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!

London Calling

One of the reasons we chose Paris as it is a great, central jumping off point to explore Europe. Pretty soon after our arrival to France we were already off to another country. Jolly Old England.

Just a quick stop at Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station

Since we would be away for the kids’ birthdays, we offered each of them the chance to choose a place to spend their day. The Big Kid chose London! Nowhere near a chore for us, we were very happy to make the trip over on the Eurostar train. What a pleasure. Quick, convenient and so much easier than flying. We need to figure out trains in North America like they have in Europe.

London is always a rush. First of all, haven’t you heard? Boris Johnson has declared Covid over in London! Hurrah! (Fact check: I think he said we need to learn to live with Covid and that technically its not over, but that doesn’t read as well.) The day we arrived the mask mandates and vaccine passes were eliminated. We still prefer to wear masks but wow, its amazing to be out and see so many maskless faces.

After checking into our hotel, the Little Kid was absolutely floored when they bumped straight into their favourite actor from their favourite TV show. Hannah Waddingham, Rebecca from Ted Lasso, was absolutely gracious and lovely when the Kid said “hello”. She even got teary eyed when the Kid explained that Rebecca was their favourite (and not the expected Keely). A little while later, the Kid almost imploded when they spotted another one of their favourite comedians and authors, David Walliams (Little Britain) just outside the Hotel. What a day! Guess which city is now their new fave?

The Kid and Hannah

We took advantage of the fleeting sunny skies and took a walk to Buckingham Palace – poor Liz wasn’t there, she was convalescing from ye olde Covid at Windsor Castle. Sadly nor were any of her bear-skinned Beefeaters. Just some normal looking cops with automatic weapons. So much for Pomp and Ceremony.

Heading back to the hotel amid much “my feet hurt” and ”I’m tired”, we made a little detour to Savile Row to see the famous Apple Records offices, now home to Abercrombie & Fitch. After devouring Get Back on Disney+, Mom and Dad were happy to see the site of The Beatles last concert, even though the kids were pissed that the walk was taking longer than planned.

For dinner, we were booked at one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurants, NOPI. I’m a BIG fan of Ottolenghi’s many cookbooks and was excited to visit this bustling and sparkly London restaurant. The food was great, tried a lovely wine from Georgia (the country not the state) and I even got completely wigged out in the bathroom which is a mini hall of mirrors and I couldn’t find my way out. If you go – please check out that bathroom and let me know I’m not losing it. Thanks, you’re great.

Day 2 in London was POURING RAIN. Oh, and the Tube was closed due to a strike. Fun. We managed to get a black cab and ventured out to see The Tower of London. With the traffic, we managed to make the trip in about 45 minutes, only twice as long as usual. Our cabbie was a fantastic wealth of knowledge – as London Cabbies are known to be. He gave us all sorts of intel on the rigorous testing process these people must pass to get their license. Incredible. They need to know every street, every landmark, every hotel (big and small). They need to know multiple routes to anywhere. All memorized. You’ll never see a GPS in a black cab. AND these folks are their own boss. They have to buy their cabs on their own at a cool £75,000. Monsieur Le Cabbie also gave us the best tip ever, with the incredible traffic jam in the city, he suggested we take the City Cruise along the Thames back to Westminster which was a total WIN! The moral of this story is – when in London skip the Uber and take a Black Cab.

In the cold rain, The Tower of London was a bit of a bust. So we decided to do the SPEED TOUR. Luckily, between the weather and the Tube strike, we were able to walk straight in to see The Crown Jewels. Another little wander around the White Tower and then off we went to hop the boat and back to the hotel. The Crown Jewels are impressive, but pretty fucking weird in 2022. Knowing most of the jewels were the plunder of war and colonialism AND such an ostentatious public display of unreasonable wealth seems pretty tone deaf in our awakening culture. Since when have the monarchy been ”with the times”, I guess.

Yeah, no, for sure, no.

We booked to visit The British Museum the following day. I just couldn’t shake the thought that we were going to see a bunch of stolen loot. After seeing the Haida and Nisga’a Totem Poles from Northern BC, I definitely had the creeps viewing all these wonderful and amazing treasures that were plundered. One thing is definitely true, the Colonial British were more than just robbers, they were fucking hoarders!

