Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My Favorite Things

Our day of regrouping started with (drum roll, Please) sleeping in! Fantastic. Of course, Jeff got up at 5 and went to work and Ann and Mom I'm sure had been doing constructive things for hours, but I slept like a rock. The basement of Ann and Jeff's Germany house actually has these metal horizontal blinds that let absolutely no light in, and the ceiling is made of concrete (!) so no running around upstairs filters down to you. It's cavelike qualities are perfect for sleeping way past when the sun comes up. I think we rolled out around 9:00 or so, but I may be giving myself more credit than I should. I know that Ann and I went to the Weisbaden market around 10 or 10:30, so it couldn't have been much later. I really enjoyed the market - it made me want to buy lots of produce and flowers and cheese. But Ann was with me, so I let her do it :). Actually, I bought her some flowers, thank you very much. Of course she bought me and my family food and a trip to Europe, so I guess flowers were the minimum I could do. And I'm going to try to link a slideshow in of the market, but I don't really know what I'm doing. Weisbaden is the closest town to Ann and Jeff's little village, and it has a beautiful park downtown and an old casino that is quite picturesque. Don't think Harrad's, think like beautiful, stately old building where you have to wear formal dress to go inside. After I had gotten my fill of the market and we had stopped by the a store devoted entirely to gummy food (from whence came the Whites' massive supply of squirrel hearts), we went back to the house, ate lunch, and Ann gathered up her next relative to take on an errand. This would be Mom, she of the "where's my medicine and make up?" fame (bless her heart). She said that when she told Dad about it, he said, "Well you don't need any make up, you are beautiful without it." That touched my heart - they are so sweet now that they don't have any children living in their house. Just kidding, parents! You were sweet back then too. You were also just very tired. Anyway, Ann took Mom to the base and they came back a few hours later with Mom's meds and makeup and Ann bought me a 4 GB memory card for my camera! Woo-hoo! See how much she appreciated those flowers? Just kidding again. But I loved having massive amounts of memory for the camera. It is so freeing to see I have 600+ pictures remaining when I turn it on. Remember when we bought rolls of film at 36 exposures each? Ha! It's a great new world we live in! Atleast as far as memory cards are concerned. And kind siblings.

That evening we walked to one of the local restaurants for some beer and schnitzel. Now, I hate to admit this, but before I got to Germany, I thought schnitzel was some kind of pasta. That's pretty embarrassing to admit, but I think Julie Andrews is to blame because she said that schnitzel with noodles was one of her favorite things. Now, a smart person would say that maybe they didn't know what schnitzel was, but the one thing that they knew it definitely could not be is pasta, because who would eat pasta with more pasta and call it one of their favorite things? Well, no one! Maybe an Italian. But obviously when I heard that song I could only picture noodles since I had no idea what schnitzel was, so some kind of word association thing was going on there. Turns out schnitzel is pork, pounded thin and fried up, with a variety of sauces. Ann said Dad loved Germany because they served you what was basically country fried steak and excellent beer in large quantities almost everywhere you go. I know because I had a schnitzel sandwich the very next day in Legoland of all places. So we all ate schnitzel expect for the kinder (as Ann called them) who enjoyed mostly chicken nuggets and fries. Emma did eat the schnitzel and liked it (Uncle Jeff kept saying,"It's like a really big chicken nugget!"), and Katy passed on the schnitzel for I believe tomato soup and applesauce but then ended up eating most of Mason's fries while he was reading his book and talking (two of his favorite things to do). This was a trend that repeated itself several times, and I enjoyed watching her nonchalantly take his fries while he was looking the other way. Occasionally he would see her and be outraged, but usually it worked out fine. Anyway, I had schnitzel with fries instead of noodles, and it was quite good, but I couldn't say I would count it as one of my favorite things. Diet coke with a snickers bar and a People magazine - that's probably what would be in my song. Margaritas on the beach. Riding on the front of Mom and Dad's boat. Reading a great piece of fiction in my bathing suit while eating cheetos and sucking all the orange off my fingers before I turned the page while the kids frolic in the pool. Replanting the window boxes with fresh new flowers. Road trips before we had kids. Listening to my brother play guitar. See if you can make it all rhyme, Julie, and get back to me!
Sorry, I digress. Ann and I did lots of laundry -well, actually Mom did a lot of it for me. As you can see, Mom is kind of the unsung hero of this trip. And she just sent me a thank you note for letting her come (even though Ann and Jeff paid for her ticket, not me.) But seriously Mom, if you think hanging out with us and doing our laundry and watching our kids is fun in Europe, you should try it in Walnut Grove! Where we have American Idol! And barbecue! And baseball! And The Beacon, for crying out loud!
Another side note: throughout the trip I kept asking Ann if she had seen this TV show or that, and every time she had to remind me that they got the Armed Forces Network channel and that's pretty much it. No What Not to Wear or The Amazing Race or American Idol. It was hard for me to grasp. The Whites do have a lot of great books to read. I brought several of them home with me. I'll read them right after I watch TV! Ha! OK, this is not going to get any better. The rest of the night, we repacked our bags and got ready for an early departure. Next stop, Legoland!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Travel/Rest Day

