from its days as an artist colony. So in honor of that many artists set up shop doing portraits and caricatures for tourists, definitely giving the square a festive flair. David scoped us out an available place to eat as Anna and I stopped to shop for postcards. Once inside the tiny, multilevel, packed restaurant the obvious sounds of the English speaking customers made me think two things: 1. the hosts and waiters would probably be more understanding of our questions and requests in ordering and 2. the food would probably not be great. Yup, both were true. The waiter was very helpful and the food was ehh.
There were two tipsy (I am being polite) Frenchmen finishing up their meal as we got ours and as they saw me taking out my camera for pictures they offered to take one of our family for us. I awkwardly tried to motion/explain how the camera worked and thanked them for the offer. They made us laugh because they giggled like school girls as they took the pic and handed it back. After they left I checked the results and kept it as a memento:
This photo is from now on proclaimed "Picture by a drunk Frenchman."

The meal passed quickly. I must add dessert was good. Most lunch or dinner deals at restaurants or bistros are in courses. They usually consist of a salad, meal, and dessert. Our usual dessert was ice cream and some kind of tart which we always taste tested each others and then devoured our favorite. We headed out and shopped the souvenir shops. If I had to add a tip to travelers who like to buy traditional/cheesy souvenirs, like me, I would direct them to this Montmartre neighborhood. The girls enjoyed the shopping but it was getting late and I knew a boost to the next days sightseeing opportunities would be a good night's rest--or so I thought.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bonjour PARIS! (June 8th, 2008) Day 10 (Part 1, because I am long winded)

Oops! This had happened before. We woke up late (did we sleep through the alarm or maybe it didn't go off?--Who knows?) and rushed to pack up our last few things to take our two trips to the airport. We didn't fly out until 10:30 am but in trying to get there in plenty of time we needed to be at the airport by 8ish. I remember sweet but rushed goodbyes (everyone a bit groggy). In two trips we were on time to the airport and even though a carry-on bag was slightly overweight, the Spanish check-in attendant saw me emptying the bag of diapers that it was full of and kindly allowed me to carry it on board "as is" for "la bebe". Muchas Gracias, to her understanding my plight and to our entire Spanish experience.
Our Spanish flight to Paris was another rowdy experience, but poor David hit a wall and found it hard to keep his eyes open during the lively flight.
Sophia mingled and was out of her car seat--she loved the freedom.
Once in Paris we claimed our luggage and steeled ourselves for our journey to our Paris apartment. What a journey it was. First though we found/stumbled in to our shuttle from the airport to the Paris train station. And I didn't realize that it's path would be right through the 14th arrondissement neighborhood that I stayed at in '93, '97 with Crusade during our ministry time. I took a gasp of air in and David wondered if I was okay. I called out "Look!" to the patisserie that we frequented during my stays, the cafe we stopped at a time or two.
David and the girls looked a little blankly at my excitement of recognition of places from my past. And I was so struck with the odd fact that these far away places from my everyday life, have a cozy at home familiarity to me. How can that be? Thank you Lord.

Now for our adventure on the Metro. Picture a family of five, with luggage plus a bit of a cumbersome car seat, and stroller entering the crazy maze of escalators, stairs and passage ways that is Montparnasse train station. Whoa! is all I can say. During our trip I had been fairly unfazed with the cultural, language, everyday differences and would find our way around most situations with a lot of help from David. But at this multilevel, busy, crowded, busy, loud, bustling, busy, train station I actually had a moment of "Gulp, I don't know". There wasn't a sign that said "Jenny go this way to buy your Metro tickets and to your Metro platform"--darn it.

And nothing was distinct to me. No distinct Metro this way, tickets this way, trains this way, Help! this way. I stood still. David and the girls stood around me in a tight group with our luggage in between us trying to be as little in the way of the fast moving masses as possible. Then I looked at the time and realized that if it took an hour or more to get to our apartment that we would miss the greeter with our key. Now I had the pre-trip helpful e-mail instructions on how to approach our apartment (three entries and two security codes) but no key. So I first attempted (5 times) to call the manager. I couldn't follow the French voice on the phone in order to put in the correct amount of Euros in the phone. Gulp! I took one look at my tired crowd and knew I had to get us going. I left them in one spot to rest and hunted down a ticket booth. Once I found a ticket stall all my French left me after "Bonjour" to the stern looking man behind the glass. Then he asked me in English " I am sorry do I scare you?" As I smirked, I pleaded my question and confusion and he had all the answers--tickets, Metro times, and directions to our platform three flights down.

