Monday, July 18, 2016

Cheerio! À la prochaine.

That's it folks. Today was our last day in Europe for this summer.

We walked and trained over to the Boulevard St. Germaine, where apparently the best chocolatiers in Paris are housed, at least according to Conde Nast. Others may disagree, but I just needed a place to start, ya know?

We decided to check out a couple of different places on the list. We wanted to get a variety (even though only one pack was for us and the rest are gifts) just to see the different stores.

First up, we visited Pierre Marcolini and after perusing for a minute headed out. We didn't buy anything, as this was our first stop and we wanted a basis for comparison. We are teachers after all, so shopping on budget is kind of thing.

Next door was a cute little boutique, Antonio et Lili, that had the cutest outfit hanging in the window. I went in and looked at the price and then decided to keep walking. But it stuck with me. I really wanted it. So, I turned back and decided to splurge on me. I bought the entire outfit - dress, belt and necklace - just as it was displayed because I loved it so much. I may wear it to work every single day next year.

From there, we traveled down the boulevard to Patrick Roger, but it looked closed so I peaked in the window. The smaller box was like 40 euro, so we decided to keep walking, only to watch this other guy walkin. Um...push, not pull. My bad.

From there, Un Dimanche à Paris, which is a bar, restaurant and chocolate store. They make the chocolate right there in front of you behind a big window. We finally bought something...a lot of somethings. The smell alone inside the store was enough to sway me.

After that, Maison Georges Larnicol for a box of macarons. They had self service chocolate that could be scooped into boxes and bought by weight, but I know myself, and that felt dangerous. Macarons only it was.

Next up was Henri Le Roux, but they were closed for another hour. Our last stop was back to Pierre Marcolini. Can you have too much chocolate?

We headed back to the apartment to pack up for tomorrow. Our day starts at 6am. I'll be home soon, RVA. I've missed you, a lot.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Au revoir, Strasbourg. C'était charmant!

I was immediately taken with this charming city. Today sealed the deal for me. We started the day by walking around the grande île, peaking at used books in the street market and window shopping along Grand Rue. The kids have been asking for crêpes, so we knew we had to follow through with that promise. We stopped at a couple of places that were cash only (I didn't know that was a thing still), before finding a lovely little restaurant that accepted credit.

We ordered a crêpe salé and a crêpe sucre each. We topped them off with a "ice ball" (read: ice cream), and it was simply one of the best things I've had in Strasbourg, which is saying a lot.

Today was all about hitting some parks, and we were determined to make our way across the River Rhine via Le Jardin des Deux Rives, which connects France and Germany.

This pretty much sums up how I felt after walking for hours in skinny jeans and my Astrals, which are not cushioned for those kinds of walks. I didn't say it was pretty, folks.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Between the research and the sadness...

There was time to explore today. We walked around window shopping for a little bit while searching for a place to eat lunch. This allowed us to just take in the architecture and the language and the culture of the city. We strolled through an open air market selling mostly clothing and vegetables, an interesting mix. We decided on an Italian restaurant near the Cathedral before making our ascent to the top. This is not a climb for the weak or faint. We climbed up 332 stairs, and while the website calls it "thrilling," I would more accurately categorize it as terrifying.

About half way, we had to cross platform which is maybe, maybe two feet wide. At first, I thought that was it. I was okay with it even though it wasn't the stunning view I was expecting. We were, after all, still pretty high up. I figured those mountains in the distance were what they meant when they said you could see Germany.

I started looking for the way back down.

That's when we realized, there were more stairs. And those stairs kept going up.

Goldmine of historical stuffs. And a cousin lovin' surprise.

Today was going to be my trip to the archives for the Bas Rhin region, located here in Strasbourg. I woke up and decided to get a head start on what I would be asking for, as I learned the hard way from my London trip, that going unprepared is ill advised.

Quick geography lesson.

The Alsace region of France is located in Eastern France on the west bank of the upper Rhine adjacent to Germany and Switzerland.