Ah, Paris when you are packing up. So bittersweet. After three days of really pounding the pavement, the idea of four hours in an ICE train was rather appealing. I had hoped to get up early one day before we left and wander around by myself before everyone else got up, but I was too tired and really needed the rest. We were all tired by that point. Tuesday morning was a massive packing effort - I had not done any pre-gathering of stuff the night before because we were out on our bike tour until after midnight. So as you can imagine, the morning was spent spinning around in circles trying to fit everything back into suitcases which seemed to have magically shrunk during our stay in France. We gather it all up and begin the commute back to the train station. At the station we had a little time to kill which the kids did by sliding down the cement barriers - buffers, I guess you could say - that keep the trains at bay. The train people made them stop after awhile. The good news is that we found a USA Today and the International Paper, so Mom and Justin could get their newspaper fix. Eventually we loaded up on our train and started the journey back to Frankfurt and ultimately Bremthal. I have to say I can't remember much about the train ride. The only thing I noted in my journal is that once we got on the S-bahn train to Bremthal, the train driver announced on the PA something in German that made everyone groan and start gathering their bags. The train was crowded and we were scattered in three different groups throughout the cars. I was with children, and an English-speaking lady took pity on me (she heard me repeating, "I don't know what he said!" to all the little ones with questions) and said the train was stopping at the next station and returning to Frankfurt. We would have to catch the next train. I said thank you and then we all got off and found out the train we needed to get on was already at the station on the other track, which meant we needed to hustle down the steps, fly through a tunnel under the tracks and back up to catch the train. That was the most all-out running with luggage and children I have ever participated in, because we really thought we were going to miss the train. But we made it (no worries!) and then made it the rest of the way to the White's house.

It was so nice to get back to their house! Ann ordered pizza and we all collapsed happily. It felt like home! The happiness was diminished substantially by Mom's realization that she had left all of her makeup and medication at the hotel in Paris. Poor Mom, she was super-stressed. Ann called the hotel and they said the cleaning lady wouldn't come until the morning and they did not mail forgotten items. So helpful! It ended up to be a good thing that Mom and Dad have military health care, b/c she was able to go on base the next day and have her important prescriptions refilled and buy all new makeup (which was expensive and frustrating as some of the makeup she left in Paris was brand new). But at least it was all replaceable. We went to bed that night glad to be in Germany, and looking forward to a down day on Wednesday.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Eiffel Tower: Why Jack Came to Paris

Monday - we finally get up at a decent hour because the Kendricks are going up in the Eiffel Tower and we do not want to stand in line for two hours. So we are on the Metro at 8:30 a.m., headed for the most visited and recognized landmark in the world! Rick advises getting there a little before it opens at 9:00 a.m., and we are on schedule. We book through the streets and a nice little park and voila! there it is! It's hard to convey how massive a structure the Eiffel Tower is; just go see for yourself sometime. At each of the Tower's four "feet", there are queues set up, and it's anyone guess as to which ticket office will actually open up. I guess in the rush of summer tourists they have multiple offices open, but today there was nobody there. We stood around in the cold morning sunshine and posted two people at the two feet where activity in the form of Eiffel Tower staff was present. When 9:00 arrived, nothing happened! Turns out the Eiffel Tower opens at 9:30. Oh well, at least we were one of the first people in line, even though we did end up standing in line for a while. Jeff and Ann say that at some of these tourist hot spots you do well to get in line a little bit after the place opens and the first crush of visitors has passed through the turnstiles. I could see where there is some wisdom to this strategy now. At any event, I can proudly report that the Kendrick family was in the very first elevator to go up the Eiffel Tower on Marc h 31, 2008. We got to the second level and transferred to the elevator that goes up to the tippy top of the tower, and we and six other people had the place all to ourselves for a bit. The ride up is a bit disconcerting, because it's somewhat diagonal up to a certain point (if you look at a picture of the tower you can see what I mean) and then you straighten up but you are really far off the ground! We got out in an enclosed area and there was a flight of metal stairs to go out to the observation deck. We did it - the kids were fearless, completely unfazed by the height - but ended up staying on the north side of the tower as the wind was howling on the south side. I didn't really realize how cold it was going to be, but it was definitely hats and mittens weather. There was a little bit of a haze, but we could point out the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame, the Louvre, etc. The river makes it really easy to get your bearings. The kids especially enjoyed watching the metro train cross the river on its own bridge. We looked below trying to find the Whites and Majo, but everyone looked like ants. We could see flashes going off at the other end of the park, and the kids said, "Hey! they are taking pictures of us!" So we waved for our adoring public.

