1/11/17

TRIP 9/9 Wrapping it Up

We left Paris via train and headed back to Amsterdam in preparation for catching our flight home the following day.
On the train I taught the kids the hierarchy of poker hands and the phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, echo, fox, golf, hotel, India, juliet, kilo, Lima, Michael, Nike, Oscar, papa, quebec, romeo, sierra, tango, uniform, victory, whiskey, x-ray, yankee, zulu).  We tooled around Amsterdam and tried to see the Anne Frank house but it had a giant line and we could come back some day in the future.  Sadly, it was on the last day of our trip that we discovered vending machine hamburgers.





It was finally time to go home.  By the last day the kids could have navigated to the airport by themselves.  They could find food, they could buy tickets, they could read subway maps.  The learning exhausted all of us, but more than exhaustion I felt great pride.  Traveling abroad with my kids was one of my life goals and I accomplished it all by myself.  I've ignited the travel bug in my kids.  I'm glad that I took them at ages 9, 8, and 7 because they were young enough to be excited about everything we did and we didn't have to stay at any activity for very long.  They were gung ho. They were curious.  They knew somethings and wanted to know more.  I felt they were street smart enough to solve problems somewhat reasonably should I not be able to help them, provided they had their badges with the relevant info.  
We only had one near mishap: Jude lagged behind getting on the Amsterdam subway and I had to throw my body into the doors to prevent them closing on him.  Halfway in and halfway out I grabbed him by the hood of his jacket and pulled him onto the train.  And then I had a heart attack.  
There were few things I would have done differently.  I liked the backpacks but I think roller suitcases would have been easier.  I could also have had everyone wear heelies, that would have been fun.  They each brought two pairs of shoes and we had no issues there.  I might have bought a cellphone while I was there because I had a few service issues right when I needed my phone.  I liked having the city passes in Amsterdam and Paris because they made everything a lot smoother.  All day transit passes are worth it.  I wished I had melatonin and more benedryl, both of which I'd packed but forgotten so we had a lot of weird waking hours.  In the end I was glad I didn't have the babies with me because, though I could have done it because I do five kids all the time, it would have made for a very different trip.  I didn't feel sufficiently prepared for an emergency, but I figured these are first world countries.  As far as money, someone wisely told me that many places in Amsterdam only take cash so when I got off the plane and had 200 euros on me I was glad.  Things got a little touch and go when some funds got tied up in the AirBnB and a double charge for the Paris passes, but everything worked out.  Next time I'll try to go in more temperate weather so that we can enjoy more of the city parks but we were fairly comfortable and warm enough in spite of the weather.  Buying new hats and Silas a new jacket made me more happy than I expected because I was so sick of looking at our jackets by the time we went home.  I want to burn all of our jackets.

And then we were home.  There had been horrible snow storms while we were gone and our driveway would have been coated, but for the snow shovel fairy who came and magicked away all the snow.  But when we got home our house was absolutely frigid and took two days to heat back up.  As I was hustling around doing mom things before I could lay down after being awake for who knows how long I went into the front room to see this:

Mimi and Jude, tired enough to fall asleep in a single chair snuggling by the fire.  

1/10/17

TRIP 8/9 Death Beguiles Me: the Catacombs of Paris

By Wednesday we were all begging to spend a day laying around or at least not taking trains. Mimi and I walked two blocks to E. Dehillerin as a pilgrimage to Julia Child's and every other important chef's favorite culinary supply stores.

Fancy copper pots
Future Martha Stewart


It was a bit intimidating, but of course Mimi charmed the old guys who run the place and they showed her around and gave her a gigantic spoon to pose with. She purchased some crepe making supplies.
Then we did some girl time shopping nearby our hotel and went home to rest.
By that afternoon we were pretty much tripped out. We didn't have one more museum left in us. We'd had enough crepes. We'd seen the major sites and I'd tricked them into believing that I am too scared of heights to go up in the Eiffel Tower (so we just visited instead). There was a science museum that piqued our interest so we trekked over there, checked it out for an hour and resolved to come back when either we knew more French or had a whole day to explore. There was one more place we wanted to visit and at 5pm on a Wednesday night in the rain we HOPED it wouldn't have the typical three hour line.
We headed for the Catacombs. The French catacombs are one of my very favorite places on God's green earth. I don't know why I'm drawn to morbid environments but something about cemeteries and old churches just captivates me. Two of my other favorite dead people places are Kutna Hora outside of Prague where monks have created an incredible chandelier from human bones and the Chapel of the Chimes mausoleum in Oakland built by the woman who built Hearst Castle.






