Zurich is Cheesy

From Venice, we flew to Zurich. Just a short flight over the Alps, we figured we’d take advantage of the opportunity to see another city and Zurich to Paris is an easy train journey. So why not?

Where Venice is chaos, Zurich is serene calm. A beautiful, leafy city set on the stunning Lake Zurich. Surrounded by rolling foothills, it is picturesque. Arriving on a Friday night with a hotel in what seemed to be a business district surrounded by bank offices, we welcomed the quiet. But we were hungry. Looking for an authentic Swiss experience, the concierge at our hotel recommended a restaurant just outside of town called Chäsalp.

“Just a little ways outside of town” is actually a 10 minute Uber ride from the City Centre, we were grateful that Zurich is blessedly small. The Uber driver pulled into the long driveway and dropped us in what seemed like a deserted but lovely farm out in the country. It felt like heaven, even if we had no idea how we would get back to our hotel. Having been in Paris and Venice, we miss trees and we miss grass. Chäsalp has a beautiful set up, with many picnic tables and a small playground area. As much as we miss nature, the Little misses playgrounds so they were very grateful for some swings and slide. Monsieur was grateful for the outside dining area. Why do you ask? Well…

The view from Chäsalp

The house specialties at Chäsalp are fondue and raclette. Now for all of you who know the Monsieur, you know well that he is not a fan of cheese, especially smelly cheese. As we found our way inside the restaurant we were greeted to a full frontal assault of the aroma of fondue. We expected that a fondue restaurant may smell a tad cheesy and Monsieur had steeled himself for the experience, ready to “take one on the chin” for the rest of us. He was prepared to grin and bear it, until we walked in. He looked at me, threw his arms in the air and said, ”I can’t. I’m out.” Luckily, the aforementioned outdoor dining area was vast with just one other couple enjoying the fresh non-cheesy breeze. ”Would you mind if we sat outside?” I asked the server. She shrugged and motioned towards a lovely table between the swing set and the slide. Monsieur was very appreciative and the Little welcomed the opportunity for more playground time.

Super yummy, yet very smelly fondue in Zurich

We ordered two different types of cheese fondue. The traditional and one with bacon after the server told us we needed at least two. Lets just say one pot would have easily fed a family of four, let alone our family of 1 fondue fan, 2 maybe fondue fans and 1 absolutely no fondue whatsoever fan. The traditional fondue was in fact delicious, best I’ve ever had. The fondue with bacon was of course delicious as we felt our arteries clogging with every bite. Lets just say the bacon isn’t really necessary when you’re dipping chunks of bread in a pot of melted cheese. The big kid and I tucked in to the traditional and didn’t look back. We had pepto bismal at the ready when we got back to the hotel.

If you’re worried about Monsieur at this point, he was very happy with his order beer and his schnitzel in the light spring breeze. He was even happier when the fondue pot was cleared away. When the server returned to pick up the fondue course, she asked why Monsieur was at the far end of the table. ”He doesn’t like cheese,” I explained. She shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes, missing the point of Monsieur’s grand sacrifice for his family.

Schnitzel was the perfect alternative to the cheese for Monsieur and the Little Kid

We were pooped after our time in Venice constantly on the move, so we decided to take it easy in Zurich. Our friends P & M who used to live in Zurich sent some recommendations of things to see. Per usual, we decided to set out to explore on foot. Situated close to the shores of Lake Zurich and the Limmat River, we easily found the old town. Sadly for Monsieur, there were plenty of cafe’s serving fondue and raclette but luckily those spring breezes kept his cheese induced nausea at bay.

Zurich on a Saturday was charming and quiet as friends brunched on patios and strolled the shopping streets. We did our very best to pivot to German after a week of stumbling through Italian. I think I thanked a shopkeeper in Norwegian at one point. Tussen Tak Madame!

We stumbled upon the Grossmünster, the grand reform church in the Old Town. We didn’t go in, the kids get the creeps from churches and constantly fear conversion I think. But it was quite majestic from the outside, so good for you Reformers.

Along the Niederdorfstrasse, lots of Cheesy meal options

For lunch we found the Bauschänzli Beer Garden along the Limmat. From the road, this looked like an elegant riverside restaurant. While still reasonably elegant – all of Zurich is elegant – everyone was happy with the bratwurst and beer lunch we had at picnic tables. The kids had cokes, don’t worry! We were doing our best with the German language menu but when we thought we were ordering hot dogs, the bratwursts arrived. Luckily the kids didn’t care and were hungry enough not to fight it.

The Big and the Little loved the Beer Garden lunch at Bauschänzli with the Limmat and Grossmünster in the background

That evening, we were a little sluggish from all the wheat, dairy and meat products. Luckily the hotel was kind enough to find us dinner reservations at Sala of Tokyo, where we had one of the priciest sushi meals ever. Remember we’re from Vancouver where sushi is basically fast food and Zurich is one of the more expensive cities in Europe, so there was some sticker shock on the price of the california roll.

Strolling along Lake Zurich

Before we knew it, it was already time to head back to Paris. Swiss trains do in fact run on time. We were booked on a commuter train to Basel, connecting to the French TGV train. The commuter train portion was a little confusing as we were given some conflicting information from the conductors, but we managed to hop on the right train and made the connection in Basel easily as the TGV was on the very next platform. We marvelled again at how easy and comfortable the European train system can be. In under 5 hours we were back home in Paris!

One habit we have gotten into is picking up snacks for the train ride. All stations have a store where you can get chips, snacks, drinks etc. The kids are always happy for a cheeky pack of Haribo sweets. We usually hit up the Paul or Pret à Manger where you can find great baguette sandwiches, croissants, pastries and pre-made salads to take away. We learned not to rely on the snack bars on the trains as they tend to sell out or have limited options.

Zurich is a beautiful city. Charming and friendly, quiet and safe. It felt very natural for us Canadians and made a nice change from the hustle and bustle that we’ve been used to.

Everywhere you look, one of the many clocktowers in Zurich

And If Venice is Sinking

Venice may not exactly be sinking but its definitely sloshy.

Late night walk awaiting Acqua Alta

We made our way to Venice for a sneak peek at the incredible Venice Biennale Arte 2022. Our friend Monica Reyes organized some tickets for us to be able to attend what ArtNet called the Art Olympics. What a treat! Venice is already a feast for the eyes, add in some of the most exciting and interesting artists in the world today and its eye candy overload.

But first, Venice is sloshy. You may recall in my Amsterdam post the claim that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice. Sure that may be true, but where Amsterdam is an orderly and tidy concentric collection of canals, Venice is a spider’s web that has withstood the test of time and the elements. We started our experience with a water taxi from the airport, the sleek long canal boats that serve as Venice’s taxi network hauled ass out of the ”boat garage” through a narrow channel that was some of the roughest water I’ve ever been on. The wake from all the many boats speeding through creating a tumultuous mess of water. Clearly an example of why marinas have no wake speed limits. Finally out into the open lagoon, we were amazed at the organized chaos of boats headed in each and every direction. Our captain apologized profusely that he needed to stop for gas, we didn’t care! We were boating!