We rode back down to the second level and looked out again. It was actually easier to recognize landmarks because the view is clearer and the "stuff" is closer to you. The kids all bought little souvenir Eiffel Towers, and we started our final descent. Back on the ground, we reunited with Team 2 and took some more pictures, walked through the park. This was the only place on our entire trip that we had a picture taken of all 10 of us. We stopped a man who oddly enough was visiting from North Carolina and even odder, ended up going with his wife and son on the same bike tour that we did later that evening. And he was a bit of a weird one, but at the Eiffel Tower we were just glad that he spoke English and could take our picture without running away with my pride and joy (the camera). So back into the bowels of the subway we go, up we pop at St. Peters (our stop), and home we run for lunch. That afternoon was the long awaited girls' day out shopping extravaganza. Mom, Ann and I abandoned the boys with the children and went out. Ann stopped in at her favorite olive oil and chocolate boutiques, and Mom and I soaked up the ambiance. Mom was looking for something for Maddie, but didn't see anything she liked. The only problem with our long awaited girls' day out shopping extravaganza was that we were (in a word) exhausted. Actually I think Ann could have gone all day, but I had hit some sort of traveling wall. I wanted to enjoy it and did to some extent, especially when we wandered into the Jewish quarter and the men were outside trying to get us to come in and try their sandwiches (which did smell delicious!), but I just wanted to sit! I had hoped to find some inexpensive Parisian memento to display at home, but instead I found postcards and a t-shirt for Emma. We walked back home and met up with the boys who had taken the kids to Luxembourg Gardens, where there is a great playground which I only heard about. The children were completely enthralled, and if we ever go back to Paris, I want to see it. I can't remember what we did for supper - I assume we ate something :) - and then we went to the bike shop for our Fat Tire Bike Tour. We had seen pictures from PC and Tracy's trip with the Whites and these people were all college students from Texas who guided the trip. I did not bring my camera b/c I didn't really think I would use it - we were biking, right? And I regret that choice, b/c I think we could have gotten some great pictures. Oh well. Anyway, we ended up with a group of about 10-15 Americans and this boy from Texas whose name I can't remember - he reminded me so much of a high school boyfriend of mine that I have superimposed his name on this boy. Off we go! It's been a while since I've been on a bike, but you know what they say about learning how to ride a bike. It was a little unnerving to ride in the bike lane with all of France zipping along beside you, but no one was hurt, and we were a big enough group to create our own presence on the road so to speak. I couldn't tell you where all we went, but high lights for me would be riding along the road right at dusk and seeing everyone gather at the bistro tables outside, getting to the courtyard of the Louvre right when they turned the exterior lights on and hearing someone playing the saxophone. It was magical, we were the only people there - that doesn't happen often anywhere in Paris. I didn't realize if you look out with your back to the Louvre through the Tuiliries garden you are looking straight up the Champs-Elysees with the Arc De Triomphe in the distance. It was really beautiful. We went by the US Embassy and our guide told us a bit about the Germans occupying Paris during WW II. Then we went up the Champs Elysees and got to a boat dock where we took another boat tour on the Seine. This had a much different feel than the daytime tour we took with the kids. Same crowded boats with tourists, but we had wine and it felt more like a date, which was nice. The other funny thing that happened is our boat captain caught up with the tour boat in front of us and gently rammed it a few times, just for kicks. I guess you get bored plowing through the same waters every day and night. We tried to talk our guide into jumping on board the boat in front of us like a pirate, but he did not. The other great thing about our boat trip was seeing the Eiffel Tower all lit up. It sparkles every hour on the hour for 10 minutes, and we were right by it when it went off. What a great photo op! Too bad the camera was at home. But it was still fantastic, and maybe more so b/c I just enjoyed it instead of trying to get the best picture. After the boat tour we started to bike home and I had a flat tire, so our little guy had to change it for me, which he was super thrilled about. Then as we were going back up the hill from the boats to the street, some man grabbed the back of my bike and started pushing me while running. I slammed on the brakes and yelped, "Please, stop!" (ever polite, even when stressed!) That was strange, but the adrenaline rush helped me to get back to the bike tour office with plenty of energy. I also just remembered I wore Will's ski hat with flames on it for almost the entire trip. Not to be a psycho, just because it was cold! You can see why Justin thanks his lucky stars everyday for a wife like me. We got home after midnight again - poor Majo, she was just as tired as we were. The Whites trudged back to their hotel, and we went to sleep, for tomorrow would be another busy day. Back to Germany!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sunday at Versailles