The greatest part about this trip has been all of the questions that invariably come from exposing children to art and buildings reminiscent of great moments in history. At the wax museum they needed to know how many people died of the plague and where it came from. At the Rijksmuseum they needed to know what made Napoleon so important. At Cleopatra's needle where the guillotine once stood they needed to know all about why they were chopping off people's heads. At Anne Frank's house they wanted to know where she was buried. And at the Louvre they wanted to know how and why all of those mummies came to live at the grand old museum.
When you talk about history you have to talk about death and in Europe that means mass death. We're talking 800 people a day dying from plague rats, 20 people an hour by guillotine for years and years, and 6 million Jews murdered by Hitler. That's a lot of dead bodies to manage. These cities are so old that they have body disposal problems. The cemeteries fill up. The grave diggers would try to bury one body and unearth ten people's bones, some hundreds of years old. And when hundreds of people are dying a day the only way to manage them is to dump them in mass graves.
So around 1772 the stench and pestilence around the cemeteries was souring the milk in the surrounding homes and the attic ossuaries around the cemeteries were so overloaded they began to collapse. At the same time Paris was filled with sinkholes caused by the miles of limestone quarries beneath the city from which all of the gorgeous chapels and buildings were built. They had taken the rock from underground and stacked it above ground and Paris was starting to cave in.
The solution presented itself: the support columns would be built in the quarries and the quarries would be filled with the ancient bones from all of the cemeteries. The cemeteries, thus emptied, would be closed and new ones on the outside of the city would be opened.
And so the sifting began. Imagine the morbid process. Because it was distasteful, the whole enterprise was done in the night. The workers would sift the land in the cemeteries and load the bones onto carts. The carts were then covered in black cloth and ceremoniously dragged to the opening of the quarries. Once there they were dumped and then stacked into patterns out of respect for the dead. Once imbedded into the tunnels a plaque saying which cemetery the bones came from was placed in front of the stacks. They are all anonymous. There are bones from every age in the history of Paris, including the French Revolution which took place in the middle of the cemetery relocation. If a grave of a famous person in French history is unknown, chances are their bones are down there -- equal if not in life then in death.
And the volume, the vastness of the ossuary is astounding. You really have to go there to see the magnitude. There are more people buried under Paris than there are living above.
So yeah, I took my little kids there. They were freaked out. We touched some bones and jumped out to scare people and were rewarded with a security tail.

You can talk to kids about history and you can watch rad YouTube videos to fill in the gaps you don't know. They can read Anne's Diary and they can see pictures. But nothing will leave quite the same impression as (illegally) handing your nine year old a human femur from five hundred years ago. That kid has seen what politics, plagues and history can do. And that, my friends, is why it's important to me to drag my kids halfway around the world.

TRIP 7/9 Settling in in Paris



Day I don't even know anymore. We've been here forever. Jan 2 and 3? Yeah, that sounds about right.
We needed a take it easy day. Mimi, Silas and I did laundry in the morning (rejoice!) and then we had a cold date with Notre Dame. Too crowded. Waited in a line for a while, got cold and left for Sainte Chappelle which was just spectacular. The two chapels are right on that same little island in the Seine. I've never seen stained glass windows like there are in Sainte Chappelle and I can't imagine a time when it would have just been some congregation's every day parish. Surely it must always have been a monument, a piece of art. Notre Dame's got nothing on that church (other than a humpback but who wants a humpback hanging around? Not me.)


Our Lady
Sainte Chappelle


After we hit the Latin Quarter in search of Boeuf Bourgigion and any other typical French food. It was a shmorgasborg. We did a prix fix for €15 and each of us got different appetizers and main courses so I finally devoured some mussels, Jude gobbled down salmon in bechmal sauce, Mimi got her Bourgionon and Silas his plate o' meat. It was our best meal in Paris, but I must say Mimi's version could compete. They tasted very similar and she was quite pleased.


Silas with his meat plate.


The following day we were all up and ready to go by 7 am for no reason at all. Jude and I keep waking up at 5 and I was out of benedryl.