First glimpse on a Gondola and when I realized my black and white striped shirt wasn’t exactly the best fashion choice for Venice.

As the Captain turned onto the Grand Canal, our first glimpse of this incredible city, we ooohed and aaahed at our first gondola sighting. I scrambled to get a picture, disappointed that I’d missed the exact right angle. Little did I realize that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of gondolas traversing the canals of this city.

Passing under the Rialto Bridge, our captain took a left onto a narrow canal towards our hotel. Navigation is tricky and the plethora of gondolas requires the water taxis to drop down to a crawl. The drivers and gondoliers all yell back and forth to each other as they navigate through the narrow passages. Amazingly, there is no road rage and no one hits anyone else. The gondoliers are a fascinating species, using a single narrow oar they manage to steer these long boats around tight corners and tiny corridors. Like yogis they kick up their legs to push off walls with their feet, crouching at the last minute beneath bridges all the while manually pushing the boat along and singing to boot. What a tradition!

The non-Vegas version of The Rialto Bridge
Gondola traffic jam

I packed for our 3 short days (which by the way is exactly enough time to visit) in Venice basing it on the mild balmy weather we’re having in Paris. I didn’t take into account that since its sitting on water that in mid-April, Venice is likely to be a bit damp and chilly. Luckily, every designer brand has an outpost on the island and there were plenty of options to buy something new.

We came to Venice for the opening of the 2022 Biennale. Held every two years, this year’s installment, “The Milk of Dreams” was delayed by one year due to Covid so 2022 was a big one for the art world. The Biennale consists of two very big exhibition grounds – the Giardini and the Arsenale – and a collection of many sanctioned and unsanctioned exhibits all around Venice. The Arsenale, originally built in 1104, has served as an armoury and shipyard over the centuries. The main exhibit hall extends for literally hectares as you walk from room after room of works of art from the surreal to the sublime. By the end I was ready for the exit and needed a break from all the sensory overload. We were amazed when we finally found the exit that we were now on the other side of Venice! I preferred the Giardini as it felt more manageable with one large exhibit hall and several small national pavilions.

Simone Leigh’s “Sovereignty” was the Official US presentation for the Biennale. Her work was breathtaking and poignant. It was my favourite. I won’t try to describe it as I won’t do it justice, but I recommend you check her out. We were also excited to see Stan Douglas’ exhibit at the Canadian pavilion. A collection of recreated photographs from 4 different uprisings that occurred in 2011.

There were also some strange pieces including one room where two women sat on the floor and just sang minor notes back and forth at each other in a call and answer. I dug as deep as I could into the esoteric part of my brain to try and understand it but I came up empty.

Simone Leigh’s ”Brick House” bronze sculpture at the entrance of the Arsenale site of the 2022 Venice Biennale

In addition to the two main exhibition locations, there were several other art shows around the city. We happened upon Anish Kapoor’s show (famous for the Cloud Gate in Chicago – the big reflective bean sculpture) which was interesting and a little disturbing. But I did like the room where he placed Vantablack spheres and orbs on the walls which made them look three dimensional and concave.

Anish Kapoor’s ”Sky Mirror” at Gallerie dell Accademia in Venice

We also tried to get in to see Kehinda Wiley’s show (famous for the Presidential portrait of Barack Obama) but we happened to show up exactly when they were doing a press viewing and there was no luck. Canadian sweet-talk will only get you so far in Venice, especially when trying it on an American publicist.

The two non-Biennale highlights were the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Murano island. Peggy Guggenheim’s former villa situated along the Grand Canal is now a lovely museum housing her Modern Art Collection. Peggy was part of the famous American Guggenheim family. Niece of Solomon Guggenheim, she had an incredible eye and was good at connecting with artists and her collection is vast and impeccable; Jackson Pollock, Warhol, Dali, Rothko you name it. Definitely worth a visit when in Venice.

The Little and Papa Leone on the Gondola

Our trip to Peggy’s place – I imagine that Peg and I are good friends, who wouldn’t want a bonne vivant of a pal with a fabulous villa on the Grand Canal – became a little adventure. We mapped our way over to the museum and figured it was about a 20 minute walk. Like Monaco, Google Maps in Venice doesn’t always work very well as the streets are so narrow and compact. On our way, we passed a Gondolier Station (Statzione? I don’t actually know what’s called, but its kind of like that show Taxi where all the drivers hang out, except these drivers are all wearing striped shirts and straw hats.) Monica asked Danny DeVito (aka the Gondola Boss) and managed to negotiate a trip for us over to Peggy’s. We piled into a fabulous gondola with Signore Papa Leone our gondolier. He was about 6’5”, 60 years old and sporting a hefty pasta gut. Yet, Papa Leone managed to navigate us around. He only stopped singing to yell out point of interests along the way – Mozart stayed there, Opera House etc. He swiftly steered us across the Grand Canal and straight up to the dock at Peggy’s. We climbed out of the boat and walked straight into the Museum. We had bought tickets, but this was the backdoor. I don’t know how we managed that, but it was a laugh.

The view from Peggy’s place.

Murano island is about 40 minutes from San Marco Square by boat. Our hotel arranged a tour for us. Whats the charge we ask, ”Oh no Signora, its complimentary.” A lovely water taxi picked us up and took us to a dock where a team of greeters were on hand to meet us and help us out of the boat. We were swept inside immediately to the studio where two master glassblowers were hard at work on a special order of glasses. We watched the men in what seemed like a choregraphed dance as they crafted glasses before our eyes. As each glass came out of the fire for the last time, the master would hold it up for us to see and everyone in the room would applaud. When they finished, our guide took us to see ”some of the items that they make here in the studio, with no obligation to purchase of course”. Seven rooms and two (maybe it was three) floors later with a receipt for a set of our own glassware in hand, we were shephered back to our awaiting water taxi and taken back to the dock of our hotel. I couldn’t tell you what there is to see on Murano as we were herded in and out with no chance of further exploration. It felt a little like one of those hotels that gives you an extra special cheap rate as long as you take the Time Share tour. I guess we’ll see if our new glasses make it to Vancouver.

Chandeliers in Murano

On our last night in Venice, Monsieur and I were very fortunate to attend the Canadian party to celebrate Stan Douglas and the Canada Pavilion. It was our first post-Covid party, and we realized we’re very out of practice. It was a great event, but we’re old and staying out past 9pm is hard work. It was also very strange to be in a room with hundreds of people eating, drinking and chatting. It was a super cool event, but we decided to call it a night around midnight. Kind of glad we did. We left in the rain, taking a shuttle boat back to our neck of the island. The town was preparing for Acqua Alta – high tide and rain meant there was a chance of flooding. A frequent enough occurrence this time of year that there were raised walkways at the ready for our whole stay throughout the city. Tonight, they were set up along the Grand Canal, through San Marco Square and all the way back to our hotel. We didn’t venture further to see how far the network travelled but I’m quite sure they are everywhere. We also noticed the small barricades/ dams in every doorway that can be slid into place to protect the buildings from flooding. We were tucked into bed by the time the tide was highest so we didn’t see it first hand, but walking home the water was very close to breaching.