Sunday morning came earlier than anyone anticipated - thanks in part to the time change in Europe which took away one hour during the night. We were grumpy and well, just mostly grumpy. My feet were sore from walking so much the previous day - that does not happen very often - but Versailles was waiting for us, and this was the only day we could visit, and I was the one who really wanted to go, so off we went! Jeff, ever the fearless leader, took us on a lengthy jaunt through the streets of Paris to the RER station where the regional trains go to places outside of Paris. It was our first double-decker train ride, which excited our kids. We hopped on and took the 30 minute train ride out to Versailles.

To quote Rick Steves, "If you're planning to visit just one palace in all of Europe, make it Versailles." It was the king's residence and France's governmental center for about 100 years (basically the entire 18th century), after Louis XIV decided to ditch the Louvre in Paris and move 10 miles out to a swampy marshland where his father had a hunting lodge. He built Versailles and invited everyone out to see it, and the people are still coming 300 years later. The RER train ride was uneventful, except we noted that the rain seemed to pick up the closer we got to our destination. By the time we left the train station at Versailles, it was really coming down. Ann really wanted to visit the market in the town of Versailles, so she and Mom left us to see if it was still open (our late rising and losing one hour meant it was lunch time by the time we got to Versailles), and Justin, Jeff and I took the kids to McDonalds (!). We lost Mason on the way but Jeff retraced our steps and found him - The Whites have a rule that when you (the child) get lost, stay at the last place where you saw your parents until they come find you. Mason obeyed that rule and thus was easy to find - such a good boy! I was impressed. So we go get our nuggets and fries and bask in the glory of American fast food and wait for Mom and Ann to come back to us. They came back wet, but bearing cheese and apples and some little crunchy things that did not look appealing to me at that time but I devoured them about six hours later. For some reason the adults did not eat lunch at McDonalds - I asked Jeff if he was eating and he said no, Justin had been sick to his stomach so was not eating regardless, and I learned a valuable lesson about European traveling - eat when the opportunity presents itself, because you will be sad later on when you are in Europe's most fantastic palace and all you can think about is if you brought a granola bar in your backpack or not. ( I didn't). This rule of opportunity also applies to bathrooms, especially bathrooms in famous museums. They are usually clean and nice and always free (or at least included in the price of admission). Public restrooms on the street are not free, not clean, and sometimes are just holes in the floor (amazing but true!).

