I am exhausted just thinking about all we did in April!! So much fun!!!

The first weekend we spent quietly walking around Paris and enjoying the weather and the surroundings. Spring had definitely arrived and flowers were in full bloom!  We walked down to the Luxembourg Gardens where we sat, read books and gazed at the Eiffel Tower in the background.  The gardens are one of my favorite places in Paris.  A place where I can run or just sit with the kids and people watch.  We also walked to the Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower, places we actually hadn’t been since last April.IMG_3675

 

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The following weekend Ethan turned 11!  He awakened to a couple of presents and when he arrived home from school e-mails from all his friends, buddies and family wishing him a “Bonne Anniversaire!”  It was a great addition to his day. A big thank you to all for making it special.  For his birthday dinner Ethan wanted to go to a brasserie and try escargots.  We chose the oldest brasserie in Paris, Chartiers which is located a bus ride away in the 9th arrondissement and has been serving traditional French cuisine since it’s opening in 1896.  It was a total scene, packed with people and waiters and waitresses in traditional black uniforms with white aprons.  We sat at a communal table where we just people watched for awhile.  Ethan ordered his escargots which we all tried.  He and I both enjoyed them (what’s not to like when it is smothered in garlic butter?!).  As you can see from her expression, Maggie not so much!  For dessert Ethan got profiteroles with a candle and the a chorus of Joyeuse Anniversire from the waitstaff.  It was a birthday to remember.IMG_3707

Ethan and his snails

Ethan and his snails

 

 

Ethan trying his snails.

Ethan trying his snails.

 

 

 

He likes them!

He likes them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maggie, not so much.

Maggie, not so much.

 

 

Joyeuse Anniversaire!

Joyeuse Anniversaire!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last Thursday of Lent I took a free tour of Notre Dame where I learned that Christ’s Crown of Thorns had been acquired by the French and was kept at Notre Dame.  It is guarded by the Knights of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and taken out during a special service each Friday of Lent.  I stood in line the next day to view the relic and went to the mass to observe the ritual of presenting the crown to the small crowd of people gathered in Notre Dame.  This year marked the 800th anniversary of the birthday and christening of King Louis IX of France, who acquired it in 1239 from Constantinople.IMG_3772

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The following weekend the kids April vacation started and Jim arrived.  After a wonderful night out sans children at a local restaurant Au Verre Contacts we boarded an early train to Amsterdam and we were off.  As Jim arrived so did a cold snap.  The first two days in Amsterdam were sunny but blustery.  Poor Jim did not pack a coat, nor did my crazy daughter and they were quite chilly as walked around the canals.  As a surprise to the kids we rented an actual houseboat on the canal Prisenzgrat.  It made the trip really special to come home after a day of sight seeing and crawl into the boats bunkhouses.  We had an actual television and VCR on the houseboat.  It sounds horrible but we loved curling up together at night in the  big master bed and watching episodes of 24 on the DVD player.  The kids hadn’t watched television since January and we all loved the snuggle time.

Our houseboat.

Our houseboat.

 

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Standing along the canals.

Standing along the canals.

The delicious hot cocoa!

The delicious hot cocoa!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The incredible hot chocolate.

The incredible hot chocolate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dutch were very friendly and helpful (Maggie and Ethan wanted to know when we could come and spend 6 months in Amsterdam!)  We had some great meals usually starting with a big mug of delicious hot chocolate for the kids served with an actual cube of Dutch chocolate that you dunked in the hot mild and served with a generous dollop of delicious whipped cream!  What a way to start a busy day.  We saw the Anne Frank house, the Rijks Museum (which had just reopened and was gorgeous), and the Van Gogh Museum.  In between the Reiks and Van Gogh Museums was an AMSTERDAM sign on which the kids had fun playing.

Reiks Museum

Rijks Museum

 

The Belgian fries!

The Dutch fries!

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Jim and I took a solo stroll through the red light district which was fascinating and sad. We, of course, had to try the french fries which is a local favorite and we had a lot of Thai food and Dutch chocolate.  I discovered these chocolate jimmy/sprinkles that the dutch sprinkle on their bread with butter in the morning.  The sprinkles look like the sprinkles that we put on ice cream but are actual really yummy small pieces of chocolate.  Yum.  Our last day was sunny and beautiful.  We spent the day renting bikes and joining the locals traversing the city.  The city was so easy to navigate on the bikes as most of the inhabitants of Amsterdam don’t own cars but bike everywhere.  The bike lanes were great and you felt so much safer than biking around Paris.  We spent a couple of hours at Vondelpark near the museums where the kids climbed trees and ran off some energy before catching a late train back to Paris.

Biking in Amsterdam

Biking in Amsterdam

Climbing trees in Vondelpark.

