Traveling Truths: Paris

I’m going to tell you something. I get serious travel envy. It often happens as soon as we get back from a trip, or worse yet, while we are actually on vacation. It really doesn’t take much. I see someone else’s Instagram post about some beautiful far off place, and immediately I need to see it too. They make it look so perfect, and fun, and fabulous! I think that’s actually part of the problem. We only share the best snippets of our journey.

I want to know the whole story. I want to know the mishaps, or crazy stories that got them there. Mostly I want to know we’re not the only ones stumbling through, trying to make it look like we know what we’re doing.

So in pursuit of honesty, I thought that I would share with you guys some of our traveling truths (failures) from our last trip. Because as much as I loved Paris, it was far from perfect.

Truth #1:

Esmé got very sick while we were there. She got Pink Eye, and some sort of cold virus as well. The first day she had it just in the left eye, and it wasn’t too bad, so we were going to wait it out and see what happened. We went to a pharmacy, got an antiseptic eyewash (that she hated), and waited to see what the next day looked like. The next morning she looked better, but, as the day wore on, the right eye started producing gunk, and her left eye got worse. By day three she looked TERRIBLE. The problem was by the time that we were able to speak to our pediatrician (thank you time delay), it was already too late in the day to get her in to see a doctor. On day four we were finally able to get her in to a doctor thanks to our wonderful hotel concierge. We got antibiotic eye drops, and she was 100% improved within a day.

How did this affect our trip? For starters, we had to have her wear her sunglasses everywhere. We didn’t want her spreading it to anyone, but we also didn’t want people thinking we were child abusers. Her eyes were red and swollen all the way down to her little cheeks. I literally had a pain in my chest having to look at her, because I knew she had to be so uncomfortable.

We also had to go back to the hotel at 4 hour intervals to give her drops. This was the hardest. It was a wrestling match every time to hold her down, and she screamed like she was dying. I’m sure we made our neighboring guests super happy.

Truth #2:

We brought one too many suitcases. I’m pretty sure this took two years off my husband’s life. Every other time that we have visited Europe we’ve either had a rental car, or have stayed with family who had a car. Basically, we’ve never had to walk all our stuff to and from the airport/hotel. So I packed just like we did for all the others…one suitcase for each of us. Huuuuuuuuge mistake.

The problem was that we had a toddler with us. One of us had to push the stroller with one hand while pulling along a suitcase and the other person pushed/pulled two suitcases; OR one person pushed all three while the other person pushed the stroller (I know this option seems ludicrous, but my husband actually attempted to push all three suitcases at once because it was such a mission doing the stroller and a suitcase).

There were heated discussions about a certain someone (me) not packing everything into two suitcases at least three different times during our trip. Lesson learned.

Also we stayed at two different places while we were there. It was so much fun moving all our stuff again.

Truth #3:

Versailles was almost a total disaster. I say almost, because we managed to keep it together while we were inside the palace. The best part about this truth is that I have a photo of the exact moment that it fell apart! This picture right here, when I was taking a picture of Emile taking a picture of Esmé frolicking in the gardens. She tripped and totally ate it immediately after our picture.

She had an epic meltdown afterward. It was so loud that other people who were there with their own crying children were giving us the stink eye. We didn’t know how sick she was yet because this was day 3 of her sickness. It was past nap time. Then she got a dent in her head from falling on her face with her sunglasses on. Rough day.

I had this vision of how our trip was going be, with lots of things to see and do, and all the pictures I wanted to take. Then life happened. We had to change plans almost daily, depending on how Esmé was feeling, but we made it work. Traveling with kids is never easy, but it is certainly one heck of an adventure.

Besides, in ten years time you’re not going to remember all the bad stuff that drove you crazy, (unless you’re my husband…then you will never ever let your wife forget the suitcase incident as long as either of you lives). It’s the good stuff, like kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower while it sparkles, that you take with you. That is what drives you to go out and do it all over again somewhere new.

An American Family In Paris

First of all, I know that this is long overdue. I have been putting off writing about Paris because I knew that as soon as I started going through all my pictures I would start getting homesick. Yes homesick. I can feel you rolling your eyes at me, but I’m telling you. It’s very much possible to have that achy, heart-longing feeling for a place that you do not actually live in. It’s a thing and it happened to me.

Second, we saw so much when we were there that I decided to divide it into two posts. This first one is all the touristy things that we got to see while we were there. First up, Notre-Dame Cathedral…

We actually visited Notre-Dame twice. The first time we were exploring the city with family, so we just walked around the grounds and admired the cathedral from the outside.

It was quite a rainy, gloomy day our first trip there, which made for a very moody experience. What with all the stone gargoyles glowering down at you and skeletal spires towering overhead.