We all trudged through the rain to the palace gates - it would have been impressive except they use part of the courtyard for parking and there were African men everywhere trying to get us to buy umbrellas, and also because most of the front of the palace is under scaffolding b/c of an extensive remodeling/restoration effort. We tried to go in the gardens together - we thought they would be free since they start charging for them in April, but apparently they decided to start charging early and we were denied. At that point we decided that Ann and Jeff would take Jack and Mason back to Paris and Mom, Justin and I would keep Emma, Will and Katy and tour the chateau's interior. Thus resolved, we presented our museum passes and entered the interior courtyard of the chateau. It was a little difficult from there to figure out where to go, but we somehow managed. After my sad experience with the Rick Steves' tour of the Orsay, we opted to rent the audioguides at Versailles - hoping also that it would keep the children occupied, which it did. These audioguides were not that great (Darn! Foiled Again!), but the kids liked them. Rick actually was better. The palace/chateau was very crowded, claustrophobically so, I guess because the weather was so nasty and it was a weekend. I still loved visiting the individual rooms. The chapel was fascinating - the king sat in the upper level facing the altar, and the nobles knelt on the lower level facing their king with their backs to the altar. I guess they were worshiping him worshiping God. It was also beautiful, one of my favorite rooms in the palace. The other notable room is the Hall of Mirrors where Louis XIV would receive heads of state and where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, ending World War I. The Hall would have been more impressive had it not been SO CROWDED, but I guess it would have been crowded with nobility and servants 300 years ago so lots of people should be expected. Will had eagerly anticipated the Hall of Mirrors because Louis' throne was there, but when we got to the end of the Hall, the throne was a cardboard cutout! Very sad for Willy! And I was pretty disappointed too. But you have to remember that during the French Revolution, Versailles was stormed by angry common folk, and I imagine the throne was one of the first things to get thrown out the window, so to expect it to be there today was a bit of a stretch. However, surely the French government has made enough money off of this place to display a better reproduction. After all, they did not have cardboard cutouts of beds and dining tables. Rick (my good buddy Rick Steves) says that Versailles is pretty sparsely furnished b/c everything was destroyed during the revolution. As we walked through the Queen's guard room, I read that this was the room where Marie-Antionette was hiding in 1789 when the Revolutionaries stormed the palace and took her and her husband Louis XVI back to Paris as prisoners. They were decapitated by the guillotine soon after. I tried to imagine angry mobs as I looked out the floor to ceiling windows.

We were soon to have our own angry mob on our hands as we debated about paying the add'l fee to tour the gardens. Two of three children were adamantly opposed to the idea, and I was ready to give in to them, but Mom and Justin said, "Look, we're only here once, if you want to go, let's go ahead and do it." So we went in the gardens, and I was glad we did. They had turned the fountains on I guess while we were inside the big house, because they weren't on the first time we looked at going into the gardens, and they were really beautiful, even in the cold, rainy weather. The view of the back of the chateau was impressive as well. There were formal gardens, expansive rectangular pools close to the house, and this gradual terraced descent into the back of the estate. Marie Antionette had created her own little haven back there where she pretended to be a simple peasant (with multiple servants assisting in her fantasy) and had a working farm complete with vegetables and a water mill. However the Domaine De Marie-Antionette was another 30 minute walk from the main house (thus an hour round trip) and they charged yet another entrance fee to see it, so we opted out. Still we strolled along the gravel paths, marveled at the Latona and Apollo Basins, and could see farther out the Grand Canal which Louis XIV created. During his time, they imported gondolas and gondoliers from Venice (who lived in a little hut by the Canal) to pole noblemen and women through the water.

After we had gotten our fill and the kids had definitely reached their limit, we made our way back to the train station and trundled back to Paris. It was on the train ride when I ate every last crumb of crunchy stuff I could find and still wished for more. Then we plodded wearily back to our apartment, filled Ann and Jeff in on our day and thanked them for watching Jack, and we all went out again (but thankfully not far) to a great little restaurant for dinner. I had been dreading this - our first time in a real restaurant with all of the kids, but we brought books and crayons and they all did really well. They also ate really well - ham, hamburger and french fries for all! And la glace to top it off. I believe the place was called Camille. We enjoyed sitting and eating together, and there was a french couple seated nearby who found our children charming, which I found charming. Ann said as we were leaving the man said something in french to Emma and when she did not respond, he looked at Ann and said, "Elle ne parle pas francais?" which of course she didn't, but I like the idea that he thought Emma might speak french. We walked back to the apartment in pouring rain and I think went straight to bed, though I can't remember exactly. Oh, I looked in my journal and was reminded that Justin watched Memphis play Texas on the Internet after everyone had gone to bed. Memphis won of course, which was a bracket-buster for Justin who had called pretty much every game except for that one. I was already in bed trying to catch up on journal writing and you can tell by my handwriting I was dozing off as I was writing. We may have slept in that day, but we still managed to pack a lot in.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

First Full Day in Paris

Before I get started, I want to let you know that I will be posting pics to go with the running European commentary. However I am waiting on a CD from Jeff b/c I cleaned out my camera memory and left all of the pictures on his computer while in Germany. He is editing them and making them beautiful and then sending them on. I'm afraid Ann will be the one who will be actually mailing the CD, so that could take a while (Ann describes herself as "post office-challenged", but I just like to call her post office differently-abled). So just picture it all in your head for the time being.

