Saturday, June 11, 2011

Finally... our European trip part 1 - Paris

I have finally found the time to blog about our trip to Europe. I know, I’ve only been home for 6 weeks…. When we arrived home, it took me a week to get back in the swing of things and then Drew came home. Oh yeah, and I had Master’s Kids graduation, my niece’s wedding, house guests, Emma’s graduation, and throw in buying a new car. So here I am now.

I thought I’d put in some of my favorite pictures and also recap each country a little. Here goes, starting with France.

Paris is one place I’ve always wanted to go, and it was even better than I could have ever imagined. The place drips with charm! From the architecture down to the endless inviting outdoor cafes, I was thoroughly enchanted.

We decided to stay at an apartment to be able to all stay together and to have plenty of good space. With the five of us, we would have needed two hotel rooms, so I began to explore the option of renting an apartment. I came to discover that it was actually cheaper than two hotel rooms and I liked the idea of having one space for all of us to enjoy, rather than having to go back and forth between two separate rooms.

I found the apartment through our travel guide (I used Rick Steves’ Paris and the Unofficial Guide to Paris). I found a company called Parissimo, that owns and rents apartments around the city. Through their great website, I was able to actually pick out our specific apartment. It had around 1400 sq. ft., was light and airy, included two bedrooms + a loft, a kitchen, living room, dining room, and two bathrooms. It also had two balconies. There were wonderful photos and descriptions which ensured no surprises upon arrival. We were delighted when we entered, and what was also great about it was the fact that it was in a wonderful neighborhood (very upscale and similar to 5th Avenue in New York). It was also conveniently located close to a metro station, too. The building was ultra- charming, with a super cool elevator that fit only two people at a time (or one and a suitcase!) and had a wooden lattice gate for the door. It seemed a bit rickety but it did the job. There was also a spiral staircase that was in the middle of the building if you didn’t want to wait for the 3rd trip up the elevator. The views from the large windows were incredible. It was just the perfect place and I would totally stay there again.


This was the view from our living room window!


And a broader view. I couldn't get over it!

So, backing up to the beginning….the four of us (Rich, Emma, Stephanie, and I) began our journey by flying from LAX to London, with a brief layover in Chicago. The flight to London from Chicago was about 8 hours. It wasn’t bad at all. Rich took his first Ambien (sleep aid) and fell asleep shortly after take off – which was a shame because he missed the wonderful dinner. I love being served a hot meal on an airplane – it’s so throwback and it’s “fun” food! I love all the little compartments and eating on the tray! Plus it gives you something to do and eating is a favorite pastime of mine. Anyways, while Rich snoozed, the girls and I ate our dinner and read for awhile. I got engrossed in the book, Unbroken (highly recommended read –author Laura Hillenbrand) for a few hours and then distributed Benadryl tablets to the girls and myself. That helped us sleep for a few hours, and before we knew it, we were being awakened with sunlight and breakfast and then we landed shortly thereafter. It was a strange little 3- hour night and we were abruptly ushered into the next day with the 8 hour time change. It wasn’t too bad, as we were all pretty excited!

Upon landing, we retrieved our luggage and made our way through 2 quick trains, finally arriving at the Eurotrain station. We had some time, so we ate breakfast there in the beautiful train station. It was lovely. We then took our train from London to Paris. I think we all slept! Upon arriving at Paris, we took the metro to the nearest station of our apartment, and walked the rest of the way, dragging our luggage through town! That was a big luggage dragging day through all the train stations and many steps. Ugh. One of my favorite things about our arrival was walking down a street, looking down and seeing the Eiffel Tower come into view! It was like "look! there it is!!" That was a “wow” moment, to be sure!

We finally made it to the apartment, where it felt good to unpack, shower and relax a bit before hitting some dinner and making our way to the Eiffel Tower to meet Drew. He began his own journey earlier that day, leaving Tel Aviv and flying to Rome, then catching a flight from Rome to Paris. He then took a cab and met us at the tower at around 11:15 pm that evening. Prior to his arrival, we stood there for about an hour watching every cab, and when the one finally arrived with him inside, we all nearly exploded with excitement. I literally burst out in tears, feeling so relieved that he made it and feeling so happy to see him! It was a magical, unforgettable moment. We walked back to the apartment, talked for awhile and ate the gelato we had purchased after dinner and saved for the occasion!