Climbing trees in Vondelpark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first day back in Paris Jim and I spent wandering around the streets and poking into shops.  Very relaxing. That night we took a bus to the 18 arrondissement to a Maroccan restaurant, 1000 and 1 signs.  It was run by deaf people and you had to order in French sign language. To help, there were signs on the wall showing how to sign for the different dishes as well as signs on how to ask for water, say thank you, etc.  It was a really great and fun experience.

Menu helping us with the sign language.

Menu helping us with the sign language.

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Malcolm Miller giving his tour at Chartres.

Malcolm Miller giving his tour at Chartres.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Friday we boarded a train to Chartres to visit the cathedral.  While there we went on a tour led by Malcolm Miller which came highly recommended by our buddy Steve Stern.  Mr. Miller is an 80+ year old British historian who has spent his life studying the stained glass windows in the cathedral.  In a 90 minute tour he chooses 3 windows on which to lecture.  He likens the windows to a library.  Each window is its own book which tells a story.  Like a library you can visit many times but never read all the books.  He claims he is still reading and learning.  The lecture was incredibly informative and held our attention including the kids the entire time.

The last weekend of Jim’s visit was Easter weekend and good friends from Maine were in Paris visiting.  We met them serendipitously at the wine bar around the corner from our apartment and had a wonderful meal of tartines (the french version of bruschetta), cheese, salad and charcuterie washed down with delicious  glasses of wine chosen by the bar/owner after consultation of likes and dislikes.  It was a lot of fun and we were surrounded by locals.  The owner has a wine cav right around the corner from his bar/restaurant that I pop into on Saturdays for his wine tastings.  He is a really nice guy who speaks English but lets me bumble around practicing my French before helping me to choose and buy a bottle of wine.

Mandy, Cameron, Jim and myself at our favorite local wine bar.

Mandy, Cameron, Jim and myself at our favorite local wine bar.

Easter service at the American Church.

Easter service at the American Church.

That Sunday was Easter Sunday.  We met our friends, Mandy, Cameron and Aiden for

Incredible chocolate sculptures for Paque (Easter).  My favorite at Jean Jacques Rocheau.

Incredible chocolate sculptures for Paque (Easter). My favorite at Jean Charles Rochoux.

Easter service.  The kids sang with the choir and then headed out to a cafe for some nourishment of noisettes, chocolate chaud, pain au chocolate and croissants.  We spent the day wandering around.  Jim and I finally put our lock on the Pont des Beux Arts and the kids threw the keys into the Seine sealing our love!  That night we headed to a great little brasserie on Ile St. Louis for a final meal while gazing out at Notre Dame.  My favorite street performers were playing outside our restaurant on the bridge leading from Ile de la Cite to Ile St. Louis and gave a great performance.

Sealing our love on the "lock bridge."

Sealing our love on the “lock bridge.”

Jim's last night in Paris.

Jim’s last night in Paris.

 

My favorite street musicians.

My favorite street musicians.

 

 

 

 

Our last dinner at Brasserie St. Louis.

Our last dinner at Brasserie St. Louis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Jim’s departure the kids still had one week left of school vacation so on Tuesday we boarded yet another train bound for Dordogne.  Dordogne is the region of France known for its fois gras, medieval villages/castles and limestone caves decorated with prehistoric artwork.  I was really looking forward to this adventure as I thought the kids would really enjoy it.  When arriving in Brive, however I first had to face my fears head on and rent a manuel car to navigate the tiny, winding, mountainous roads of Dordogne.  I was terrified and made the kids promise to offer nothing but support as we navigated the unfamiliar terrain.  The area was beautiful and we had a fabulous time.  The first day we followed my friend Martine’s recommendations and stopped in Sarlat for a leisurely lunch and wondered around the old medieval city.  It was beautiful and not yet crowded with tourists (except us of course!).  We navigated the narrow roads exiting the city and followed signs to our first stopping point along the Dordogne river a beautiful city built along the cliffs, Beynac.  En route we decided to take a canoe trip down the river.  It was a very scemoc  trip and the river traversed many little medieval villages, chateaus and castles.  By the end of the 9 mile paddle however both the kids and I had had enough and were happy to be picked up by the company’s van and head off to our hotel.  We found a quiet cafe to eat on by the river and had an early night.

Views of Beynac.

Views of Beynac.

Views from Sarlat

Views from Sarlat

Canoing on the Dordogne River

Canoing on the Dordogne River

Beynac

Beynac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we set off for our next destination which was Rocamadur.  We again took a scenic route and stopped at many little medieval villages where we explored meandering cobblestoned roads and fortresses.  We had reservations late afternoon for our first cave the Gouffre de Pagirac.  It is a cave system formed over thousands of years.  A natural wonder at a depth of 103 metros it  contains a subterranean river system which is partially navigable by boat.  Dramatic limestone formations including huge stalactites and stalagmites, waterfalls and natural cisterns.  It was quite an experience.  Then it was back to our car and just a short drive to the walled city of Rocamadur.  It was once one of Europe’s top pilgrimage sites to see the Black Virgin, a 12th century statue with a thin coating of blackened silver presenting Jesus to the world.  It is also the site where the body of the miraculously preserved body of St. Amadour was found in 1166.  For me the most miraculous thing was that I didn’t bash up the car as I drove through the tiny gates entering the medieval part of the city navigating the pedestrian zone to our hotel!!