In Venice for all three days, the lyrics from ”And If Venice is Sinking” by Spirit of the West played in my head. In spite of the constant threat of a too high tide, beauty IS religion here, John Mann hit the nail right on the head. And Marini’s little man left me laughing too.

Marini’s “Angel of the City

A friend likened Venice to a postcard and I think this is absolutely true. Venice is home to only about 38,000 residents. The rest of us are all interlopers. Coming and going through the sloshy canals, to spend three to four days experiencing life in this romantic destination. But you see, with the hordes and hordes of transient folks, the truth is Venice is a community designed to cater to tourists. When you’re a traveler and you want to get to know the local culture, you may feel a little disappointed by Venice. Sure, its picture perfect and a piece of living history. But its hard to find great local food when there isn’t a local population to support the scene. I get it. Tourists are a demanding and pushy bunch who take everything they can out of a place and leave a pile of filthy luchre in return. But, I think I prefer a gentler and more natural form of travel. It seems a good idea for Venice to charge an entry fee, after all the whole place is a museum. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have seen such a beautiful place. Do we need to return? I think I’m good.

Monsieur et Madame overlooking San Marco Campanile

Nice in Nice

In our pursuit of seeing France while here, we decided that we may as well try and see the sunniest and warmest parts of France. Right? Why not? So we booked train tickets down to the Côte D’Azur. Luckily, the Inoui/ TGV highspeed train is a great option. Direct to Avignon in Provence with a few stops along the way (Cannes, Antibes etc) the train takes about 5 hours from Paris to Nice.

When exited the Gare de Nice, the first thing we noticed was the sun! While it has been an unseasonably warm and sunny spring in Paris, the air quality is terrible and filters the light in a rather inexplicable way. Hitting the sea air in the South was invigorating. Fresh, sunny, warm, brilliant, glittering. We liked it so much we extended our 3 night stay to a week!

Blue skies in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

We stayed in lovely St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, just 25 minutes south of Nice. In early April, everything is just opening up from its winter slumber. It was peaceful, quiet and beautifully devoid of hordes of tourists. Nice is a great homebase as its relatively centrally located to explore the area.

We spent a day driving to Cannes (about 30-45 minutes drive) and stopped for lunch at a beachside cafe beside the famous Carlton Beach Club. We could almost imagine Cary Grant sucking in his tummy on the beach. I’d been to Cannes once before back in 2014 for the Film Festival. It was nice to see the town in its normal routine.

Monsieur on the beach at Cannes

After lunch we made our way back in the direction of Nice for a stop in Antibes to see the biggest marina on the Med. Yachts everywhere, we quickly realized that Antibes is homebase for the yacht charter industry with employment offices and yacht wear (aka crew uniform) shops everywhere. We wandered around and found the old town centre and the charming market. We also found some clothing shops which was necessary since we extended our stay we needed to pick up a couple of things. We decided to divide and conquer. So I took off with the Big Kid to try and find her a new bathing suit. I texted Monsieur to let him know where we were, what’s the name of this store? OH MY GOD! Its called Slam 69. How do I text this to my husband? No we’re not in some random strip joint, I can assure you. But how, how can this be the name of this store? I found the kids section and there in all their glory are piles of bathing suits for KIDS with the name of the store emblazoned across them. What in the actual… Well, we hightailed and found a much more appropriately named shop a little further up the street.

Monsieur on a conference call at the Marina at Antibes

The following day we decided to take the 25 minute drive to Monte Carlo to see the changing of the guard at The Prince’s Palace. Apparently it takes place every day at 11:55am sharp. Well we got on the road at 11am thinking we had plenty of time. We enjoyed the winding drive along the seaside through Beaulieu Sur Mer, Eze and other cute little towns. We rounded a traffic circle crossing the border into Monaco. After that, it was mayhem. Monaco feels like a place where they added streets after the fact, wherever they could find space. And when they couldn’t find space, they built tunnels. Everything is so compact, the GPS struggles with getting you in the correct lane. Well, suffice to say we made one wrong move and were then in a kilometre long tunnel taking us back towards Nice. We came out at the first traffic circle and found ourselves back in France. Now we were starting to sweat a little as we were closer and closer to 11:55am. We rounded the traffic circle and crossed the border back again into Monaco.

Back where we started we didn’t make the same mistake twice, luckily… it was close. We then found our way into the City Centre headed towards the Palace. Well, the Palace is up on a hill and you can’t drive there unless you have a pass. The Monégasque Police force directed us away from the GPS directions so we headed the other way, away from the Palace. Faaaack. Time is ticking and now we’re caught on a road that is destined to be part of the course for the upcoming Formula 1 Race. High fences lined either side of the street. Circling around again, we finally find a parking garage. We decided to just park the godforsaken rental car and attempt the rest of the journey on foot.

Well, parking garages in Monaco are shall we say… compact. Designed for tiny little cars, our SUV is a beast in comparison. We finally find an available spot. Monsieur pulls in and we immediately realize its too small a space. Luckily I find a wider spot with an empty space beside it a little further down the lane and we decide to move there for easier in and out. Well, now the car’s anti-collision mechanism is in full swing and it will not back out. All the beeps keep beeping and we can’t move more than an inch. After 10 minutes of Monsieur battling the car, I get ready to push the goddamn bucket of tin out of the spot. Its 11:50am at this point and Monsieur and I are frayed, nattering and at our wits end. The kids are convinced that we are now headed for a divorce and are working on their best appeal for peace in our marriage. I’m mad, he’s mad, kids are mad and the fucking Prince’s Guard are about to put on the show that we’re going to miss because we’re stuck four floors under the city of Monte Carlo. At last, the angles worked in our favour and the BMW software algorithm was now satisfied that we were not going to hit the wall, the neighbouring car or the pole behind us and set us free. Wahoooo.

Still mad, we trudge our way up the flights of stairs finally to the surface. We follow the GPS to the Palace and realize the only option is to walk up hill. Well guess what, that’s what we did. We got to the top, arriving in an empty square with all the guards firmly ensconced in their guardhouses standing on duty. Well, I hope they had fun getting there. We did a little wave to Albert and Charlene, a lspin on the narrow streets out front of the palace and then headed back down the hill to the City Centre. We’re only just a little bit mad at each other at this point but we’re definitely hungry.

La Famille in Monte Carlo

We decide to head towards the Casino, by way of the Marina. Filled with a collection of some of the biggest yachts I’ve ever seen, we made our way to a Marina-side restaurant for some mediocre club sandwiches and a big glass of rose or two. After lunch, we navigated up the other side of town towards the Casino. Monte Carlo is a city where everything seems to be uphill both ways. We made it to the front door of the famous Casino, took a picture and decided it was time to get back to our hotel. No time for any Bond-style martinis or dropping any francs on the roulette table. We were DONE.