It has two departments, the Bas-Rhin and the Haut-Rhin. The Bas-Rhin is more populous and densely populated of the two.
Strasbourg is the capital of the Bas-Rhin, and where we are visiting this week. (This is a map of the entire Alsace region. Colmar is the capital of the Haut-Rhin.)

While we may be in Strasbourg, because the archives are here, my family, it seems is actually from Steinbourg, which is about 21 miles away from Strasbourg. 

A rude awakening...

It wasn't even 9 am here, when I first started waking to the kids downstairs scrounging through the cabinets and the fridge looking for breakfast. I could hear the girls giggling with one another. The windows were open and the crisp air and sound of rushing water from the river reminded me that we were still in Strasbourg.

I rolled over to see if Sky had gotten out of bed, but before I could, he said, "There was a terrorist attack in Nice. At a Bastille Day celebration."

I was still for a second, letting it all sink in.

Another act of senseless violence. More lives lost.

Suddenly, the laughter of my kids and the sounds outside retreated and I was just left in that moment horrified, saddened, heartbroken, and worst of all, fearful. It could have been us. It could have been here. It could have been at the soccer fan zone in Paris. The what-ifs, the fear...that is what "they" want.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

La fête nationale!

The weather in Strasbourg in July is like an October day in Richmond. It's sunny, but a chill forces a sweater when you are in shade or the sun has disappeared behind the clouds. I almost expect there to be crunching leaves below my feet. Sleeping with the windows open is fine, as long as there is a big heavy comforter to keep you warm. This is not the summer heat I left behind. I don't think I could do this all the time. I need my heat and sweat.

Today is la fête nationale in France, or what the English speaking world likes to call "Bastille Day," which commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people on July 14, 1790.

There isn't much going on during the day to celebrate, as far as we can tell. Most stores are closed today, including grocery stores and some restaurants - specifically the ones not near tourist attractions. Tourist attractions are open and even have free entry for the day.

We headed to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, which was the tallest building for 227 years, from 1647 to 1874. The steeple could be seen towering high above, even from across the river.

We walked around the outside, but decided today was not the day to ascend the 300+ stairs to the top.

Instead, we headed inside for a look around at the amazing interior architecture, mostly in a high Gothic architecture. It is also the highest existing structure built entirely in the Middle Ages. It is so high, it can be seen from the Black Forest in Germany.

We were going to go to Strasbourg today, but...

Wednesday, June 13. Did it happen? Did it not?

Trivia time:
You arrive at the bus stop on time for your 8:30am bus to Strasbourg, a short seven hour trip. You get in line for your bus only to find out that you booked the trip for the next day but don't have a place to stay tonight. What do you do?

Freak out. That's what.

We went inside and frantically starting trying to get on wifi to find a train or a place to stay for the night. Nothing, and I mean almost nothing, sounds worse than being on the streets of Paris overnight with three kids.

After about forty five minutes, we found a train leaving in an hour from a different station. We decided we could make it. So, we bought the tickets and took off. Thankfully, we made it on time, but were 336 euro poorer than we were about an hour earlier. We figured we were losing money one way or the other, so we figured better to get ourselves to Strasbourg. The train ended up taking less than two hours, which is WAY better than the seven hour bus ride we were going to endure. Well worth the money.

Once we arrived though, we couldn't check in for three hours. We found a restaurant, had some food and then headed to a playground to let the kids blow off some steam.

Look at this place.

We checked in, ate some dinner and then I passed out. Apparently, I was still tired. I slept 14 hours.

Which is why I am posting this in the morning on Thursday.  Excited to explore today...

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

When fatigue comes to a head...

Why did we think today would be a good day to go to another museum?

I have no idea.

But we did. We went.

And we made it about 45 minute, of which 15 were spent in line only to find out they were out of coffee.

This was our trip to the Musee D'Orsay.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The other half of Monday...the part that didn't include food.

We couldn’t just eat food all day, so we slowly made our way to some other tourist attractions. The kids are growing tired of seeing all these buildings and museums, and I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t have understood the value myself at their age. I’m hoping, though, they can look back at it and see the beauty in traveling so young. 