We did not get up and go Saturday morning, but slept in and eventually got kicked back onto the streets by the Whites, who are much more of the up and at 'em type than the Kendricks. We started off in line to buy a museum pass at Sainte-Chapelle, a beautiful chapel built in 1248 for Louis IX to house the supposedly original Crown of Thorns, not far from Notre Dame. While Justin and I stood in line, a man came up and said, "Y'all from Alabama?" My immediate thought was, "Is it that obvious?" but then I realized the backpack Justin had on said Auburn on it. He had on a purple and gold LSU sweatshirt, and he said he used to sell something (cattle supplies? Elvis paintings? I can't remember now) down in Lower Alabama. He and Justin traded small town names for a while and I tuned out, but I do remember him saying he had that same sweatshirt on while visiting Bath in England and got some funny looks. Why he would get funny looks in Bath but not in Paris is beyond me, but I didn't press him. Someone else asked us if this was the line for Notre Dame, I felt knowledgeable enough to say no, and then Ann appeared and we got our passes and went into Sainte-Chapelle.

It is not as famous as some of the other landmarks in Paris, but Sainte-Chapelle is home to an amazing collection of stained glass panels chronicling every major event in Christian history. Once we climbed the ancient stone steps to the Haute Chapelle, we saw it for ourselves, and the beauty and sheer immensity of the stained glass is impossible to convey. Our guide book
pointed out notable panels, but I enjoyed just taking it all in and watching the glass light up as the sun shone through. Ann, Justin and I looked around for a while, and then descended to the common ground to go join up with the rest of the group.

Eventually, we regrouped and made our way down to the tip of the Ile de la Cite where the boat tours pushed off. We hopped onto the boat and secured seats in the front. The Seine was the highest it's been in 13 years, so they were not allowing people to sit on the upper deck of the boat. Our bike tour guide said that some of the tour boats had actually hit the bottom of the bridge because the water was so high. Ann and Jeff miraculously produced baguettes, cold cuts, cheese and crackers, and our group of 10 promptly demolished all of it. For dessert, we feasted on "squirrel hearts", a little known delicacy from Germany. They are actually fruit-juice flavored, heart-shaped gummies, apparently christened by PC when he and his family were in Europe last summer. I guess the gummies are the size of squirrel hearts, but I have not yet had the opportunity to dissect a squirrel and find out. The highlight of the tour was seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time since arriving in Paris. Jack had been extremely excited about seeing it, and it really is enormous, very impressive on water or on land. We also saw the Louvre and the Musee D'Orsay as well as Notre Dame again and the Conciergerie where
Marie- Antoinette was imprisoned. While on the boat, we hatched a plan for Mom, Justin and I to go tour the Louvre and the Musee D'Orsay while Ann and Jeff watched the kids back at the apartment.

As soon as we docked and with three hours to view two of the world's most famous museums, Mom, Justin and I booked it to the Musee D'Orsay and took the Rick Steves tour of the third floor, where the Impressionist paintings are displayed. I was disappointed in Rick, for once - the tour was very minimal. We had gotten a general feeling from people who had been there before us that we would enjoy the Orsay more than the Louvre but for us, that was not the case. The gallery was crowded and we were tired. But we got to see Whistler's mother, several Van Goghs, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne. Renior's Dance at the Moulin de la Galette was beautiful with the sunlight falling on the frolicking Parisians, and I found an Impressionist painting of some turkeys that I really loved. (I'm serious! I made Justin take a picture.) We skimmed the other floors and quickly departed for the Louvre. On our way we got to walk through a bit of the Tuileries Garden (beautiful! quintessentially Parisian!) and soon found ourselves facing the famous glass pyramid in the courtyard of the old Louvre palace.