Walking back to the car – which luckily we remembered was below the Princess Caroline Bibliotheque – we struggled to navigate on foot as the fencing for the Formula 1 seemed to block access to where we needed to go. I was dressed for lunch in Monaco darling, not for climbing fences. Finally we found a gap, and descended to the bowels of the parking garage to our awaiting chariot. Luckily, we knew the way back to Nice since we’d already done it once that day. We arrived back at the hotel and tossed the keys to the valet hoping we would never see that godforsaken car again.

The next day was established as a ”chill day”. We stayed close to the hotel although Monsieur and I found a great walk along the seaside into the town of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Monsieur forgot his sunglasses. Knowing this was a boating/ beach town, surely we’d find a beach shop with some cheap shades. We found a beach shop, but they only had Tom Ford, so Monsieur had to squint the whole time.

Monsieur along the seawall walk at the end of Cap Ferrat with The Phare (Lighthouse)

Shopping in Cap Ferrat wasn’t much to write home about. Over-sequinned and over-priced. The weather was forecast to be warm and sunny, but a fierce wind whipped up and stuck around for a couple of days. I had left my trusted Lululemon hoodie back in Paris, so I was craving a cozy sweatshirt. I found a cute one for a mere €350. I learned to embrace the shiver. Where were my hotflashes now????

Windy Days in Villefranche-Sur-Mer on Cap Ferrat

On our final day, the kids preferred another hotel hang out day. Monsieur and I wanted to explore Old Nice. What a treat. Its a lovely place filled with charming shops, cute cafes and lovely squares. We started at the flower market just off the beach and then just wandered around the narrow little streets and alleyways. The churches were all preparing for Palm Sunday the following day, so it was cool to see them all decorated with palm leaves. We especially enjoyed a small little antique shop called Maison Pampille. It was a fun and inexpensive little treasure trove of cool artifacts of the Côte D’Azur.

The Nice Flower Market

In the evening we visited the town of Villefranche-Sur-Mer. Also a treat. Wandering along the waterfront, we wanted to escape the wind so we climbed the narrow alleyways up the hillside. Super charming.

We were grateful for the warm and brilliantly sunny days in Nice and a break from the hustle, bustle and rain of Paris. We realized that a week wasn’t long enough and know we definitely need to go back so we can explore this gorgeous region of France some more.

The Beach at Nice looking towards Cap D’Antibes

A Day in the Life

You may be wondering how we’re actually doing here in Paris. Now that we’ve mastered the art of buying groceries and speaking enough French to get by, we’re settling in pretty well. So well, on a catch-up FaceTime with one of my Besties last night she asked how long we’ve been away. I confidently answered ”Seven weeks!” At least I was pretty sure its been seven weeks. She was less confident in my right-ness and consulted her calendar. ”Ummm no. You’ve been there for NINE weeks.” NINE WEEKS???? WHAT???? No freaking way. I can’t believe it. But the calendar doesn’t lie and neither does H. So here we are, 9 weeks into our World (Abbreviated due to Covid) Tour.

We miss other kids.

We’ve managed to visit 5 other countries and take 3 side trips within France, one of those to the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt but it still counts as a trip because we slept overnight and had to pack a bag. This week, the Big Kid’s BFF arrived from Canada so we’ll no doubt be up for more adventures (EuroDisney anyone?).

On the move

Monsieur is always up the earliest, often hours before the kids. He’ll head out for a swim at the public pool at Châtelet Les Halles, an amazing underground complex housing a major Metro transit hub, a shopping mall, a movie theatre, a library and a sprawling aquatic centre. All nestled underneath a vast open square and Saint Eustache Church. On his way home, he’ll stop at our local boulangerie for croissants and a baguette for breakfast. Then I play a game called, “I’m only going to have a small piece of the pain au chocolat, well maybe 2, ok fine I’ll eat the whole thing.”

Once we are appropriately caffeinated, we wake the slumbering enfants. After breakfast its time for school. By now there is far less resistance to school time as we had in the beginning, but there is still plenty of grumbling. School runs until about noon-ish and then we head out for the afternoon. We usually opt for lunch on the move since Cafe’s are an easy stop. Sometimes we’ll eat in cleaning out leftovers or a salad and some great baguette sandwiches from our local boulangerie. My current favorite salad I plan to recreate when we get home – quinoa, lettuce, cucumbers, quinoa, feta cheese, pomegranate seeds and mint. Yum! Paris is filled with lots of great food on the go options from Traiteurs, salad bars and other take-away places.

Afternoons are usually spent with a Museum reservation (check out my museum rundown below), a park hang out (French gardens are amazing and a nice leafy respite from the limestone jungle of Paris) or a guided tour (we love the tours guided by Emmanuel’s Hidden Gems.) But our favourite pastime is a good wander. Pick a direction, perhaps with a destination in mind, and just walk! We’re never disappointed because there’s always something fun to see, yummy to eat or interesting to experience.

Easter Monday stroll with the Little down to Palais Royale to photobomb all the influencers pretending to be Emily in Paris

We manage to get in an average of about 10,000 steps every day. Its easy to do when running errands and sightseeing are all rolled into one day. I would hate to drive in Paris. Its nice and compact so you can walk most places. The Metro is vast, reliable (unless they are on strike) and fast (5 minutes from the Arc de Triomphe to Les Halles on the RER – amazing! – look at it on a map. Its far!). Taxis are plentiful here but you can’t really hail them. You need to pick them up at a Taxi Stand, a hotel or you can call one via an App. G7 has been recommended. There are the Velibikes you can rent – but the administration to register the app is complicated and we have yet successfully been able to rent one. And then of course, there’s Uber.

Easter Sunday Family Dinner at Brach for delicious Mediterranean

For dinner, we sometimes eat in. Our little kitchen isn’t as equipped as we’re used to. Three burners, 3 pots and a tiny oven with one shelf. So we often buy a roast chicken from the butcher and cook some veggies on the side. Its a favourite around here and a welcome change from cafe fare. We’ve also successfully re-created our famous spaghetti bolognese, which reminds us of being home.

When we do go out, we have enjoyed experiencing all the various cuisines you can get in a big city. Vietnamese, Lebanese, Moroccan, lots of Italian and of course plenty of French! We’ve also found our local sushi place, which as Vancouverites is essential. I’m proud of my family as they’ve learned how to order en français.

”Je voudrais un coca-cola.”

”Je prends une soupe a l’oignon gratinée sans fromage, s’il vous plaît.”

“Monsieur, je suis allergique aux cajoux et aux pistaches.”

Many restaurants close between lunch and dinner, so first reservations are not until 7pm. You can find cafes that offer Service Continu, which means the kitchen is open all day. But we’re often heading out to dinner about 7. We laugh as we usually sit down in an empty restaurant that is completely full by the time we leave, we can’t seem to shift dinnertime any later to join the crowds. We often finish dinner somewhere around 9-9:30 and wander home. After 10,000+ steps we’re pretty pooped.