Another cool thing we discovered was that in the back of the cathedral there was this beautiful little garden. (Esmé is pouting in the picture because there was a swing that was there, and there was also someone on said swing therefore preventing her from reaching full joy potential. Don’t worry though because about 5 minutes after we made her take a picture, the person got off, and she got to swing to her hearts content)

The second time we went we explored the interior, and the inside of the cathedral was just as impressive, if not more so, than the outside.

For me, churches are one of my favorite things to see when we travel. I think it’s because they are generally hundreds and hundreds of years old and there is so much history behind them.

It always makes me wonder about the kind of people who have come to worship, and what kind of lives they lived in whatever time they happened to be living them.

We got to see The Eiffel Tower!!! It is massive. It is breathtakingly beautiful. It is fabulously French. We went and saw it in the day time and were pretty flabbergasted until we saw it at night time…

Every night as soon as it’s dark, for five minutes, every hour, on the hour, the tower sparkles! We took a river cruise down the Seine and the boat was right next to the tower when it started sparkling. I can not even begin to explain how absolutely beautiful it was. Esmé loved it so much, she got upset any time it went out of sight on the way back. I’m pretty sure that it’s the closest I’ll come to seeing magic happen. It was spectacular.

Speaking of spectacular, we saw the spectacular spectacular! Well, we saw the outside. The reviews for this place were too mixed for me to actually pay to go and see the show, but it was so cool seeing the place that inspired one of my favorite movies.

The gardens in Paris are all so pristine! We actually figured out why while we were visiting the Luxembourg gardens. Do you see how there are chairs lining the lawn in the picture above? Well, those chairs are all around the gardens so that people don’t sit on the grass. They have these signs posted everywhere telling you to keep off of the lawns, and while we were there we actually saw security chase this woman out of the garden! He had a whistle and everything, so they take their garden maintenance very seriously.

When the grounds look this amazing though, I really don’t blame them. I honestly wish that I had taken more photos there because all the tree-lined promenades were so perfectly manicured you had to see it to believe it.

All throughout the garden there were these mini gardens, if you will. You would be walking along and all of a sudden it opened up into another perfect lawn with a sculpture of some sort in the middle, surrounded by beautiful flowers. There was literally perfection hiding in every nook and cranny of this place.

Esmé was happy because she got a chance to stretch her legs a bit and run around, as they had a huuuuge playground inside. Emile and I were happy because there was a little place just outside the playground, that sold the most amazing custard pastries. We all were happy because we ended the trip with a trip to Angelina’s for hot chocolate. It was basically like drinking a hot brownie batter. Heaven. The Luxembourg gardens were a smash hit for the whole family.

Versailles! I literally have to take a breath before I think about describing this place. Versailles is a gilded, very ornate, monster of a palace. It’s absolutely massive and is so over-the-top that it’s very easy to see why there was a revolution. You actually can’t get the whole of it in the picture frame unless you’re standing very, very, very, VERY far away.

You know what? I lied, because you see that building way up at the front there in this picture? That’s the palace. And not all of it is in the frame. Sorry guys. Though this was taken behind the palace in the gardens, so maybe it’s possible if you try from the front?

Here’s part of the back of the palace, and actually the middle floor of the central building is the hall of mirrors.

The inside of which looked like this. Pretty amazing, no? We got the audio guides and tried our hardest to listen to all the history about how magnificent this place was, and what went into making it.

However, Esmé thought it was a race to see who could get through the palace the fastest, so we really only caught snippets here and there. For instance we know that this was King Louis XIV’s chapel, but that’s all I got before I went running off to catch up to my little love.

You know what? That’s OK. Because as beautiful and amazing as the Palace was, the gardens were even better. They were so vast, that even though we must have walked 5 miles, we only saw a small bit of them. In the picture above, they literally stretch all the way to the horizon.

I could have happily spent a week here, wandering around exploring every square inch of the beautiful grounds. Esmé on the other hand could not.

I don’t know if it was the fact that she was sick, or the fact that we were doing this around her nap time, but she had a rough day.

Basically, this was not as big a hit for us as a family. My husband and I loved it, but if you have younger kids who still take a nap, this is a bit of a stretch for them. Totally worth it, mind you, but you will have a serious cranky-pants on your hands at the end of the day.

Last, but definitely not least…the Louvre! I really wish we had done a bit more research on this place because it’s massive. It is actually the world’s largest museum, and it’s impossible to see everything in one trip.

I think the reason why I didn’t bother to research the museum, was that I knew we were going to have our toddler with us, and I wasn’t expecting to see all that much. I know it’s super touristy, and probably reveals my lack of art history/ interest, but all I wanted to see was the Mona Lisa. Anything else that we were able to see would just be icing on top of the cake. So that’s where we headed first!