Gouffe de Pagirac

Gouffe de Pagirac

 

Cirque de la Popie

Cirque de la Popie

Overhanging cliffs along the Lot River

Overhanging cliffs along the Lot River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we headed off to explore a breathtaking little village, Cirque de la Popie built into the cliffs along the Lot River.  We had a picnic lunch and then headed out on a walking trail along the river which led us to a pretty nifty passageway that nature carved into the mountainous walls.   We left to visit our next cave the Grotte de Pech Merle.  It contains prehistoric cave paintings of mammoths, bison and horses.  It was discovered back in the 1920’s by two 15 year old boys who saw the opening to a tunnel and spent the next two years navigating the tunnel systems which were hundreds of meters long to different cavernous rooms containing the prehistoric drawings.  It was a great trip and one of our favorites!

The following weekend the kids had yet another “jour ferie” (holiday) leading us into a four day weekend.  We set off for the Loire Valley to visit the area of France most dotted with the chateaus of kings, princes and just plain old wealthy.  At this point I felt like a pro driving the manual car and we started off confidently from Amboise to visit our first chateau, the chateau of Leonardo de Vinci.  This is the home where Leonardo died.  He was enticed to France by King Fancois I who was a great patron of the arts.  He arrived from Italy toting the Mona Lisa and spent his final days peacefully drawing sketches of inventions, anatomy and scenery.  It was a great chateau to visit.  You saw not only copies of Leonardo’s diaries with his inventions but in the yard outside the house the government built the inventions based on the drawings.  There was a primitive appearing tank, one of the first machine guns, man powered mills and a flying machine.  The kids had a great time playing on the the different inventions.

Château du Clos-Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci's home

Château du Clos-Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci’s home

 

Leonardo's tank

Leonardo’s tank

Machine gun

Machine gun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then loaded back into our little car and set off to our chamber d’hôte in the hamlet of Les Fees, a tiny village situated between the areas of the next chateaus to be visited.  Our hosts the Flaneries were charming and offered us the use of their bicycles to explore the area on the numerous bike routes.  Unfortunatley the next morning was overcast.  I had a nice run along the bike routes with beautiful views before getting poured on!

My run just before the torrential rains!

My run just before the torrential rains!

After a breakfast of homemade jams and bread we were off to our first chateau Chambord.  Chambord is famous for its double spiral staircase supposedly designed by de Vinci.  Other than that we were not too impressed and we had a quick visit dodging the rain and then were off to Cheverny.  Cheverny was lovely and owned privately by a family who still occupies part of the chateau.  The gardens were beautiful.  The family is very involved in hunting and horseback riding.  One of the highlights of the visit was watching the feeding of the hounds which takes place every day at 4:00.

Cheverny

Cheverny

The kennel.

The kennel.

The feeding of the hounds.

The feeding of the hounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was quite a site to see all the dogs being herded up the stairs of their kennel while the master of the hounds set out their food and then released them to feast.  That night Ethan had a pasta carbonara which arrived complete with a raw egg in its shell to be mixed into the piping hot pasta!

Ethan with his pasta carbonara, complete with raw egg in shell on top!

Ethan with his pasta carbonara, complete with raw egg in shell on top!

Biking in the Loire Valley

Biking in the Loire Valley

Maggie makes friends in nature wherever she goes!

Maggie makes friends in nature wherever she goes!

Chenonceau

Chenonceau

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our last day dawned bright and sunny and we went for a short bike ride around the area before visiting our final chateau, Chenonceau.  It was by far the most dramatic chateaus that we visited and arches gracefully over the Cher River.  We spent a lovely afternoon exploring the grounds (which was complete with a maze garden) and then departed with the kids declaring that they had seen enough chateaus to last the duration of their time in France!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ended April with the first of our spring visitors.  Two good friends from my Intermed days made the journey across the pond and we had some great dinners and some good times.  It was really great to see friends from home and the kids loved it!  We had the kids favorite meal of moules avec craime fraiche, good french cheeses and wine.  Thanks to both of you for making the effort during your brief visit to spend some time with us!

The kids with "Ma Duke"

The kids with “Ma Duke”

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Carol. Judy and I enjoying dinner and dessert of galettes and crepes.

Carol. Judy and I enjoying dinner and dessert of galettes and crepes.