The adventure/ joy of this trip is living in Paris like a local (sort of). Its fun and a bit scary navigating all the day to day things like finding a dry cleaner or sending a package home. I even managed a haircut and colour. I was terrified! The salon was recommended, but when I got there I realized its basically the Magicuts of France. Gahhhh, what have I done. Well, its Paris and while its a salon chain, its slightly more chic than Magicuts and the stylist was on his game.

The real secret here is that our school day far extends the two hours we spend each morning on math and reading and writing. We’re all learning so many things about daily life in another countries, cultures communities and countries. The amount of new experiences daily is sometimes overwhelming and often times exhilarating. This is the beauty of travel. We realize that while things may feel different, we’re all really just the same. We want the same things; safety, happiness, love. So our kids are learning along with us that different doesn’t equal weird. That we’re weird to the locals here if that’s the case. Its just different and different is exciting and fun and sometimes totally awesome. We can keep the secret between us that right now for the kids, school is happening 24-7!

MUSEUM LOWDOWN

When in Paris, the museums are plentiful. Best to book in advance, especially in Covid times and for many museums its necessary. It makes it much easier to navigate the line-ups. Expect security everywhere and be prepared to open your bag or put it through the x-ray machine. People come to Paris for the museums, so be prepared for line-ups and leave big bags at the hotel.

We’ve only scratched the surface but so far we can tell you that The Louvre is amazing, but you need days to see it all. You can get in and out quickly if all you want to see is the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa and Liberty Leading the People – they are all conveniently located in The Denon Wing (the one closest to The Seine). We’ve been lucky enough to buy a Membership, which makes it much easier to pop over and have a snoop around in small bite-sized sessions. Its very very big and there is plenty to see.

Little at The Louvre

Musee D’Orsay is stunning and may be more manageable if your stay in Paris is short. You can see many incredible works of art in an afternoon. We let the kids roam on there own at the Musee D’Orsay and the littlest came to find me and said ”MOM, come over here. There’s a superfamous painting!” Ahh yes my young Padawan, I have taught you well.

Musée D’Orsay

Another must do is The Rodin Museum. Its beautiful and best experienced on a sunny day, half of the exhibits live in the garden. Its also very small and manageable so you only need an hour or two to fully explore.

The Rodin Museum

While he was a bit of a mysogynistic dickhead, Picasso did make some incredible art. However, the Picasso Museum here in Paris was a bit of a letdown. The only highlight for me was an old film showing him working with pottery to make a vase into one of his ubiquitous birds. Otherwise, unless you’re a big fan of the man himself, this is more about him and less of his art.

Next stop for us will be L’Orangerie to see the Impressionists and trip to Versailles.

Busted.

Did I ever tell you about that time we got arrested in Paris?

Well, not EXACTLY arrested. But detained by the National Police?

It was early on a Sunday morning. I can see you already nodding off, I know – who gets busted on a SUNDAY MORNING?

An example of a narrow Parisien street with the Little added for scale.

We were on our way to Charles De Gualle. We were packed into a minivan with a lovely, chatty driver that we met once before. We were catching up on all the things we had done since we last met and he was regaling us with stories of the various destinations and all the places we missed along the way. He was chatting so much and so animatedly he apparently did not notice that he was driving in a restricted bus lane.

As we rounded the corner around Madeleine Church, we heard the unique sound of the French siren. A constant drone here in Paris so not at all unusual. In fact this time however, the siren was coming from the police vehicle behind us.

After 2 attempts at stopping and restarting as the driver could not believe that in fact the siren was intended for him, he finally pulled over 3 blocks later. The police van pulling in behind us, clearly the siren was in fact intended for us.

Now, if you’ve been to Paris or even have seen it on TV, you may recall that the streets are narrow. Very narrow. We are now pulled over in a van, with a police van behind us on one of these very narrow streets. Monsieur and I are tucked in the very back row of the van with the kids ahead of us. The driver gets out of the van and meets with the not one, not two but five officers from the National Police force. A conversation begins and there is much gesticulating and arm waving and shrugging of shoulders.

If you recall, we are at this moment headed to Charles de Gaulle to catch a plane. So the anxiety is compounding as the tall (and very handsome) officer walks towards the side door of our van. Monsieur L’Officer (there is no way that is proper French but its my blog and I can do whatever I want) opens the van, looks at us blankly. My monsieur and I look at each other. We’re now a little worried that we’ll be implicated in the crime. Aiding and abetting driving in the bus lane is surely a criminal offence here in France. In a state of panic, my Monsieur blurts out ”English”. I’m trying to decide that if we run fast enough, could we make it to the doors of Madeleine and claim amnesty? A recovering Catholic, a Jew and two hybrid kids walk into a church…

Monsieur L’Officer looked somewhat panic-stricken by my Monsieur’s statement. ”Un moment” he said as he backed out of the van pulling out his cellphone. My brain went into overdrive rapidly translating “We didn’t do anything wrong. We just want to go to the airport.” But all I can thing about is that I’m trapped in the back row of this van and there isn’t a hope in hell that I can climb over the seat and make a break for it. I’m not going down with the driver!

Finally, Monsieur L’Officer returned and carefully began to read from his phone. ”You are all under arrest.” I mean he didn’t say that but that’s what I was imagining as he cleared his throat and started to speak. Why didn’t this blasted driver pull over in front of the Church when the police first started their pursuit? At least then we’d have had a fighting chance of escape! ”This vehicle has been immobilized. You must now continue your journey on foot.” said L’Officer.

Well, it wasn’t quite the arrest we were anticipating but since we were headed to the airport to catch a flight, the anxiety level was still on DefCon 1. ”Charles de Gaulle!” I blurted. I couldn’t remember how to say ”But we need to go to” in French. He looked at me blankly and said ”Metro?” And I stared back blankly and thought ”Dude, do we look like we can take the Metro with two kids and all these bags all the way to Charles de Gaulle?” but instead I started to really sweat and my French language skills opted for fight instead of flight at this point, THANK BILL GATES. However, please remember that I am Canadian and even though we were clearly not implicated in this crime of passion – it was a crime of passion because the driver was talking so passionately he didn’t even notice all the traffic infractions he was committing – we couldn’t just say “Merci” and move it along and decide our own transport options. Instead I needed to reconfirm with the Officer, “Nous pouvons appeler un Uber, monsieur? Si possible?” He looked at me like I was completely off my rocker, non Monsieur seulement Canadienne. He shrugged and turned back to the on-going conversation and negotiation that was taking place with our driver with the 4 other officers required for this take down.

Coming to our senses, we unloaded the bags onto the sidewalk and called an Uber. My monsieur is watching the app carefully following the progress of our new driver. Now if you recall from earlier in my tale, we are on a very narrow street with two vans now impeding the progress of everyone trying to pass by. Just as our Uber is beginning his final approach, a garbage truck pulls around the corner and begins his pick-up at every address along the rue. Well shit. Now my Monsieur is starting to fray. The police van needs to be moved, as does our immobilized vehicle and its clear that our Uber will not make it to us anytime soon if the garbage truck moves any closer. For an early Sunday morning, there is a hell of a lot of action on this tiny street. So out onto the road goes my Monsieur, conducting traffic until our Uber safely makes it through the obstacle course to us. We pile in with luggage and all. Happily we make our getaway at last. Not before I make a vow to always ensure easy escape from a vehicle and make note of the location of the Canadian Embassy… just in case.