And if not, they will have these wonderful photos to remind them of the times they had travelling where I can guilt trip them to understanding how privileged they are to travel the world at such young ages. 

Post loss edition

Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger
When you're sad, food is comfort. The French do food well, too, so it was a great place to be hungry and sad at the same time. We were mentally and physically crushed from a long night, so we decided to go a little slower today but also to just enjoy as much food as possible. I googled a quick list of "must eats" while in Paris. Shared Appetite came up, a food blogger, so I took a peek at his list and cross referenced against some other lists and found he had a pretty decent list of things that seemed to be cosigned by other food bloggers, at least in the categories.

I'm going to do this day's post a little differently. I'm gonna go through the food stuff in this post and do a separate post with the cultural stuff, because this kind of food deserves mad respect.

The one thing that was consistently on several lists from several people was this falafel place.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Gooooooooaaaaaaaalllllllll. Or not.

We wanted to make sure we conserved some amount of energy so we could go hang out for the final game of the Euro Cup 2016 at "Fan Zone." After all, it was France vs. Portugal and how could we be IN FRANCE and not go immerse ourselves with the French during this big event?

We started our day at the Arc de Triomphe, which was epically big. So much bigger than I imagined. When we were in London at the Marble Arch, I expected the Arc de Triomphe to be the same size, approximately. But not even close.

The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. The names of all French victories and generals are inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I lies beneath its vault. We decided to walk the spiral stairs up to the top and the view from the top was amazing. Maybe not Eiffel Tower amazing, but you know, because I didn't get tickets in time, I couldn't tell you. So for now, it is the best view of Paris I've seen, so we will just leave it at that.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

That was WAY more stressful than I thought it would be...

Today was amazing and overwhelming and beautiful and stressful.

Paris is so different than anything I have ever seen or experiences. The tall off white buildings, with black iron gated windows romantically decorated with drooping flowering plants, loomed around me taking me back hundreds of years. It wasn't hard to imagine women hanging out of the windows, yelling down to neighbors as they passed.  Strolling down the street, lost in another world, the sound of passer-bys babbling on in French danced in my ears to the tune of a street performer's guitar, like a love song meant only for me.

The subway took me, as if moving in an underworld, swifty to the Eiffel Tower. But this story isn't all romantic past century stuff. Upon resurfacing, the reality of a few (eight?) months ago immediately smacked me in the face. Police were everywhere, carrying guns, something they apparently do not normally do. Army men walked by with very large guns, their finger hovering just on the trigger. I've been around police and I've been around army men. But never like this. This was something different. This was driven by fear inducing acts of terrorists.

A Fan Zone was set up for the Euro Cup (soccer!!) which meant the large park in front of the Eiffel Tower was blocked off and heavily guarded. It also meant none of the gorgeous far away pictures from the end of the park. We walked up to it and just relished in the beauty and enormity of it. We had tried to buy tickets that morning, but alas, none were available so last minute. I should have planned that better.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Bon jour! Bon soir!

Today was long.

We left our apartment in Oxford around 9:45 and headed to the train station. Snafu. We apparently hadn't bought a ticket for Hollis from Oxford to London, but had bought her one from London to Paris. That was how my day started and it only unfolded from there.

I thought we had redeemed ourselves when snagged an earlier than expected train back to London. We did our transfer dance on over to St. Pancras and even helped some really confused Americans figure out the tube. I told you, I'm officially British.

Thursday, July 7, 2016 Done.

Our stay in Oxford was, in my humble opinion, two days too long. Wednesday and Thursday were really stretches to find something to do, which on one hand was nice because we could just relax a little after the hustle of London, but on the other hand, made for a bit of a boring time as we simply didn't know how to just immerse ourselves in the culture and be present. We tried, mind you, but with three kids, it was tough.

Since I'm a wee bit behind and there just isn't that much of interest to write about, I'm going
to go ahead and condense three days into one post.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Oxford wouldn't be complete without a little Potter...