March in France

Jim left and we got back on our routine schedule walking the kids to school, running, swimming, exploring Paris, playdates, parties, shopping, doing the dishes and laundry.  Weekends were spent going to museums and taking day trips.  One weekend we went to explore a huge park, Parc des Buttes Chaumont in a section of Paris that was unfamiliar to us  in the 19th arrondissement.  It was a large sprawling park complete with a little citadel from which you could see Sacre Coeur in the distance, there was a lake and wooded paths.  We spent an enjoyable afternoon picnicking, playing soccer and just relaxing on the grass reading.  It was particularly enjoyable for me as I knew that Maine was still knee-deep in snow and we were in t-shirts basking in the sun and warmth of an unusual early spring day.  The metro ride home was entertaining as a french version of a mariachi band played and performed for us!  We saw some great street performers on the bridges of Paris.

Ethan with Sacre Coeur in the distance

Ethan with Sacre Coeur in the distance

 

 

 

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The next weekend we took a day trip to a walled medieval city about an hour outside of Paris, Provins.  It was very beautiful and the kids and I had a great time climbing around the walls!DSCN2577

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Then came one of the kids favorite weekends thus far, our trip to Normandy and the D-day beaches.  We boarded a late Friday night train bound for Bayeux. Arriving in Bayeux we saw the Bayeux Cathedral backlit against the sky, a great way to welcome us to this small village.  We stayed in a hotel not far from the hotel and the Bayeux tapestry.  I got up early to walk and explore the village which was very picturesque and a tranquil change from the hustle and bustle of Paris.  At 9 o’clock we were met by the guide that I splurged on and had hired for the day, Michael Phillips.  He was a British gentlemen who was downsized from his corporate life and reinvented himself as one of the first private tour guides of the area after reading and educating himself about WWII and the Normandy invasion.  He was a fantastic guide and managed to keep both me and the kids captivated with the history and stories for the next 8 hours, quite a feat as during those 8 hours it was blustery, freezing cold, rainy and hailing at different times!  We explored the American beaches Utah and Omaha, Point du Hoc and the American and German cemeteries.  It was a fascinating and sobering day.  We all learned so much especially the kids who having been mostly educated in the French National Curriculum know very little about American History.  We ended the Normandy tour at the German cemetery which was in stark contrast to the American Cemetery.  The German cemetery is entirely funded by donations as unlike the American government the German government does not fund.  It was much smaller than the American cemetery and many gravestones marked the graves of 3 or 4 German soldiers stacked upon each other.  The German cemetery was also much darker than the American cemetery which you can see from the pictures.  The whole day was just incredible.  We ended the day at the Bayeux tapestry which is an embroidered cloth—not an actual tapestry, which is instead woven—nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings.which is over 9 centuries old, 70 metros long.  The colors and pictorial history were just amazing and so well-preserved!!

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The German Cemetery

After a wonderful dinner of crepes and apple cider we boarded a late train and headed back to Paris.

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Back to Normalcy (Almost!)

We got back from London and the kids and I struggled to get back into a routine.  My friends Mark and Ellen were visiting Paris for a week when we returned and I met them for a great Lebanese dinner on my first night back.  It was so nice to see friends from home! Jim returned at the end of Mark’s week and we had a great dinner at a little bistro around the corner that some new Parisian friends recommended.  Just a fun night out!! photo 4photo 1-2That was Mark and Ellen’s last night in Paris and I am happy that they shared it with us.  The next morning the kids, Jim and I boarded a train bound for Alsace.  The kids were thrilled 1).  because they love to travel and 2). because we pulled them out of school for a day!  We caught an early Friday morning train and by 10 had arrived in Colmar where we stayed at a lovely Chambre d’hôte (French version of a B and B), Chez Leslie.  We spent the day walking around Colmar which was just a lovely little village.  The region of Alsace is located on the Eastern border of France adjacent to Switzerland and Germany.  You can really see the Germanic and Swiss influence in the architecture and cuisine.

Colmar

Colmar

 

colmar

colmar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim has always wanted an authentic charcoute garni which is an Alsace specialty composed of sauerkraut with an incredible amount of smoked meat piled in.

Charcoute garni

Charcoute garni

We definitely came to the right place!

The next day we spent wandering around a medieval castle and drove along the route du vin, stopping in little towns and villages to walk around, explore and of course sample the local wines.  One winery revealed the alter life of one or own dear friends at MidCoast Hospital without whose prompting I would probably not be writing this blog.
Thanks Jeanne!

Haut-Koeningsbourg Castle

Haut-Koeningsbourg Castle

Exploring the hillside of  Eguisheim

Exploring the hillside of Eguisheim

Kaysersburg

Kaysersburg

In front of a wine cave

In front of a wine cave

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We got a kick out of the dinners.  Instead of rolls we had hot soft pretzels, greatly appreciated from Philadelphia transplants.