So we made a day of it (though it was still dark out) and headed straight to Angelina's fancy tea room for their amazing hot chocolate. After that we waltzed at dawn through that main park between the Louvre and the Champs Elysee to the Musee D'Orsay subway and off to Versailles. Because I am a questionable parent I let Mimi watch that Claire Danes movie Marie Antoinette a few weeks ago to get her interested in all things French.
Mimi pretending to be the star of all these people's pictures.



When we arrived in Versailles there was the most magical mist that prevented seeing even the building from the gates. It was like walking in a cloud. And then it was like waiting in lines in a cloud. Followed by waiting in crowds in gilt rooms. On this visit Versailles charms were rather lost on us being so oppressed by all of the people and the rather boring audiotour. But, being that we ARE the fun, we had a grand time dodging crowds and photobombing other tourists. We made it about an hour and a half and hopped back on the train for home. Versailles done, and it'll be waiting for us should we want to explore it in more depth sometime down the road.
We finally just sat in a corner.

Naps. My magic sleeping trick beyond running these kids into the ground has been to use my meditation app every time I want them to go to sleep. Calm is my favorite app ever. They like the body scan ones to help them settle and moderate their breathing. The guided meditation only lasts about ten minutes but they're always out five minutes in.
When we woke we headed over to the Musee D'Orsay and blitzed the line with our Paris pass, but when we got inside it was a complete zoo. My ideal museum experience is like the Getty in LA: few people, some important paintings, not too many rooms. The D'Orsay is such an impressive building the art is almost secondary, or tertiary when you're fighting crowds to even see the paintings. So we dined and played cards in the cafe behind the clock and then wove through some rooms to see the much requested by Silas "paintings that are a mess close up but when you stand back they look like something" Monets. The highlight was the grand ballroom we happened upon where we performed our classy whip-nae nae. We walked 6 miles that day. It was time to retire.


The ballroom where we danced

Silas instructing us on Monet

1/2/17

TRIP 6/9 January 1

Sundays are usually down days in big cities. Add that to it being a holiday and we had to be very selective about our activities.
First thing in the morning we tried again to take our clothes to the laundromat. It was lightly snowing.  None of these joints have websites so we just tried our luck . . . and failed. It may be time to buy some new clothes!
Silas needed some time to himself so we let him rest in the hotel while Mimi, Jude and I went in search of the Grevin Wax Museum. My phone decided to not work outside of the hotel today so navigation was very difficult. We had paper maps but it was cold and we didn't know which metro exit we'd used so we got turned around. Turns out I'm heavily reliant on my maps app. After much walking we found it, it was basically a hole in the wall, and were ushered in to a completely black room and told to stand still. I thought we were going to be murdered. It was literally terrifying. Suddenly lights flickered here and there around the room and I saw faces staring at me. I couldn't tell if they were real or wax, but they were all around and within arm's reach. Was it a maze? A hall of mirrors? Mimi, Jude and I clung to each other. Then some kind of light show started. We realized we were standing in a ring of about fifty people inside an octagonal room covered in floor to ceiling mirrors. At each corner was a pillar with a display of an elephant or a snake. Laser type lights in rainbow colors flashed and danced and lit up the room. It was like being in the Haunted Mansion's stretching room but all mirrored like the eternity mirrors in the temple but with the tiki room above. The sets kept changing. There were loud jungle noises. It was SO SCARY.
After ten minutes of fearful paralysis the lights went up and we were guided through a back door and into the rest of the scary museum.



Note the freaked out faces at this freaky place.


I don't like wax figures. They're creepy. But I like seeing how tall famous people are. Most were French celebrities but there were some politicians, historical figures, artists and Hollywood celebrities. You'll be saddened to learn that Angelina and Brad no longer stand next to one another. Downstairs were torture scenes from history including Joan of Arc and the inquisition. Fun.
After the Grevin we found ourselves at an adorable cafe for "the best crepe I've ever eaten" according to Jude. Ham, egg, emmental cheese.
We taxi'd back to our hotel because my stupid phone wouldn't work and then planned our afternoon.
I've been to Paris many times but I'd never made the pilgrimage to Jim Morrison's grave. He was buried in Paris because he'd come here to detox and get away from his drug riddled life so he could focus on writing. And then he overdosed in a bathtub. He's in the 27 club (Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, Winehouse etc all died at 27).
Familie not feeling Gay.  Feeling scared of the cemetery.

Morrison's grave

By this point Si was driving us all nuts.