Everyone always talks about how disappointed they are because the painting is so small, and it’s too crowded, so I had low expectations. However I was pleasantly surprised when we made our way over to the exhibit. I mean, it’s definitely not the biggest painting there is, but I still felt like it was such a treat to see. It also wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be. It was definitely the busiest exhibit we saw while we were there, but it was no where near the horror stories I’d read about online. So so happy that we got to see her!

We actually were able to see a lot more than I had anticipated. We saw Napolean III apartments (above), Venus de Milo, the Victory of Samothrace, The Coronation of Napoléon (an enormous canvas!), the French Crown Jewels (serious drooling), and we even got to see the original foundations of the Louvre itself in the Medieval section. Our trip to the Louvre ended up being the perfect way to wrap up our trip to Paris.

Something we learned by accident, because we had a late nap, is that it’s actually a lot better to go at night time, than first thing in the morning (This was also the case for Versailles, because we went early afternoon, around 2, and there was no line). We didn’t have to wait at all to buy tickets, and the line for security had maybe five people in front of us? I think we got there around 6 pm, and it was perfect. That may have also been why it wasn’t so crowded in the Mona Lisa room. Also they allow you to take your stroller inside (something we could not do at the Palace of Versailles)! It’s a bit of a mission going up and down lots of stairs if you’re not close to an elevator, but it was such a help for us.

Did we have a favorite after seeing and doing all these things? Hands down, all three of us loved the river cruise at night past the Eiffel Tower. It was kid friendly, so I was more relaxed because I didn’t have to worry about keeping her under control. They also had mini bottles of wine to purchase, so we sat, cuddled together (because it was freezing), and drank our wine as Paris floated by. It was magic.

Seattle Weekend

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We decided to visit Seattle while we were staying in Portland for two weeks. We thought that we would do a road trip over the weekend, so we could visit someplace new, and we were totally blown away. Here’s a run down of what we saw while we were there.

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Our first day there was jam-packed with activities. We knew we only had a day and a half to really explore, so we left as early as we could to get the most out of Friday. Much to Esmé’s obvious excitement, our first stop was the playground by the EMP Museum. That place was easily her most favorite thing about our trip.

To this day if you ask her about Seattle, she will tell you she wants to go do the swing and the slide. It was one of the best playgrounds we’ve ever taken her to see: Massive climbing structure, tallest/longest slide I’ve ever seen, a very cool rock garden that has chimes for kids to play with, and an enormous water fountain just around the corner.

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Next we hopped on the monorail, which Esmé also loved, to Pike Place Market, (Emile and Esmé are right at the lower right had corner underneath the sign). It was busy, somewhat expensive, but a wonderful place for browsing and people watching. We took our time wandering around before walking back to our hotel.

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The last thing we got to do that day was a sunset tour of the Space Needle! I was so excited because I feel like it’s akin to going to the top of the Empire State Building in NYC. It’s just something you have to see if you’re ever there. It was so crowded that you had to wait for people to move in order to see the views, but I feel like it was well worth it. Esmé’s favorite view was of the playground we went to earlier, down below the tower. In fact she let us know that she would rather be down there swinging than up at the top taking in the view.

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My favorite part about visiting the Space Needle had nothing to do with anything we saw. It was what Esmé called it when we first saw it, that I will always remember. It was right next to our hotel, so we had this amazing view of it driving in. We told her ‘Look Esmé! It’s the Space Needle!’ and she said ‘OOooooo! Space Noodle! I see the Space Noodle.’ Even now, when she sees our Seattle magnet on our fridge, we’ll ask her what it is and she says ‘Space Noodle!’ So that’s what we all call it now.

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Saturday was my favorite day. We took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, and Esmé loved everything except being outside in the wind. She does not like wind, like even a little bit. We weren’t sure how much fun we were going to have on such a small island, but it ended up being the highlight of our trip.

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We went to this reserve where there were all different kinds of gardens, wooded areas, and meadows to see.

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At one point we came to this little bridge. I was squatting down to take a picture of Esmé leading us along the bridge when she just stopped all of a sudden. She turned, put her little arms on the bridge railing, and got lost in her surroundings for a bit. I was so happy I happened to catch it on camera. My little dreamer, lost in thought in a magical forest.

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We finished off the day wandering around a little harbor town that was one island over from Bainbridge. After we ate, we found a seaside park area for Esmé to burn off all her energy before heading back to Seattle. Such a perfect day.

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Before we knew it, it was Sunday. We packed up all our things, said one last goodbye to our favorite playground, and hit the road back to Portland.

Portland currently has my heart, as far as favorite places in the United States, but I think Seattle might be a close second. It’s almost as if Portland met NYC, or maybe not quite that big a city, but something similar. The downtown area is HUGE. There are all the massive department stores you’re familiar with, but then you also have these little boutique shops that are local and quite unique.