As a middle school English teacher, it didn't feel right to visit Oxford and NOT acknowledge the role many of the buildings had in the Harry Potter movies. Plus, I have two kids who are Harry Potter crazy. We started our first full day in Oxford with a self guided walking tour of all things Harry Potter. This lovely trail was available online, so this is what we used to guide us.

We were also looking to build our knowledge of the things we saw yesterday, and surprisingly, this trail basically recounted our steps of the night before.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Tickets and Trains and Travel, Oh My!

Today was all about getting from point A (London) to point B (Oxford) without any major mishaps. We arrived at Paddington Station way too early and spent over two hours just hanging out, snacking and sipping coffee. Which was surprisingly fine. The kids were awesome and I was able to get some work done. The train was right on time. We snagged a six pack of seats all facing each other and were off without a hitch.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bittersweet last day in London...

Today was our final day in London. I'm excited to explore a new place but sad to leave London as I really love it here. I love the big city feel, the accessibility of public transportation, the focus on green spaces, the respect for bikes and walking, the healthy food and the local emphasis. I love how a complete stranger will offer their seat on the tube and give it to you even when you decline. I love how a person on the street will hear you talking about what bus to take and immediately jump in to help. I want to live in a city where people value childhood and interaction. I want to live in a city with thriving culture and diversity. I want to live in a city where a stroll through a park will reveal five or more different languages being spoken around you.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't some idyllic city. There are things I didn't love. I didn't love having to pay for public bathrooms, although, I guess at least they had public bathrooms. It was weird not having available trashcans at every corner, although, there wasn't a huge amount of litter, so I guess it works for them. I'm struggling to find things not to love, in case that wasn't obvious.

On our final day, we started by walking down to the famous Portobello Road Market, touted as the world's largest antique market. It couldn't have been a more perfect day. The sun was shining. The air was warm. The crowds were packed, as promised.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Tate Modern! *insert celebration emoji*

I had been anticipating this moment our entire trip and there was actually a point where I feared we wouldn't be able to fit it in. Alas, we arrived and I was over the moon. Nothing was going to damper my excitement! Except...when we arrived, apparently, it had been evacuated. Well. Okay, so maybe that may have momentarily damped some excitement. Whatever had happened was over quickly, and we only waited seconds before we were cleared to go in.

The Tate is located just next to the Shakespeare Globe. Street performers crowd the waterfront entrance to entertain guests as they enjoy the view of the Thames and the city. The views inside rivaled anything we would see on the outside. Art dates back from 1900 to present, including exhibits for arts and society, materials and objects, performer and participant, and media networks. In this case, pictures speak louder than words, so I'll leave you to my favorite views in this mostly pictorial post.

Are we sure it is July?

London, with St. Paul's Cathedral in background.
Today was by far the coldest day we have had here. Not only was there a chill in the air, the rain was also intermittent and the wind was biting. But since we bought raincoats for everyone yesterday, we were well prepared (finally!) and marched on to our next destination.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Slow and steady wins the race...

Oh boy. Did we have a slow start. The last couple of days have been cold and wet. The kids continued to venture out in shorts and tank tops, forgetting, or failing to understand, that London is not Richmond (VA). Our plan this morning was to head to a Primark (think UK Old Navy) to see about some rain coats. This time, the kids were dressed appropriately, having learned their lesson two days in row. The only problem? It was gorgeous outside. And warm. Too warm for the many layers we had all had on. Oh well. Joke was on us.

From there, we decided to walk up Oxford Street, which as it turns out, is a lot of the same stores one would find in the US - including Claire's, Foot Locker, and Gap. We decided to stop for some coffee (fliter - one white and one black) before meandering to the British Museum. Only, the meandering turned into walking in circles, as apparently, Google Maps has a really hard time figuring out where exactly you are in London and which direction you are facing. Stupid app. Sky would take us in the direction the arrow was facing, only to find out after a few blocks that we had gone the wrong way. After about 30 minutes of literally walking in circles, we stopped in a Pret a Manger (we REALLY need these in the US) for some picnic food, which we enjoyed in Russell Square after asking directions to the British Museum (finally!).