We descended into the art abyss (the security guard opened Mom to open up her backpack and when he saw coloring books and crayons, waved her through), got our bearings, and headed off to ancient Greece in the Denon wing. It is amazing to look at a statue or stone chest and realize that it was made way, way before Jesus walked the earth. The first recognizable statue we saw was the Venus de Milo. I read the description from Rick while Justin and Mom looked on. We took a Roman detour and wandered through countless Caesar busts (I was determined to find Augustus, but never knew it if I did), and then entered the Octagonal Room. There is a plaque there reminding us that the museum opened in 1793. The Louvre was originally a palace, and when the French Revolution took place and monarchs were very unpopular (and quickly nonexistent), the French people took over the king's domicile and vast art collection and voila! you have Europe's oldest public museum. From this room we entered the Apollo Gallery, where we saw the royal crowns and the 140-carat RegentDiamond. Pretty impressive! We breezed through the Medieval World and soon found the Italian Renaissance area, famous for that old lady with her mischievous smile. We got to see her, but really enjoyed the huge canvas directly opposite entitled The Marriage at Cana by Paolo Veronese. It was a feast for the eyes! But I loved Mona as well. The nice thing about touring the museums so late - it was almost closing time - was that there was almost no one there.

The other painting I personally enjoyed was The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. Apparently Napoleon thought so highly of himself (remember he's an emperor, not just a king) that he took the crown from the Pope and crowned himself! The guide book says Napoleon is the largest canvas at the Louvre, but it is hung in such a huge gallery that it's hard to tell if it's bigger than The Marriage at Cana. After Napoleon, we started making our way back to the entrance as it was just a few minutes before closing time. We did get to see Michelangelo's Slaves briefly, but by that time the security folks were starting to shut down rooms and herd us all toward the exits. We found our way to the Metro (toyed with the idea of walking home, but that was one of our 10-mile days, so thought better of additional walking), got back to the apartment, and dropped Majo off to watch the kids while Justin and I went back out with Ann and Jeff to Chez Janou, one of Ann's favorite little restaurants.

We enjoyed a fabulous meal - I had a spinach salad with chevre and tomatoes, then a little game hen with green beans and something else I can't remember, and Justin and Ann both had duck. I can't remember what Jeff had. We all ended up getting dessert - I got a tarte tatin (I don't think I spelled that right), Jeff got chocolate mousse - they brought this huge bowl and let him scoop out as much as he wanted, and it seems like Ann and Justin had creme brulee. We enjoyed plenty of good wine and water, walked back to the apartment to check in with Majo, and the left again because I wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe.

We took the Metro over, and the Arc was really worth the trouble. It was beautiful and massive, with traffic circling about, a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and the Champs-Elysees straight ahead! We took lots of pictures, walked around a bit, and then started down the Champs-Elysees, the most expensive real estate in Paris. Lots of cool boutiques, and apparently someone famous was about to visit because the police were out en force with full riot gear on. We walked and walked (at this point supper and a very long day of power touring were catching up with me) and Jeff and I ran out to the middle of the street to take a picture of the Arc de Triomphe - a little nerve-wracking for me with cars zooming past on either side, quite close by! Then we got to the end, saw the US Embassy, got on the Metro and headed home. A Very Full first day in Paris which actually spilled over into the next day too - it was around 1 before we got home.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Recap Begins

Well, I thought for sure that I would be able to get my pictures and posts from Europe up in no time, but apparently life in the States kept right on trucking without us, and it felt like we hit the ground running as soon as we got off our plane in Charlotte. All three kids are playing baseball, so the ball field is our second home. And we celebrated Will's 7th birthday yesterday, so that and his party on Saturday took a little planning. I told Sam we've been home 10 days now and I still haven't gotten all the suitcases put away. It's hard to blog when you are living in chaos, but I don't think it's getting much better anytime soon, so for now I'm ignoring the travel debris scattered throughout the house and just writing for a little bit.