Then there’s also the outdoorsy side of Seattle: the views of Mount Rainier, the easy access to picturesque Pacific Northwest coastline. It’s majestic. It’s serene. It’s awe-inspiring.

I hope I get to see it again sometime soon. They really have the best of both worlds.

 

 

 

Charleston for the Fourth

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When we found out that my husbands parents were coming to town, my husband started thinking of fun things to do with  them. We love Charleston, and his Mom has always wanted to see it, so we booked ourselves a trip for the Fourth of July. As excited as we were to be traveling again, I really had some hesitations about our trip.

First I was worried about two other people being trapped in a car for 4 hours with our toddler. My husband and I are professionals at ignoring Esmé screaming her feelings at the top of her lungs until she feels better, but wasn’t sure how my in-laws would handle it.

Second, we had decided to go to a fireworks show all together, toddler included. This I had all sorts of issues with…It was going to be the first time for her staying up way past her bedtime, and I am super strict about her being in bed by 7:30 every night, so who knows what kind of meltdowns we were looking at; Some kids hate fireworks because they are so loud, they just cry the whole time. Also major meltdown potential; Lastly I hate big crowds, but I hate them even more when I have to navigate them with my child. It just brings out all kinds of paranoia.

Third, Esmé had recently outgrown her pack’n’play, so we were forced to get her a toddler-sized air mattress for our upcoming trips. At home she does a phenomenal job of staying in her toddler bed once we’ve put her down for nap, or the night. She will get up to get a few books for herself, but she climbs right back in bed and ‘reads’ herself to sleep. But an air mattress? Where there were no rails on any sides, so she could get up any time she felt like? I was not looking forward to finding out the answers to these questions.

As it turns out, things went a lot more smoothly than I had imagined they would.

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In the car the grandparents and Esmé were a match made in heaven. They played hard together counting fingers and toes, listened to Oupa’s special bird app that had all different bird calls, read books, talked about cars, traffic lights, and stop signs until they had nothing left. Then they all conked out together.

IMG_6871It was scorching hot while we were there, so much so that my clothing got soaked with sweat, and Esmé had a grand time touching it to make it stick to my body.

We kept Esmé cool by taking her to the fountains at the Waterfront Park. We tried the one where all the jets of water meet in the middle first, and she did not like it! There were actually a bunch of bigger kids who were going around to where the water came out, and putting their hands over it, causing it to spray all over the place (if you look closely in the picture below, you can actually see someone doing it behind us to the left). Which was totally fine! I think if Esmé were 7 or 8 she would be doing the same thing, but as she is a touchy toddler at the moment, she did not appreciate being splashed so much.

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The pineapple fountain on the other hand, she LOVED. She probably would have stayed there all day if we let her. I think this is a much more toddler-friendly fountain. The fountain itself is surrounded by steps that are the highest at the perimeter, then descend lower and lower to the center of the fountain. Basically it created the perfect baby pool for Esmé to lay, sit, kick, and splash in.

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She LOVED the fireworks show. I honestly think that, unless you have a very sensitive toddler, it’s one of the best experiences you can give them, as there is endless entertainment…Lots of people and kids everywhere to watch, lots of pets, lots of different food vendors were there as well, and then there’s the fireworks themselves!

The place where we saw them was one of those situations where you park somewhere and then they shuttle you to the actual place. In our case they used school buses, and Esmé was thrilled. She still talks about taking the bus to the fireworks whenever she sees a school bus.

Once the fireworks started, she was mesmerized. It was the cutest thing. She watched every single one, only taking breaks to tell us they were ‘so pretty’ or ‘vewy, VEWY loud!’

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There was a ton of people there, but it didn’t get crazy busy until after the show when everyone was leaving, which was also the time that Esmé passed out in her stroller, so she didn’t mind one bit.

I would say that the fireworks were her favorite part of the trip, but I know that she loved swimming with her Papa at the hotel pool the most. She asked to do it every day and would swim until her lips were blue and her little body was shaking.

IMG_6868How did the sleeping go? Well, that first night there was not fun. She took full advantage of the fact that she could just say ‘No!’ when we told her to go to sleep and then come over to see what we were doing. She finally crashed close to 11pm or so, but the next three nights went a lot better. I was actually really impressed with how well she did, and it was entertaining to see all the funny positions she fell asleep in.

We did have some meltdowns, but they were more to do with the fact that Esmé is a growing toddler learning to assert her will, more than being out of her normal routine. We also learned some things the hard way, because traveling as a family of five is different than traveling as a family of three. But that’s the thing about travel, the more you do it, the easier it gets, because you learn from your past mistakes.

Even though there were tantrums, and mommy hangry moments, and things forgotten, we still created some pretty magical memories.