He hauled ourselves down,down, down to our Metro. And clumsily made our way inside trying not to push, bump and otherwise annoy any other travelers. Then the kindest thing happened that continued throughout our Parisian visit. A thoughtful, business dressed Frenchman (called this because he spoke French to me) tapped my shoulder and asked me to take a seat with my bebe (Sophia). I quickly and appreciatively accepted even when it was truly easier for me to stand with Sophia, diaper bag, and some luggage, because I was so thankful for the gesture. It calmed me a bit more to take in the moment around me. The girls were perked up by the small interaction and the fact that they enjoy the Metro experience.

We again bustled ourselves to our connecting train and finally made it to our stop. Here we had 100 and some spiral steps up to street level. There was a sign at the foot of the stairs to help us know what we were in for. Sophia loves steps but I dared not put her down as we didn't want to get overrun by the foot traffic. Then another kindness. A sweet Asian lady spoke French to me and asked to carry Sophia up the steps. Now, typically any mom would think "no way" but for whatever reason (The Lord knows) I complied (post your objections in the comment section, but it did happen) . And she kept step with me behind David and the girls and then at the top of the stairs she gently set Sophia down, told me how adorable she is, and bid me adieu. I called out a surprised "Merci, madame!" as she flitted away. Oh, my. Seems naive I know, but I couldn't help but say a thank you to the Lord for His kindness through strangers in quelling my anxiousness.
And now in this long-telling we come to what made our Parisian experience exceptional. Montmartre.
Montmartre is the 18th arrondissement neighborhood that in known for artists, The Moulin Rouge, the Sacre Coeur cathedral, and the picture perfect staircase images of Paris that we see in advertisements. When we came out of our Metro stop doors and faced the streets I noticed how peaceful it was.
A cafe with a spattering of people, noticing couples leaning over their small cafe tables and glasses of wine towards each other, in deep conversation, a small grocers (that we would hit later for our few provisions),

a chocolate shop with its imaginatively decorative window,

and a small park (I mean small 20 ft X 30ft.) with a couple of children riding their tricycles in circles while their mamans chatted at a nearby bench. It was such a lovely scene and so Parisian. We only walked a block and Voila! we were at the intimidating entrance to the 8 story apartment building.
I entered the 4 digit code and we crossed a darkish enclosed walkway to another door where I again entered a code to open the door

that led to the inner courtyard. Once in the large courtyard we saw another building (ours) behind the street side building we just entered. We went up the 10 steps to the first level.

Up a flight of stairs to our level and bam! a kissing couple on the landing. I tried to look away quickly and find our numbered apartment (and even though we were an hour late, I hoped to see our greeter, Preston) but once I found the door it was locked. The couple had stopped and was focused on me so I found my French again and asked them if they knew the apartment owners. The girl didn't but she knew the residents changed often and offered me a cell phone to make any necessary call. Nice! I showed her the number and she dialed it and Preston answered and welcomed us, and told me the key was under the mat! (Duh, Jenny) I then excused myself to get the rest of the crew and that was the last I saw of any neighbors for the rest of our stay.

But the apartment. Ah.

We had rented from a company called Perfectly Paris that had full, helpful descriptions and great pictures. And to our distinct pleasure, the apartment was even better than the ad. And cheesy as it is, I pinched myself in thinking that "I have an apartment in Paris". Yeah, I know it was only for 4 days, but it counted.

The girls loved the windows that looked in on the inner courtyard revealing other apartments with windows open to the air. The apartment was very well equipped for all our needs and we even had a bottle of wine as a welcome along with a big book of tips and advice for the area. Anna and I headed out for our few Sophia specific necessities at the small grocers and then we were all ready to hit the town and find some grub.


Related Posts with Thumbnails