The last thing I wrote had us in Germany getting ready to get on the train in the morning to go to Paris. Friday morning Jeff loads all the luggage up and drives it down to the village train station, and the rest of us walk down the hill to the same place. The walk was very steep! But atleast we were going down and not up. We catch the S-bahn (suburban train) to Frankfurt and get to see our first real train station. It is very cool! People are rushing around, some are running to catch their next train...alot of excitement. We had our own little excitement because the boys developed a sudden powerful aversion to escalators in Frankfurt. Now, remember we are from Boone and the kids have had minimal exposure to steps that move, but we were in a bit of a hurry and had no time for drama. I got Jack on by picking him up by the arm and physically placing him on the step, and then looked back and poor Mom is stuck with Will who is adamantly opposed to getting on the escalator. Mom is trying to reason with him and I yell as we drift up the next level, "Push him! You're going to have to push him!" Now while this seems harsh, remember we are all pulling atleast one or two suitcases and wearing backpacks. There is no room for coddling and minimal time before the train to Paris departs, so sympathy is just not an option. If I remember correctly, Mom's arms are full (she has Will's backpack plus her own luggage) so she just kinda knees him on to the step. At that same time, Jack loses his balance (we're still on the escalator too) and starts tumbling down the steps. I look up to see we're getting close to the top and say sweetly, "Get up! We're almost there!" I'm surprised I didn't include, "you little wimp!" but somehow I managed to restrain myself. Anyway, we get up to the top and see that there is another escalator immediately ahead, but everyone does better on that one. Then we arrive at the main level where the big express trains pull into the station, and it is so cool! We (I say we, but please know that the Kendricks were like sheep and Ann and Jeff were the shepherds) find our train and the proper car and plop down into the seats. The German ICE trains are sooooo nice. Leather seats, all tidy and wood paneled, clean and convenient WCs, nice little attendants who give you snacks and speak English...we learn to appreciate this by the end of our trip, let me tell you.

Katy and Emma, Will and Mason sit together and promptly begin DSing (is that a verb? Nintendo-ing?), but Jack is enthralled with the train. Once we get out of Germany, the train starts going really fast ( like 200 mph I think, but it was all in kilometers), so fast that your ears pop. Ann gets out the celebratory champagne and we toast going to Paris! Ann needs very minimal excuse for pulling out the champagne, I have found out. Even less for a bottle of wine. I think really the question is, when is it not a good time to have a little wine? And the answer is, I can't think of any! We actually go through the champagne region in France on our way to Paris, and get to see our first vineyards, though the vines were still dormant so there wasn't much to see. The countryside in that part of Germany and France was very picturesque on the whole, though. Everyone lives in villages and goes out to their little patch of green to farm, instead of living on the farm, which makes for lots of greeen space and then these cute little towns with the ancient church as the centerpiece. We also got to see some castles, or castle ruins I should say. It's hard to imagine living somewhere where you would pass a castle everyday on your way to work.

After a pleasant four-hour train ride, we arrive in Paris at the Gare de l'est. We run the gauntlet of more escalators and hop on the metro to the Place de la Bastille, which is the stop closest to our apartment in the Marais neighborhood. We get off the metro and I will never forget the feeling of walking up the steps from the metro and finding ourselves in the middle of Paris, at the spot where the Bastille once stood! It was beautiful, even with all the cars and scooters whizzing past us, and I knew I would love Paris. Justin and I looked at each other and he said, "We're in Paris." Neither of us could believe it. But there was no time for gazing around in amazement because our death march leader (Jeff) was already a city block ahead of us, leading us to our next destination.

The destination was our apartment in Paris, which was fabulous. We get there and meet Paolo, who is still cleaning it. I am so excited to meet a Frenchman and think I will understand everything he says, but I'm so disappointed when I can't understand anything! Ann, however, understands alot and Paolo speaks pretty good English. He is delighted with Ann and I think begins to flirt with her - it's hard to say, but I know that he appreciated her French comprehension - and acts like she's been holding back because she says she can't speak alot of French and then she does! He wags a finger at her and says, "Madame White!" I try to call her Madame White after that as much as possible. Because the Kendricks are staying at the apt and the Whites and Majo are staying at a hotel a few blocks away, Paolo leads me thru the apt. to show me how everything works. I follow him around and nod as he explains, but actually get very little of what he's saying. At the end he says, "Any questions?" and I shake my head no and he says, "Really? I have never had anyone say they have no questions!" This concerns me, but I still can't think of any questions to ask, so off he goes. After the other group drops their luggage off at the hotel, we decide to venture out. It is raining and very windy, but we are undeterred. We push our way through the gale to the Ile St. Louis and find a sidewalk cafe with heaters(!) overlooking the Seine River and Notre Dame. A sidewalk musician starts playing an accordion, the rain tapers off and the sun comes out, and we are basking in the glory of a late afternoon in Paris. We walk over to the cathedral and the kids frolic in the park while I take a bazillion pictures. Then we walk around to the front of the cathedral and go inside. It is just as amazing inside, and the whole thing seems so surreal. I'm in Paris! Looking at the famous rose window inside Notre Dame! We walk around a little bit more and see the Hotel De Ville and let the kids ride a carousel. Then we go home, play cards, and call it a night.