The Big Kid chose London because she wanted to see the show Six. A modern re-telling of Henry VIII’s 6 wives and their stories. Brilliant. She loved it, we loved it. It was a fun night out. We were in a theatre seeing live music and performance and it was fantastic!

Our last night in London we had dinner at the buzzy and delicious La Petite Maison. Great food, great restaurant, quick seating – so eat fast! My former boss introduced me to LPM years ago and its still the same busy place with great Southern French food. But really, eat fast. The Maitre ’D came to let me know what we needed to chop chop with the veal chop as he needed the table back tout de suite. Bien sûr, Monsieur.

Before hopping the Eurostar back to Paris, the sun managed to make an appearance in time for our departure. So my Monsieur and I took a walk through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens with a stop at the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain – unique and pretty like she was – and at the Albert Memorial – grand and splashy like he was?

You can call me Al

And just like that, 3 days in London done and dusted. Our first side trip from Paris was in the books (and now on my blog) and we are getting our travel legs back. We managed to do the trip with 3 small carry- ons and one bigger suitcase (to carry all the London shopping back to Paris as well as our quickly-becoming-redundant Covid safety kit).

On the train, I was happy to hear the Little Kid say ”I can’t wait to get home to my own bed.” They were talking about their Paris bed. I’ll take that as a small win 🙂

Parlez-vous anglais?

When we chose Paris as our home base, there was some reasoning behind it. Its a city I know reasonably well after years of business travel here. I also studied French in school up until university so I have a basic understanding of how to speak the language. Plus Paris is fairly centrally located within Europe and well, its FUCKING PARIS!

Every time I come here, I realize what a load of bullshit my French language education actually was without ever immersing myself. Its VERY clear that the hours Mme Sharon spent hammering the Notre Père (Our Father) into my head were absolutely useless in trying to explain to the pharmacist that Monsieur has terrible acid reflux and what could she recommend to help. The conversation went like this:

Pharmacist: Bonjour Madame

Me: Bonjour Madame. Vous m’aidez? Mon Mari a une problème avec son éstomac. Avez-vous un medecin pour lui assistez? (“Hello Ma’am. Can you help me? My husband has a problem with his stomach. Do you have a doctor for you to help him?” I was trying to ask for medicine.)

Pharmacist: 😳

Me: Ummm, Notre Pere? Qui est aux cieux? (“Ummm, Our Father? Who art in heaven?”)

Pharmacist: 😐

Me: Que ton nom soit sanctifié? (“Hallowed be thy name”)

Pharmacist: Ahhh???

Me: Que ta volonté soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel? (“Here on earth as it is heaven”)

Pharmacist: Ummmm….🥴

Its mostly ok, I think. The Parisians are being extremely generous in encouraging me in my french speaking. However, I know that they are just being kind. I’m sure that my tenses are all over the place and that I’m telling people we’ve lived here for 4 months instead of we ARE going to live here for 4 months.

Just the other night, in one of these tight quartered cafés, the kid dropped something under the table and cracked their head on the way back up. I felt quite proud of the fact that I managed to ask the waitress for a napkin full of ice. I was certainly successful in asking for ice cubes (glaçons) instead of ice cream (glacé) – common mistake I make. However, I’m pretty sure I told her that the kid had broken (casser) her head instead of hit (frapper) it, which probably explains why she brought les glaçons tout de suite.

Hopefully, in a few more weeks I’ll be a lot less wobbly and more able to communicate. In the meantime, merci beaucoup Mme Sharon, FOR NOTHING! At least I won’t look like a chump when we visit any churches.

The kid BEFORE the “frapper”

Get Into the Groove

It has taken me a while to get back to the blog. We’re starting to settle into our new Parisien lifestyle, but it is with heavy hearts and watchful eyes.  To say the war in the Ukraine is unsettling is an understatement.  I’ve been labouring on how to write a silly blog about our adventure while the world has been thrust into such fear and uncertainty.  The suffering in the Ukraine is devastating and is front of mind for us every day.  We set the intention for peace and for the greater good of humankind to prevail.  So please know and remember this as you read my posts, that we are not turning a blind eye to this on-going tragedy.  Here, I’ll keep it light and (hopefully) funny because we all need to find some levity from time to time.