Go With the Flow

I think THE most important rule of travel is being willing to go with the flow. Sometimes, a lot of times, plans change or things don’t work out. Being able to go with the flow will save you a lot of stress but it can also open the door to plenty of magic.

Chocolat chaud with the Lovely K!

Some of our best times in Paris are because we went with the flow. Back in 2014 we traveled here with the Shorties for the first time (back when they were both shorter than me). On our first day in the city of light, we wanted to make an early start of it. We couldn’t wait to see the sites. We woke up the Littles and plied them with croissant and made our way to the Eiffel Tower. Both of them groggy and jetlagged and underslept, we made it to the Tower just as the skies opened and it started to pour with rain. In those days you didn’t pre-book tickets online in advance but you could walk right under the tower. Trying to seek shelter from the downpour we were standing under the centre of the Tower, the line-up to buy tickets was long and the kids were in full meltdown mode. There was yelling, there were tears, there was drama. Just then I received a text from our friends J & K who were also in Paris. We were planning to meet them for lunch. The text said ”Text us when you’re done and we’ll meet you at the Cafe de Flore.” Guess what, we were done. We went straight to the taxi stand and piled the kids, the stroller, the diaper bag and our soggy butts into a taxi and went straight to the Cafe de Flore. Do not pass go, do not collect €200. The Eiffel Tower would wait 8 years until our kids had enough sleep to properly enjoy it.

One cranky little at La Tour Eiffel on the first attempt in 2014

When we arrived at Cafe de Flore in the pouring rain, the very kind waiter took pity on us (French waiters are generally not rude, this is an apocryphal. If you do your best to try speaking French – a simple bonjour and merci goes a loooooong way – they will take very good care of you and Les Petits.) and helped us up the stairs to the awaiting J & K. Nestled into a cozy corner table with chocolat chaud and petits pots de confitures at the ready, les enfants were satisfied. The littlest even had an hour long nap on my lap. We drank coffee and talked and visited for hours that day. When it was time to go, the skies had cleared, the sun was out and we learned that experiencing a new city and culture is sometimes better left to these impromptu moments. It was a true French repas, we learned that meals should be savoured and enjoyed at a leisurely pace. We also learned that ”Never wake a sleeping baby” is NOT in fact an old wives tale.

Fast forward to 2022, and J & K are back in Paris and so are we! We decided to meet for dinner at Georges located on the top floor of the Georges Pompidou Centre . The restaurant isn’t anything to write home about, but it does have an incredible view of the city of Paris from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower and at night its spectacular, especially for the 10 minutes every hour that the Eiffel Tower puts on its sparkly show.

As is usually the case, we enjoyed plenty of great dinner conversation, laughs and party tricks courtesy of J. After a quick trip to the loo after dinner, we were surprised to come back to the table to find that the entire restaurant was now a dance club, hosting a corporate party. This was especially surprising as it was a Monday night! Well, the DJ was pumping so we decided to dance. And we danced and we danced and we danced. It felt like we crashed someone’s wedding. The host came by with a bottle of champagne, refilling our glasses as we cut a rug! I can’t even remember the last time I danced. The kids loved it, especially the The Little Kid; ”Mom, I can’t believe you brought us to a nightclub!” We got home around 1am and lets just say that home school started a little late the next day.

Party tricks at Georges with J!

Two of our funnest experiences in Paris were completely impromptu, lucky and spent with J & K. Feels like we found a bit of a recipe. Perhaps you can book J & K for your next trip to Paris?

Cafe hang-outs Photo by: James O’Mara

Glamsterdam!

When we booked our trip to Copenhagen, we thought it might be cool to add another city on our way back to Paris. Mostly because I’m not a fan of packing and unpacking, we figure why not kill two birds with one suitcase (or in our case 4 suitcases). Monsieur and I traveled to Amsterdam in February 2020 just before Covid, sans kids. We thought it would be a great chance for us to return and take the kids with us. Copenhagen to Amsterdam is just an hour flight and then we could take the high speed Thalys train back to Paris. Easy!

Canal at Night

Amsterdam is Copenhagen times ten. The canals, the bikes, the people. Amazing. And not because you can legally buy marijuana on seemingly every corner. Did you know that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice? Another highly walkable city, it is incredibly picturesque as you cross bridges and stop for a beer canal side. We lucked out with the weather, warm summer like days were a treat as we walked for miles around the city.

Our first order of business was a boat tour on the canals. The canal network is amazing and really is a part of life in Amsterdam. This city has adapted to life on the water. Boats replace balconies and patios as we saw so many people enjoying picnic dinners on the canals. The old fishing boats converted into homes, the barges now playgrounds. Amazing to see all the life that happens here on the water.

The Little Kid on the Canal Cruise

Our Captain Mathias guided us through the canals with lots of great history and anecdotes about life in Amsterdam. Highly recommend this as an outing. The boat, Ivresse is very cute and one of the historic canal boats from the Netherlands. Definitely worth it!

It is possible that the laid back vibe of Amsterdam could be attributed to the marijuana. Pot was decriminalized here in the 70s and now you can easily buy it in one of the many coffee shops. Not to be confused with a cafe, a coffee shop is similar to the dispensaries we have in Canada. Tidy little shops with salesmen in bowties offer you the menu of the various marijuana varieties available. Pre-rolled joints are ready to go. Just don’t try and order coffee in the coffee shop, for that you have to go to the cafe.

Not the cruise we took… but it could be fun…

Amsterdam has some great museums. We made the Anne Frank House a priority on this trip. With only 2 days in the city, we decided this was the one thing we definitely needed to do with the kids. Its heart-wrenching to see, but as the Big Kid pointed out Anne must be happy as even though she died a tragic young death, she did fulfil her dream of becoming a famous writer. The house has been remarkably kept intact and to see the rooms where the Frank family hid from the Nazis is very powerful. I couldn’t help but look at our kids as we walked the tiny flights of stairs to the attic of the Annex and feel grateful for all we have.

While we didn’t make it there this time, we did love The Van Gogh Museum, the collection is vast and covers 3 full floors of the Museum. If you like Van Gogh, don’t miss it.

As Vancouver-ites, we are big fans of all types of Asian cuisine (Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian – North and South, Thai etc etc etc). We’re lucky in Vancouver to have so much amazing and varied foods just outside our door. In Europe, we’ve enjoyed the hunt for great Asian food and Amsterdam offers a great option with the Indonesian Rice Table, Rijsttafel. An amazing array of dishes; rice, curries, pickles etc. We had dinner at Long Pura and it was yummy. The servers were also very sweet and kind of adorable.