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Vol au vent

Vol au vent

We spent another peaceful night at Chez Leslie and then boarded an early morning train back to Paris where the weather was incredibly warm for the beginning of March.  We took Jim to the Luxembourg Gardens which was packed with Parisians and early tourists.  Sundays at the park are just great.  There is a man at the pond in front of the palace who rents sailboats which Ethan had been waiting for his father to do.  Even Maggie rented a boat!  We spent a really lazy day sailing the boats and then wandering around the park.  I love to run there in the afternoons. There are many different areas, playgrounds, tennis courts, an area where people do tai-chi and yoga and an area where men meet to play bocci ball.  That is my favorite area, they actually wheel out coat rack for the Parisian men (usually as well dressed as the women) to hang their coats before playing!IMG_3298

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Tuesday was Jim’s last day and we finally were able to take the cooking class that I gave to him as a Christmas present.  We got the kids off to school and then headed out early for the 18th arrondissement where our “Morning Market Class” began.  We met the 4 other people with whom we would be spending our day as well as our chef, Alex.  The class began with a walk around the neighborhood visiting the local butcher, fish shop, fromagerie, fruit and vegetable stands and of course the boulangerie.  After seeing the possibilities we chose our menu.  Jim has always wanted to try horse and the other members of our group were also intrigued.  We headed back to the butcher who dealt only with horse meat.  Apparently you can’t mix horse with beef or other animals because of some sort of enzyme reaction which is not too healthy.  Alex selected our horse meat and we were on to our next course which was a French fish which we were going to prepare in a salt crust.  Jim and I got one to decorate.  Ours is the football shaped one with the E for Eagles!  Jim helped in the preparation of the salt crust!

Horse butcher

Horse butcher

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salt crusted fish

salt crusted fish

IMG_3387IMG_3368We had some great roasted vegetables and potatoes to accompany the mains and then ended of course with cheese and chocolate soufflés!
So much fun and really yummy, a perfect end to a wonderful week with Jim.

 

February Vacation, Week 2

Getting ready to board!

Getting ready to board!

After a sad departure from Jim we flew back to Paris.  It was even more sad as Ethan had spent the night throwing up from some sort of stomach virus making the trip home especially terrible. Thank goodness it was only a 2 hour flight!  Paris was sunny and about 65 degrees when we landed.  I got EJ snuggled up in his own bed and went for a fabulous run along the Seine ending up looking up at the Eiffel Tower!  Then it was home to unpack and straighten up before the second half of our vacation.  24 hours later and Ethan was a new kid, scrambling out of bed and we were off to Gare du Nord to board the Eurostar to London!

We were all excited to take the train through the chunnel and a mere 1.5 hours later we were in London!  It was really strange to be surrounded once again by people speaking English albeit with a funny little accent!  The train arrived at London’s St. Pancras ( which the kids and I kept calling Saint Pancreas!) and it was off to navigate changing money, buying oyster cards and figuring out the tube system.  We made it to our “hotel” which was an event in and of itself.  Ethan had visions of room service and plush surroundings, the reality was a dorm type room with 4 single beds and a shared bath down the hall!  It was really nice and clean and a good experience for the kids!  We left our backpacks and set off to explore the city and we packed in everything we possibly could!

Tower of London

Tower of London

Me and the Beefeater before our tour!

Me and the Beefeater before our tour!

DSCN2412 First it was off to the Tower of London to see where people were imprisoned, tortured and guillotined.  We went on a really informative tour and the kids were captivated by the stories.

 

 

Kids on the London Eye.

Kids on the London Eye.

View from the Eye.

View from the Eye.

DSCN2423DSCN2435Then we were off to the Thames to take a boat taxi down to the London Eye.  The kids and I loved the Eye.  What great views of London!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSCN2430Next we did a walking touDSCN2447r around Westminster Abby.   There Maggie and Ethan delighted in repeating a line from one of their all time favorite movies, “Look kids Big Ben, Parliament!”  Over and over and over again just like Clark Griswold!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSCN2452Maggie and Ethan both thought that the old phone booth was just great and there was a stampeded to see who could to the phone first!  Maggie won.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YUM!

YUM!

DSCN2461After all that the kids were starving and asking for fish and chips just like in Harry Potter.  We found this great pub where there were comfy sofas to sit on and a roaring fire to warm up by.  I got to sample some really delicious Indian food and we were all happy!  We finished just in time to hit a very scary Jack the Ripper tour and then it was back to the hotel to get some much needed rest!

 

The next day was another bright and sunny day.

Drinking his morning tea.

Drinking his morning tea.

 

 

 

After a great English breakfast we headed off for a walk down the Thames to the Changing of the Horseguards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSCN2478DSCN2479En route we saw a real English Bobbie and of course I had to snap a few pics!  Yup.  Real American tourists!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSCN2470We walked across London Bridge and sang the song!

 

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The parade to Buckinham Palace.

The parade to Buckinham Palace.

In front of Buckingham Palace.  The flag is up which means the queen is in residence.

In front of Buckingham Palace. The flag is up which means the queen is in residence.

 

At the changing of the horse guards we were fortunate enough to meet a spry, little 82 year old English gentleman who made a habit of watching the Changing of the guards and took us from the horse guards along the parade route to see the palace English band march to Buckingham Palace and see the changing of the guards at the palace.  It was just a great experience and one that the kids still talk about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The double decker!