We have rented an apartment in the 2nd arrondissement, tucked into a small side street behind Blvd des Italiens and nestled between The Opera, The Bourse and Palais Royale.  The apartment is on the 4th floor of a Haussmanian building with (thank Oprah!) an elevator.  It’s a cute little elevator and it took us about 4 trips to get the aforementioned 11 pieces of luggage to our 4th floor enclave. The 5 flights up to our place is a bit of a workout, however it helps accommodate my pain au chocolat habit.

Monsieur and I made our first trip to the local grocery to stock up.  Unlike our typical Vancouver shop with stops at the Whole Foods and the Shoppers and the Save On, we visited the local G20.  A grocery store which is about 1/10th the size of our Whole Foods yet had just about everything we could need.  No longer blessed with our SUV and easy underground parking, this new grocery experience would be an experiment in how much we could actually carry the 2 blocks back to our place and stuff into the teeny elevator.

Armed with a rolling basket, we started our shop.  As the basket started to quickly fill I began to calculate the combined strength of Monsieur et moi.  Guess what, it’s less than you think.  And there, in the last aisle, le vendeur uttered the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard, “Un livraison, madame?”   My jet-lagged, Canadian-self squeaked out a “Non, merci.”  I’m delirious and overly polite not wanting to inconvenience this lovely French man, but I am clearly not very smart.  And then, like a lighting bolt all my 12+ years of French education and 2 solid years of Duolingo came flooding back to me. Wait, what?  Livraison = Delivery!!!! Here we are with all these groceries and 2 block walk and I’m saying “Non, merci” when the guy wants to deliver it to me?  “Oui monsieur, un livraison s’il vous plaît.”

So we began our check out and my knight in shining armour started to pile the bags of groceries into a shopping cart.  He then walked with us the two blocks back to our apartment and safely delivered us to the elevator door.  What an angel, sent from the heaven of the G20 stockroom to help us in our hour of need.  What a win!  

The haul from the G20

As with most AirBnbs, there are always things we need to make it feel more like home.  Like scissors.  Why are there never any scissors in an Airbnb?  Or just one cutting board and a frying pan with every layer of teflon scored away by lazy renters like us?  I wish Paris had a Winners.  Everybody loves a Winner! Or so they say.  Being the noobs (ask a person under the age of 16 what this means if you don’t know) that we are, we headed to the kitchen department at Galleries Lafayette and paid through the nose for decent spatula and some tea towels.  We also stumbled upon very mobile Granny Grocery cart, which I will argue is the best €80 I’ve ever spent.

L’Éclair de Génie at Galeries Lafayette

On our continued mission of filling the fridge we spent a lovely morning on the Rue Montorgueil, an incredible market street with beautiful fruit stands, cheese shops and patisseries.  One of which is Stohrer. A gilded beauty the size of a walk in closet that has stood in this exact spot since 1730. Nicolas Stohrer former pastry chef to the former King of Poland, was brought to Paris by Marie Leszczynska who married Louis XV, presumably when she couldn’t find a decent Rum Baba.  We picked up some of my Monsieur’s favourite, Millefeuille.  Verdict was a thumbs down when compared to the same from Cafe de Paris.  You’d think that if they’ve been around since 1730, they’d have it nailed by now.

We also found a fantastic gluten free bakery called Copains just off the Rue Montorgueil at 60 Rue Tiquetonne. You’d never guess that every loaf and pastry in the place is sans gluten. We picked up some yummy babka and a boule with figs and walnuts that is killer.

The kids have been outfitted with some new clothes, mais bien sûr.  The options just outside our door are endless as they find their feet in the fashion capitol of the world.  Monsieur and I have also picked up some new comfy, yet stylish sneakers to accommodate the 12,000+ steps a day we seem to be clocking.  Another excellent way to allow that addiction to pain au chocolat.

We’ve walked around The Louvre, through Place Vendome, up Rue Faubourg Saint Honoré past the Embassies and the Élysées Palace, down Avenue de L’Opera and along the Rue des Rosiers.  We’ve eaten éclairs and croissants, croque monsieur and soupe a l’oignon, macarons and millefeuille, falafels and tagines and we’ve only just begun!  Now that our blisters have healed and we’re managing our indigestion, we’re ready for many more great days in Paris!