As with Copenhagen, we also loved checking out some of the cool antique and design focused shops. We were lucky enough to catch Mariska Meijers’ Amsterdam shop just before it closed (check out her online shop for some amazing colourful housewares and design!). We picked up some cool canvases and Delft ceramics. Super cool!

Amsterdam Centraal on a sunny day!

If you’re planning a European adventure, highly (see what I did there) recommend you make Amsterdam a priority. Its a very cool city and a nice change of pace from some of the other busier major European cities.

The very charming Amsterdam row houses.

You Say Its Your Birthday? Its My Birthday Too!

For his birthday, Monsieur had hoped for us to travel to Budapest.  However, we quickly realized that since Hungary shares a border with the Ukraine, it might be best to make some alternate arrangements and chose Copenhagen instead.

What a city!  We immediately fell in love with Copenhagen.  Flying from Paris was just under two hours.  Flying is still a kerfuffle, but Copenhagen isn’t train-able.  We spent three, sunny but cold days in Copenhagen at the Hotel Sanders.  Perfectly located just off Kongens Nytorv (Kings New Square), we loved the central location and how easy it was to explore this compact and walkable city.

Nyhavn Canal

Copenhagen is a city of cycling, we marvelled at the lack of car traffic and loved strolling the network of pedestrian shopping streets. A nice change from Paris, we enjoyed the fresh Baltic sea air and general quiet. We arranged a walking tour via the hotel and were very glad we did. Our guide, Kersten is extremely knowledgeable and gave us plenty of information on the history of Copenhagen and Denmark. We especially enjoyed our stop at the Royal Palaces at Amalienborg in time for the changing of the guard. The very well liked Queen Margarethe II was in residence that day and it was interesting to hear about all the many Frederik’s and Christian’s who served as King over the centuries.

Changing of the guard at the Amalienborg Palace

The sense of Hygge (coziness in Danish and Norwegian) was apparent everywhere we went. The hospitable and welcoming people in the glow of warm candlelight, snuggled under cozy throw blankets made us feel at home. The Danes really know how to make you feel warmly welcomed.

Coziness at the Hotel Sanders

We felt this most of all when we enjoyed the best meal of our stay at the incredible Zahida.  A very cool Pakistani fusion place near the Kings Garden.  We arrived and Bobby the owner greeted us by name, showed us to our table and explained how the menu items were curated with recipes from his Grandmother.  YUM doesn’t cover it.  Delicious at every turn.  This was the second time on this trip that we met a beautiful human from Pakistan and we’re starting to think that the Universe may be trying to tell us something.  We had such a great time.  Outstanding food, great drinks, killer playlist and super fun and engaging staff hosting all the fun.  What a treat! PS they also have a very cool collection of art by young Pakistani artists, including some incredible Star Wars renditions done in Mughal designs available through Polly & Other Stories.

Birthday dinner for Monsieur at Zahida

Many people told us that we must visit Christiania while in Copenhagen. Located in a former military baracks along some of the remaining ramparts around Copenhagen, Christiania is a self proclaimed, independent region within the city. For lack of a better word, a commune. Non-commercial and certainly embracing hippie sensibilities, it was a cool place to see but felt a little awkward on a Monday morning with all the marijuana sellers rolling and selling joints from their crate stands. We took a quick spin around and made our way back to the EU through the gate.

Monsieur leaving Christiania

Copenhagen is an interesting European capitol with plenty of history and great architecture. But its the warm and wonderful people that we met that will bring us back to this great city hopefully before too long.

La La La Loire

We are starting to settle into life in Paris.  So much so, we decided we needed a little getaway.  We looked at options within France, easy to get to quickly from the Capitol. The Loire Valley seemed like the perfect choice.  Not only for our favourite Sancerre wine grown in the Loire, but also for the plentiful and incredible Châteaux littered around the Valley.

Just over an hour train ride from Gare Montparnasse, we arrived in Tours.  A lovely, charming French city on the Loire River.  Beautiful!  Lucky we got to see it, because it was actually the wrong stop for us.  We rented a car to explore the Valley – I did it all by myself! Little did I know that this was far more complicated than I realized. Tours has 2 train stations and the only car rental outlets are located at the Gare de St. Pierre des Corps, the first stop in the city. Easy mistake to make, right?  How was I supposed to know that when the car rental website says the location is ”Gare de Tours” that it actually means ”Gare de St Pierre des Corps” aka the Other Tours Station?

If you squint, you can see Monsieur and The Little Kid waiting at the Taxi Stand

Anyways, we found ourselves in the beautiful Tours Station one stop past where we were supposed to be and began our adventure in the Loire.  I found the ticket office, the only place in the station where there was a human being who could possibly help us.  The lovely SNCF attendant explained that we could get back on the train we arrived on and travel back 5 mins to the St. Pierre stop.  Apparently this was a common mistake. We just needed to buy new tickets.  At the vending machine, I paid approximately €5 for the 4 of us to ride back.  I came out of the ticket office triumphant that I had found a solution and vindicated that my mistake was not as big a deal as we thought, until I realized that the train had already left.  No matter, we could catch the next one… oh wait, it will be an hour and the agent at the car rental place was growing impatient with me.

Back to the SNCF ticket office and my new friend, imploring what are our options.  A bus.  But we just missed it as well.  A taxi?  Sure, if you can find one. Uber?  Why not, but the only Uber around is a good 20 minutes away and we need 2 as most regular Ubers in France can only take 3 passengers max due to Covid protocols.  We are not in Kansas any more Toto (we don’t even have a bike like the Wicked Witch of the West).  We need to travel for 5 minutes by car, that’s it. But its too far to walk with luggage and kids.

So we decide to divide and conquer. Monsieur and I each plug in the location, which is super hard as we seem to be in some sort of bus loop/ pedestrian only area and the Uber App is of no help at all. Finally we are able to drop the pin in the app and then we wait, and we wait and we wait some more.  The train in an hour is starting to look good. When out of the blue a taxi shows up, a lovely big SUV! The driver agrees to take us all the 5 minutes to St. Pierre, so we cancel the Ubers (and pay the cancellation fees) and jump into the taxi.  Five minutes later, my new boyfriend dropped us at the car rental office at St. Pierre des Corps armed with plenty of suggestions on how to fill our two days in the Loire and assurances that we were not the first people to make this same mistake. So if you ever go visit The Loire, you’ll know what to do.

We booked ourselves into a lovely small Château just outside of Tours, Domaine de la Tortinière.  Imagine a bit of a Fawlty Towers vibe.  Our room was literally in the tower.  Like all good 400 year old houses, it was drafty and home to a family of stink bugs (the latter perhaps somewhat inexplicable) yet utterly charming with a very kind staff and a yummy breakfast.  We enjoyed a nice glass of wine by the fire and a delicious dinner in their dining room.  