The kids indulged me and we bundled up, took a subway over there, and trekked through the old graveyard in the dusk. We had to consult two maps to find it but find it we did and it was a cool experience. The rest of the graveyard was like a city of art and mourning. We all liked Pere Lachaise and would recommend.
My kids have been obsessed with large scale death since I've been giving them history lessons that apply to Europe: they know about the Holocaust because Mimi wanted to learn about Anne Frank, I've shown them YouTube videos about the French Revolution so they wanted to know all about the guillotine, they learned about the Black Plague and how 800 people died per day in Paris wiping out 1/3 of the population of Europe. I'm prepping them to visit the Catacombs later this week. It's far and away my favorite thing to do in Paris.
Childhood at the Carousel below Sacre Couer 



After Pere Lachaise we took the metro to Montmartre. It was getting dark but Sacre Couer was all lit up. We ran for the carousel and caught the last ride and then we raced up the stairs to the church. I thought we'd just tag it and run down again but we went inside and were swept up in the warmth and light and smell of candles. The ceiling was covered in a huge breathtaking mosaic. I've been in a lot of churches but the spirit in that building was so peaceful and exactly the cherry on top I needed to end this most magical of days and start what promises to be a peaceful year. My children (on their own accord) sat for nearly an hour in the pews while a nun and some priest guy sang in French and Latin.
This whole trip is filled with memories, but that time in Sacre Couer is written on my heart.

1/1/17

TRIP 5/9 New Year's Eve in Paris

Paris continued to punk me yesterday, but we rolled with it. We first had to pick up our Paris Passes which prepay for all of the museums, activities, and transit. When I got there of course they had canceled my order for no apparent reason so I had to double pay and wait for a reimbursement. I'm in $1000 to Paris and she better pay me back post haste. I also left my stupid credit card at the out of the way office so we had to back track that afternoon because thankfully someone got in touch with me to tell me it was there. Hassle.
On the Big Red Bus

Outside of Notre Dame

We jumped on the Big Red Bus tour which is a hop on/hop off. On the bus we sat at the top in the front and that was an adventure in and of itself. There was a headphone tour that narrated us through the city. We jumped off at Notre Dame for some food, but mostly we just kicked it on the bus learning about the sites and planning where we'd revisit in the days to come. I always do these bus tours in new cities to help orient everybody.
We eat at least one crepe each day.

After our bus tour we hit the hotel for an early night, after finding a grocery store to stock our hotel room with pastries.
We had a coffee maker in the room that we used to make Ramen

Just regular old French kids riding the Metro


The following morning was Dec 31. We walked 5 minutes straight to the Louvre and sailed by all the lines. I'm learning we are museum people. There's something for everyone at the Louvre and we plan to go back this week. Highlights were the Greek statues and the mummies. There was a lot of naked and it was a fun anatomy lesson. Quote of the day came from Mimi who said, "I've seen enough penises to last me a lifetime."
Me plus three

They dug the statues


All alone at the Louvre

A harbinger of what was to come later that night.


We ate more crepes and onion soup at a local cafe and then I went for it and ordered the escargot. I lied to get them to try it and I think they were glad that they did. It tastes like chewy garlic bread. I wouldn't eat them on the reg but they're a good cultural experience. We're still looking for reasonably priced beef bourgionon for Mimi.
After that we went back to the hotel to take a pre-NYE nap.
For five hours!

New Year's Eve was spent on the Champs Elysee eating fancy French food then we took a hilariously crowded metro ride to the Eiffel Tower. New Year's in Paris at the Eiffel Tower life goal accomplished!
At the hotel we watched a Bonne Annee 2017 Cabaret show with amazing acts including magicians, painters, dancers, and all kinds of other circus type acts. Featured in the background were, of course, cabaret ladies! Naked from the waist up wearing little other than feathers on their backs. Nobody mentioned them on the show and it took a solid ten minutes of watching for Mimi to realize hey! That's inappropriate! We had a good talk about various cultural sensibilities and continued watching without any more ado.


Except for at the end. Apparently after midnight they bring out the weirdos.
One of the last acts in an otherwise appropriate show was a magician guy dressed as Michael Jackson. He did a whole act and was very clever with his tricks.
And then he stripped.
And he was wearing sparkly pasties.
ON HIS BOOBS.
Which he spun like a goofball while I dove for the remote.
And then he started to take off his pants and I just barely got it off in time.
We died of laughter. Who's ready for a good talk about transgendered people?!
Silas being weird.