The double decker!

We took a double decker bus back to the apartment and then we were off to visit and stay with my old college roommate who I hadn’t seen since our 15th year reunion, eleven years ago!  She and her family live in a suburb of London called Weybridge and we headed out by train.  Our visit was wonderful.  Stephanie and her family were great hosts.  She has two boys Maggie and Ethan’s ages.  Teddy and Ethan bonded immediately and were inseparable for the rest of the trip.  It made it very special for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSCN2530 DSCN2531 IMG_3052The next day we took a car trip to Hampton Court Palace where there were beautiful gardens to play and relax as well as great old garden maze.  The kids all had a great time and so did Stephanie and I!

DSCN2543 DSCN2544 DSCN2548 DSCN2557The next day Maggie and I had a mother daughter morning spent at the Victoria and Albert museum where we spent not nearly enough time wandering around the rooms of fashion and design, jewelry and theater.  We had a rushed but lovely snack in the cafeteria and then were off to the British Museum where we met up with Teddy, Ethan and Stephanie.

 

 

 

 

 

Mummies

Mummies

rosetta stone

rosetta stone

some sort of ancient mesoptamian statue

some sort of ancient mesoptamian statue

Listiening to our podcast

Listiening to our podcast

The British Museum was huge and somewhat overwhelming but we saw a lot of really interesting things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Then the finale to our London visit.  Something on my own bucket list.  High tea.  We had it at a small hotel near to the British Museum, Covent Gardens.  It was fabulous and everything that I ever dreamed it would be!  A limitless supply of dainty finger sandwiches, tea, scones, clotted cream, yummy jams and yummier pastries!  We all had quite the sugar buzz as we headed homeward back to Weybridge.  The next day we said goodbye to our new and old friends and headed back to Paris and the start of the second trimester of school:(

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The past 6 weeks have been a whirlwind of activity!!!!!

Reunited in Barcelona!

Reunited in Barcelona!


Wow! The past 6 weeks have flown by and I haven’t had a really spare moment to sit down, go through pictures and write an update. We have made it through the rainy, damp dark winter here in Paris and sprung into a truly wonderful, warm and flower filled spring!  I am sooooo happy to have missed the nasty northeastern winter this year.  I am going to do a brief recap of our 6 weeks which probably won’t be that brief once I get started and then hopefully I will do a better job of keeping up with our activities.

In February the kids had their first two weeks of school vacation.  We flew to Barcelona to meet Jim and spent 7 great days there wondering around seeing all of the incredible Gaudi creations, eating yummy tapas and enjoying the beach, sunshine and break from the rain/snow.

The view from our apartment window.  The Sagrada Familia.

The view from our apartment window. The Sagrada Familia.

Yummy afternoon break complete with drinks and tapas!  Much needed since dinner starts around 9!

Yummy afternoon break complete with drinks and tapas! Much needed since dinner starts around 9!

Walking the Barcelona beach searching for sea glass.  We spent hours wondering lazily up and down the beach!

Walking the Barcelona beach searching for sea glass. We spent hours wondering lazily up and down the beach!

Biking!

Biking!

The beach playground

The beach playground

The vacation was relaxing and we spent lots of time just walking around Las Ramblas sampling food and admiring the architecture. Our favorite place for an afternoon snack was an old church which had been converted into a pastry shop. We would sit and relax almost every afternoon sampling a different pastry, having cafe con leche and the kids would have the famously, thick hot cocoa!

Cafe con leche.

Cafe con leche.

Afternoon tapas!

Afternoon tapas!

 Gaudi's Park

Gaudi’s Park

I Can’t Believe It’s Been A Month!

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Maggie in the window of the Musee d’Orsay.