One of the charming cottages at the Domaine de la Tortinère

The following day was a Sunday, so on the recommendation of my new taxi driver boyfriend, we ventured to the historic town of Amboise for their Sunday market.  Our first stop was to meet my even newer boyfriend, Henri the cheese and salami man.  This region has been hit hard by the pandemic, so it was clear that Henri was VERY happy to see some gullible charcuterie loving Canadians show up.  We tasted and decided on a super yummy young cheese – don’t ask me what it was – and a pepper salami.  Monsieur La Banque (my ACTUAL boyfriend) forked over the €65 for the goods.  I’m not sure how you say rip-off in French but suffice to say Henri was VERY happy we stopped by and we chalked it up as an opportunity to support the local economy.

Le fromage

It was a very rainy day in The Loire but we persevered and headed to the incredible Château de Chenonceau.  I won’t bore you with all the history, but suffice to say it has a long and infamous past.  The most incredible thing for me was the hotel-lobby-grade floral arrangements in every single room of the castle.  They were phenomenal and I had to take pictures of them all for my sweet friend R the Gardener back in Vancouver.

One the of the floral arrangements at Château de Chenonceau

Due to the rain, we cut our trip to Chenonceau short, the Gardens were lovely but not suited to the weather. We decided to make the schlep back to charming Amboise to get more cheese. Just kidding! We wanted to see the Château de Clos Lucé. This Château is quite special as it was the last home to Leonardo Da Vinci. He finished painting some of his most important pictures there; Mona Lisa, John the Baptist etc. If you wonder why The Louvre has so many of the very few paintings Da Vinci painted, it was because they were completed here in France at Clos Lucé. Da Vinci was invited to Amboise by King Francis I in 1516. Amboise was the seat of power in France at the time with the King reigning from the Château Royal d’Amboise. Clos Lucé is quite interesting if you are a Leonardo fan, like my people are. Its a small Château, so an easy tour to do.

Da Vinci’s studio/ workshop at Château de Clos Lucé with a copy of John the Baptist

A little damp, a little cold and very hungry we googled our way through all the restaurants within a 15 minute drive from our little hotel that were open on a Sunday.  Let’s just say its not many.  But as luck would have it, we found an Italian place that served fresh pasta and pizza.  Jackpot!  We put the address in the GPS and off we went, marveling at the bucolic Loire countryside which suddenly turned into suburban strip mall land.  We found the Italian place tucked into the front side of the parking lot of an aforementioned strip mall just like an East Side Marios!  But this one served us PILES of Burrata cheese, as an appetizer, on our pizzas, on our pastas.  We were in cheese heaven – and this time it didn’t cost us 65 bucks!

Before we hopped the train back to Paris, we decided to venture to Château de Chambord.  Apparently this castle was the inspiration for the Beast’s castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  The sun was out and the drive was lovely.  We arrived in Chambord to a fully scaffolded facade.  The massive castle is undergoing a major restoration project.  Not an uncommon sight when visiting these historic locales across Europe, but a bit of a bummer to not see the castle in its full regalia.  Oh well. A reason to return.

Set on acres of land, the Château is massive. A large castle with ramparts around it and gardens and forests as far as the eye can see. Definitely a place where you can spend the day exploring. The small village next to the Chateau includes a few small bistros (with great food), a wine shop and a hotel. In summer, it must be something else!

The only part of the Chateau de Chambord without scaffolding.

Back to St. Pierre des Corps, we hopped on the train a station late and in a blink of an eye we were back in sunny Paris.  Such an easy little weekend away with so much to see and do, we wished we had more time in France when the weather is warm as the Loire in the summertime must be a treat… but maybe steer clear of Henri’s cheese cart on a hot day.

The Little Kid with the spoils of the Sunday Market in Amboise
The breathtaking Gare de St. Pierre des Corps. I love the dude on the scooter riding out of the station.

En Marchant in March

Paris is a walking city.

Walking in Paris is a constant revelation in awesomeness, and dog shit. What is it with all the merde? I’m sure in this day and age, people are sensitive enough to know that they need to pick up their dog’s poop? But its a thing here. Everywhere, all the time. Seriously, watch your step.

But besides that, when you aren’t looking down, there is so much to see when you look up. The beautiful architecture, the tiny boutiques that are always so interesting. You can see why most of les terrases are situated with the seating looking out at the street. There is just so very much to see.

Paris is geographically quite compact. The 20 Arrondissements wind their way from the centre of the city like a great big Escargot! It is quite compact and you can cover a lot of ground much faster on foot and as a bonus, you really get to feel this city. Walking along you bump into a tiny park with a beautiful fountain or a small lane that’s been converted into a skate park. You can wander along in Paris and literally stumble on wonderful things at every turn; a tiny shop that only sells buttons, a map store or another amazing patisserie. The flower shops are always so enticing! The tulips can be wilting but I’ll still buy them if the front of the shop looks like this:

The other day, we ventured out towards Montmartre. We ended up on Rue des Martyrs. What a great street. We stopped at the first Patisserie for the vanilla eclairs and a raspberry tart. Farine + O at 10 Rue des Martyrs is the place. The eclairs were hands down the best I’ve ever had. We stood on the corner and devoured every last creamy bite and then carried on our way. Four doors down, another amazing Patisserie with delicious looking Millefeuille. Did we fuck it up? Were we stupid to simply accept the first pastry offered? Another couple of blocks – a meringue shop. ALL LIGHT-AS-AIR, PILLOW-Y MERINGUES. Faaaaaaack. How the hell were we going to make it through this gauntlet of deliciousness? Seriously. The only thing working in our favour was that we were at least headed up hill so the calorie burning walk would be most efficient.

Tarte framboise

The Kids were up for the walk to Sacre Coeur knowing that we could take the Funiculaire up the hill, rather than walk it. I entered the Montmartre Funiculaire into Google Maps and on we walked. When climbed several steps and hoofed it up hilly streets, we made it to the Funiculaire entrance. But at the top. Woohoo! Well, lets just call that Gym Class for today. And we did have those awesome eclairs to help fuel the uphill haul, no?

Aside from the very touristy spots, Montmartre is so beautiful and charming. We couldn’t help but feel like we could be in a small Provencal town on these narrow streets. Every little thing is such a feast for the eyes. The flowers crowning the cafe terraces, the gorgeous flower shops, the cute boutiques. It was one of the best wanders I’ve ever had in Paris.

We have an old painting of this view of this exact square in Paris that belonged to Monsieur’s grandmère. The kids thought it was cool to see it in person.

We even managed a spin through Sacre Coeur. The beautiful white church on the hill overlooking all of Paris. We marvelled at the ability of the Catholic church to find the commerce of tourism. Light a candle as a prayer for the low, low price of €10. No cash? No worries! A credit card machine has been installed at all the candle stations (of which there are plenty throughout the church). Visit the gift shop (deep inside the chruch) for what I can only assume would be a ”My friend went to Sacre Coeur and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” t-shirt. A vial of Lourdes holy water thrown in for free? Vending machines selling commemorative coins. Please just deposit your money quietly, people are praying! Good to see that the Jesus business is booming?

If you ever find yourself here in Paris, make sure to schedule an afternoon to just wander and get lost on the narrow streets. You won’t be disappointed and truthfully you won’t stay lost for long!