First full day: Am I officially British yet? (Part Two: Post Break)

Where was I?

Right...we headed back out of the house around 5:00ish after taking a quick break to change clothes (kids were cold) and use free bathrooms. Paying for public bathrooms is interesting to me. They attempted it in Seattle (perhaps other places as well?), but when we lived there back in 2004, people were using the bathrooms to lock themselves in and do drugs. I haven't really seen these take off in the states. Here, they are usually (so it seems) in train stations and cost like 30 pence.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

First full day: Am I officially British yet? (Part One: Pre Break)

Alarms were set this time. There was no way I was sleeping in again. Even though, due to the time difference, the kids were bears to get to sleep, I was bent on waking everyone up at 7am so we could finally shake this jetlag. Little did I know the fights of the night before, would become the wake up fights today. By 8:30 am, we were all out of bed and by 9:00 am, we were out the door. It was literally, a Christmas miracle (okay, not literally. I can hear my fifth block yelling at me for misusing literally, but I'm leaving it. For effect and all. I'm calling it narrative license).

Today's first stop was Buckingham Palace for the changing of the card, scheduled to begin promptly at 11:30, but travel guides suggest getting there early as people cram in and if you aren't close, you don't see. Noted. And dismissed, sorta kinda.  We got there early-ish. I would say around 10:15, which was a full 75 minutes early. The crowds were already packing in, but the side gates had room. We gambled on going around to the front, and miraculously found a corner to shimmy into where all three kids could be at the gate. Perfect!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

And...we're off

Today was really all about getting to know our way around, but also checking out some cool attractions. First stop: Trafalgar Square, Nelson's Column and the National Gallery.

When we stepped out of the flat, the sun was shining. The air was warm. It was 1:00(We slept late.) We didn't yet have an Oyster Card (this fancy pants card that lets you ride public transportation. Okay, not fancy, but we bought the seven day cards so we could travel endlessly on the tube, buses, trams, etc. How's that for super thrifty?). We spent about an hour wandering aimlessly around Notting Hill just looking at the beautiful houses, streets and shops. We wandered through side streets, such as the beauty to the left here. I want streets like this in the states. Flower baskets hanging effortlessly from windows, unassuming doors that lead to what is invariably beautifully decorated homes awaiting you in this quaint part of town. Sigh. Can I move here?

We found our way to the Notting Hill Gate (tube station) and we were on our way! With our trusty travel guide in hand (thanks anonymous friend!), we made our way to the first stop.

Once Upon Arrival

Once we arrived in London, we needed to meander through customs, collect our luggage and figure out the way to Notting Hill and the flat. Easy enough. We arrived, but then realized we were all starving. It was nearing 10pm in London, but our bodies had not yet adjusted to the time and it felt like dinner time. We took a quick walk to a nearby grocery, bought cheese and crackers, frozen pizzas, and a few breakfast staples, including coffee and milk (some of you are giggling at that because you know me so well). We headed home, snacked up, then hit the sack.

There are no pictures to show this because we all slept from about midnight until 1pm. Yeah, I think that delayed plane, airport sleeping stuff had us all kinds of twisted up. As soon as we realized what had happened, we jumped out of bed and started the morning hustle to get out of the house. More to come as the day goes on...

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Journey Began...Ish

(With some tidbits from June 26, 2016)

I would be remiss if I didn't start at the beginning of this story. We left Richmond on June 24 to drive to Upstate NY, the home of husband's family. We left in the middle of the night, after a mere four hours of sleep in hopes of getting their quickly due the kids not needing constant bathroom breaks. For the most part, this strategy is often a raging success. This time was no different, ya know, until they woke up.

We arrived to Johnstown, NY midday, just in time for lunch. Fast forward...June 26th at 10:19 am. Our driver, Paul, arrives ahead of schedule for the trek down to the city where our plane would be departing that evening at 6:30 pm heading for a quick layover in Shannon, Ireland before carting us across the Irish Sea to London, England. We were ready, so here the journey really begins...