Wow!  Time really does fly when you are having fun! A month has passed and we are settling into our routine.  The kids have adapted really well to school, are making friends, getting invitations to fêtes de anniversaries, and playdates.  My weekdays center around getting the kids to and from school.  After that I either take the time to run around Paris or swim.  My two favorite routes are around the Luxembourg Gardens and Palace by Maggie’s school, and down along the Seine toward the Tour Eiffel.  That is a particularly gorgeous run.  As I run toward the Eiffel Tower I am flanked on one side by the Louvre and Tuillerie Gardens, The Musee d’Orsay on the other side and Notre Dame to my back.  I love it and the thrill of seeing the Eiffel Tower has not yet diminished and I hope that it never will.  There is also a great public pool right around the corner from our apartment and next door to Ethan’s ecole.  It is like a scene out of a movie as the hours to the public are limited during school hours as the various schools in the neighborhood participate in swimming lessons, etc.  Ethan’s class starts next trimester and to his dismay all males are required to wear speedo type swimsuits!  Those baggy Patagonia swim trunks that we so thoughtfully packed aren’t going to cut it here!  We went to the Paris version of the Sports Authority last week to to buy a new swimsuit and the poor boy tried to buy one two sizes too big so that it would be more baggy and less form fitting!  Oh the adjustments we are learning to make!  As the hour approaches that the public is allowed in, the queue grows longer with Frenchmen patiently waiting in line. The doors open and we all scramble to pay and get inside the natatorium.  Then it is up two flights of stairs to get to the single person, private cabana (think closet size)  which an attendant allows you to enter after ferociously guarding the area and making sure that street shoes are slipped off.  The cabanas are numbered and when you leave the door locks behind you.  They all have wholes in the doors and it is pretty funny to watch all the “peeping Toms” as swimmers finish and forget which cabana is theirs.  You see people peeping in hole after hole trying to spot their clothes…or a naked person!  Then it is down to the showers (mandatory) and a wade through a chlorinated pool to finally get to the pool.  It is actually sort of like a track stadium with floors of cabanas lining the perimeter.  It has been a real experience to jockey with the Frenchmen for a position in the pool!  I try to go 2-3 times a week and the kids usually accompany me on the weekends.  The rest of the day is usually taken up visiting markets for fresh food for dinner.  It is really expensive to eat out and we usually treat ourselves once a week taking turns choosing the ethnicity of the food and the restaurant.  The markets here are great and I am fortunate to have a good friend in Martine, a native Parisian to help me navigate.  She is a French as a foreign language professor and is also giving me 3 hours of French lessons/week.  Part of one lesson after our weekly Friday trip to the market is a “recette” for preparation of one of the strange looking fish or meat that I just bought.  We have a lot of fun and the kids and I have really enjoyed trying the new foods and the new ways to prepare them, usually the recipe involves creme fraiche and more butter than I ever would have thought of using at home!  While in France, however…if I don’t come home 200 pounds heavier from all the great cheeses and pastries I will be very lucky!!!!

Wednesdays the kids have a half day of school.  We usually relax for a little then hit one of the smaller museums or sights.  This week we went to the Paris catacombs where 6 million Parisions are buried dating back to the mid 1700’s.  In some places they are stacked (neatly I might add) 5 feet high and 80 feet deep!  Maggie loved them.  Ethan and I not so much.  The kids have also joined a youth choir at the American Church in Paris which they really enjoy.  They have met some other new kids who are bilingual and mostly whose parents are ex-pats.  Two of the girls’ dad is from Brunswick, ME and they actually went to the same summer camp as Maggie and Ethan last summer!  Small world!  The kids sing in church about once a month which is a totally new experience for my kids.  I am really so proud of them for being willing to not only try all these new things but also to have and keep an open mind about them so that they are actually able to enjoy them.

Last weekend we finally made it to the Louvre.  We used a Rick Steve’s audio podcast that we downloaded and it was perfect.  The tour took about 2 hours and made it almost seem like a scavenger hunt as we followed directions from room to room finding the masterpieces.  We them walked all over Paris as it was one of the first sunny days we have had since arriving.  We made it to the Opera Garnier which was built for Napolean III and finished in 1875.  It is a great place to see what Baron Haussmann accomplished when he razed much of ancient Paris and created straight boulevards lined by apartments that are all 5 stories high with identical roofs and balconies.  Quite a feat and very precise.  It was a beautiful walk back to the apartment and Paris was alive with people, street performers and artists.

Sunday I turned 49 and what a privilege to be able to experience it in Paris.  I started my day with a long early morning run along the Seine.  The sun here doesn’t rise until around 8:30 so in the beginning I was running in darkness with the street cleaners keeping me company along Boulevard Saint Germain which ends by the Musee d’Orsay where I turn to run along the Seine.  Just as the Eiffel Tower came into view the sun was starting to rise and it was just beautiful.  I had to stop for a moment just to appreciate how lucky I am!  Then it was back to the apartment where I roused the kids and we were off to hike to the Pere LaChaise Cemetery final resting place of many famous people including Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Baron Haussmann, Frederic Chopin.  We spent several hours just wandering around the graves.  The most memorable part of the trip was when the kids got lost and I spent 45 minutes growing more frantic and hysterical as I ran around the cemetery yelling their names.  I couldn’t imagine how I was going to explain to Jim that I lost the kids when suddenly I came upon a central courtyard and there they were laughing and eating the Hershey Kisses and Tasty Cakes that Jim had sent in a care package the day before!  I could have strangled them!  (at least I would have been in an appropriate place!) .  We finished the day with Ethan going to his first French birthday party which he loved.  For my cake we went to our favorite little patisserie where we each got a slice of our favorite chocolate fondant cake, it is sort of like a flourless chocolate cake and we usually split one piece between the 3 of us.  What a great ending!

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Dessert! Chocolate fondue!

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The kids at Sacre Coeur after the long hike to Montmartre.

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Maggie in front of “the Thinker” at the Rodin Museum.

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Paris street art.

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Kids having fun getting blasted by air from the metro!

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The kids favorite new dinner of “moules” from the Marché Allegri.