The girls eagerly awaiting Drew's arrival at le Tour Eiffel...

The next morning we wisely planned nothing; we knew everyone would be a bit tired from our big travel day. Rich woke before all of us did (around 10:00 am) and went down to the charming street, rue Cler, where all the merchants vend their goods on the curbs of their shops. There are patisseries (pastry shops), boulangeries (bread shops), fromageries (cheese shops), fresh organic produce stands, and flower stands, mixed in with a lot of cafes. Rich brought us quiche, some wonderful cheese, strawberries, croissants, pain au chocolat, beignets (little filled doughnuts), and orange juice. He even picked up a pretty bouquet for the table. It was the best breakfast and the best time, sharing the table with Drew for once in a long time.

That afternoon, we did have something planned– which was our 4-hour private bike tour with the company Bike About Tours. We made it out into the city for a late lunch, where we found a cute sandwich shop. We then made our way to the location our tour began about 3:00 pm. We met our wonderful, English-speaking guide, Nicole, got fitted for our bikes, and off we went to explore and learn about this wonderful city. It was so fun and so worthwhile! We learned and saw so much, got a lot of insider tips, were introduced to our favorite bakery, Paul, and even got dinner reservations made through Nicole at the end. Everyone loved it, and said it was a great choice for first activity in Paris.


Lunch, beautiful lunch.


Pausing for a couple of photo ops on our bike tour. This one in front of the Louvre.


And this one on the bridge over the River Seine.

That night, we enjoyed dinner at Nicole's recommended restaurant (9:30 pm reservation – we ate so late there!), which was a darling, intimate place with delicious food. We had a leisurely meal, then made it back to the apartment for a much-needed good night’s sleep.

The last two days kind of blend together –we went to the Louvre (which is ginormous), saw the Mona Lisa (snooze…) and some other notable works. The Louvre is SO big, Nicole told us that if you wanted to see everything there you would have to be there from opening to closing every day for 2 months!


This photo cannot possibly capture the enormity of the Louvre. It is 260,000 square feet inside.


This picture is really funny. The Mona Lisa is SO ordinary and small yet everyone crowds to see it...


...yet this painting that faces the Mona Lisa in the same gallery room is spectacular and nobody even cares!

We continued to visit our beloved bakery, Paul, many times, took the Metro everywhere (so easy to use), saw other sights such as la Sainte-Chapelle (once the royal palace - completely spectacular) and the famous Notre Dame, went up in Eiffel Tower at night (climbing 3/4 of the way down!), and also climbed up the Arc de Triomphe in daylight (amazing view). I feel like we walked and walked and walked. It was absolutely delightful! And we had picture perfect weather. These photos below remind me of the good time we had.



In person, the Eiffel Tower just takes your breath away.


Just another meal at a typical cafe.


The River Seine.



la Sainte-Chapelle - all these incredible stained glass windows represent bible stories.


Walking rue Cler -the street vending beautiful food near our apartment.


The breathtaking view from on top of l'arc de triomphe. The street below is the famous boulevard Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Isn't Paris spectacular?


View from the top of the arc. See the Eiffel tower poking through on the left?


I never got tired of seeing these charming and inviting cafe tables.

Oh, and I loved using my (limited) French! I’ve never had a chance to actually use it – so fun! The kids learned some too, and it was fun to hear them greet people, or say please and thank you.

After four wonderful days in Paris, it was time to take a quick flight to Pisa, Italy…
hopefully I will get that up very soon!

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Erin @ Sassin' Southern Style said...

This looks like a wonderful time! I know what you mean about being excited to use your French. I was able to use a lot of mine in Switzerland and actually impressed myself! I'm looking forward to the rest of your stay! =)

Brooke Johnson said...

i loved reading this!! :) i know you guys had just a wonderful time! Cant wait for the next post...
you should write a book ;)