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Tour Eiffel.

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Getting ready for their first choir performance at L’Eglise Americain.

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Sometimes the most stressful decision of the day is which dessert to choose!

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The choir.

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Maggie at the Louvre in front of Venus de Milo.

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Finally we saw the Mona Lisa!

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Maggie navigating the city bus by herself on her way to school.

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An amazing street performer in Montmartre.

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Moulin Rouge.

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Having a good time following a podcast around the Louvre.

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On of the first sunny days we have had in Paris walking on the Pont des Arts which is ribboned by locks put their by romantic lovers who toss the keys into the Seine.

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Père LaChaise Cemetary.

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Kids in front of Notre Dame on an evening stroll.

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The Paris Catacombs.

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Paris Catacombs.

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More Catacombs

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French Coquilles St. Jacques!

Paris, Week 1

It has been a whirlwind of a week here in Paris!  It began with a near mutiny at Logan Airport with both kids adamant that they did not want to leave the subzero temps, their friends and home to embark on this crazy adventure.  I managed to get them on the plane and off we went.  For those of you looking for cheap flights to Paris, Iceland Air was a great deal, new planes, multiple movies, lots of legroom.  The drawbacks no food and landing in Reykevick around 3 1/2 hours later with a layover and then another 3 hour flight to Paris insuring that you got little to no sleep.
I am lucky enough to have made a friend in Paris who arranged for a taxi to pick us up at Charles de Gaulle and transport us with our 300 pounds of luggage to the apartment.  Imagine 4 jet lagged cranky Americans crammed into a tiny little taxi surrounded by mountains of luggage!  Saturday was a blur with Jim and I venturing into the neighborhood searching for the closest grocery store and brasserie for some very strong noisettes (expresso with a shot of steamed milk).
The kids were actually great and in typical fashion we returned home to find Ethan’s room completely unpacked and organized and Maggie’s in complete chaos.  Both kids brought enough moments from home to make their rooms somewhat familiar and they both seem happy with their new digs.
The apartment is in an absolutely fantastic location.  I am so fortunate to have found it. We are one block from the Seine on Boulevard Saint Germain. There is a bridge that we cross over it Ile St. Louis.  We look to the left and there is the back of Notre Dame with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.  We are pretty centrally located. We can walk to the Marais which Jim and I do daily as well as to the more ritzy areas up near the 16th arrondissement and the Eiffel Tower.  Our street is a busy street and somewhat noisy, a  vast difference from Maine but everyone has finally started to adjust and sleep through the night.  There are tons of brasseries, cafes, restaurants and shops on our street. It has been a lot of fun to explore during the day while the kids are in school.
The kids did both start school this week and the adjustment has been really smooth.  Ethan came out the first day with a big smile on his face, “This is so much better than my old school!  Can we stay for another year?!”  That enthusiasm has dampened somewhat by the end of the week.  The kids are exhausted and struggling with their French classes which they are understandably finding somewhat difficult.  Maggie started school on Tuesday.  Her “college” which is the French version of middle school is the largest in Paris.  She is in a section with 25 other students with whom she spends the day going from class to class.  She is finding the school size overwhelming but once she finds her class she is OK.  The students in both schools have been very welcoming to the kids,  engaging and interested in them.  Ethan has been spending his recess trying to keep up with his friends soccer skills and trying to teach them American football!  He is also becoming proficient in “wall ball” a French version of hand ball.
A good portion of my day is spent walking the kids to and from school.  The schedule over here is bizarre.  The kids start and end school at different times each day. Maggie’s school is about 1 1/2 miles from the apartment.  We have been working on memorizing both the walking route and the bus schedule and route.  Quite a difference for her from Maine and somewhat scary for jim and to think of letting her loose on the streets of Paris by herself which she will be some days after Jim leaves.  Her school is in a beautiful location across the street from the Luxembourg gardens and palace.  It will be a beautiful walk in the spring, unfortunately the kids over here do not have school lockers so they carry all their books in their backpacks which are incredibly heavy.  Maggie is finding most aspects of her school easy except for French class which she is also finding difficult.  English of course is her favorite class!
Our first dinner at our new Paris apartment

Our first dinner at our new Paris apartment

  • Tonight finishes our first week.  Jim leaves tomorrow and that will be a tough adjustment for us all.  For those who have not yet joined please join Viber which is a free calling and texting app as I am having some serious connection problems over here.  That is it for now!  Hugs from France,
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    Our view one block from the apartment.

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    Christmas tree in front of Notre Dame.

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    Selfie in front of Notre Dame.

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    Carousel en route to the Champs-Élysée with Tour Eiffel in the background.

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    Maggie after her first day of school at Lycée Montaigne.

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    Nothing cures the homesick blues like a visit to a patisserie.

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    A kiss on Ile de la Cité.

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    Jim and Ethan eating lunch at Marche Bastille.

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    Paris in her Christmas finery.