Day 10 Continued: Last Stop, Paris!
We're here in Paris! After the short flight from Venice and a crowded RER train ride into the city, we made it to our apartment on Ile St. Louis in the heart of the City of Lights. It was a shock to get off the train right across from Notre Dame and see such a majestic building at night. AND, to top it off, its Jole's birthday! My Airbnb host arranged to have a cake waiting for us here (a delicious chocolate and coffee confection) and she even took me on a quick walk of the surrounding streets to show me the best bakeries, restaurants and shops in the area. I am amazed at how awesome all of our accommodations have been on this trip-we really chose well!
Our host also suggested a river cruise leaving from the end of Ile De La Cite, next to the island we're staying on. We were all hungry and wide awake, so we had dinner at a restaurant around the corner and then headed for the water. Our cruise was amazing. We were on the last boat of the night so it was mostly empty. Our guide was super informative without constantly talking, which was perfect! I can't think of a better way to start our time in Paris, and it was the best birthday gift for Jole. Mia fell asleep on the way home; cobblestones are an excellent sleep aid for babies!
Day 11: Happy Accidents
Today was a super late start. We didn't get out of the house until 1pm—way too late for my tastes. Jole and I were also unable to agree on where to go, but we finally got it together and headed toward the Louvre. Our plan was to visit during Friday night hours, but we took a long walk through the grounds and the Tuileries gardens before heading into L'Orangerie, the home of Monet's water lilies series. At the airport we bought Paris Museum Passes, one of the smartest moves we could have made. With the passes we get to skip most lines and walk right to the door. I'm so surprised more people aren't using them!
I've seen the water lilies before but never in the setting designed by their creator, and it was a majestic experience. The L'Orangerie is a small gallery at only two floors, but its absolutely worth visiting!
Jole and I also had a little fight :( We haven't been communicating very well and all this travel made it even more obvious, so we took advantage of the Parisian atmosphere for an airing of grievances and a romantic makeup kiss, followed by lunch in the tony shopping district beyond the Louvre. Luckily the weather has been fantastic since we got here, so sitting out at the Parisian cafes people watching is perfect!
Jole opted against wearing his walking shoes—MISTAKE! As the day went on his feet got worse, and we popped into a pharmacy for some relief and found the bus home (Parisian buses are new and there is a standing area designated for strollers-love it!). At that point we decided to skip the Louvre that night and brave the crowds over the weekend, but we accidentally got off at the wrong stop right next to-you guessed it-the Louvre! Since Jole's feet were feeling better we went in, flashed our museum passes and went to visit the Mona Lisa of course. Mia napped in her stroller most of the way through.
After our visit we caught a pedicab back to the island from a really nice guy with family in Las Vegas! Dinner was crepes from a shop around the corner, then home for champagne and leftover chocolate cake.
Day 12: Naptime
We got a much earlier start today and headed across the bridge to Notre Dame. The line moved quickly and we were inside fast. Visiting Notre Dame is free (you have to pay to climb the tower) and there was a mass underway while we were there, so we spent about 15 minutes respectfully exploring the interior. There are beautiful full scale models inside and a great overview of the history of the construction of the church. I also learned that it was the place where the decision was made to rehabilitate the reputation of Joan of Arc. Very cool!
After that we also visited Sainte Chappelle, and incredible church built by Saint Louis to house his religious relics. The second floor contains world famous stained glass windows, many of which have just gone through a years-long rehabilitation. Photos don't do it justice, but they were beautiful! I also loved the small gift shop here. Great postcards and souvenirs. Next door we went into the Conciergierie, another small museum with an exhibit on the life and mission of Saint Louis. This is the 800th anniversary of his canonization so several museums have special exhibits. On the way out we ran into our pedicab driver from the night before, and shopped for a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. But first, we all nap. Zzzzzzz.
Well, the picnic never happened—we all slept way too late, and instead went for dinner in the Latin Quarter and walked Saint Germain before hopping on the RER to see the Eiffel Tower at night. We hopped to go inside but we didn't have advanced tickets (fail) and the lines were way too long to brave with a baby in a stroller, so we took a million photos and hung out to see the amazing sparkly light show that happens on every hour. I knew the Eiffel Tower was big, but the size in person was still stunning. And also, they have the cleanest, safest bathrooms I've ever seen at any monument. If you need to pee or change a diaper in Paris, this is the place to do it!
On the way home we spotted a huge crowd in front of Notre Dame. A group of fire dancers put on a show that would have been amazing anywhere, but the backdrop of the cathedral made it even more special. Back at home Jole took our picnic basket and made incredible grilled egg, ham and cheese sandwiches.
Day 13: #MIAISNOTIMPRESSED
Today we walked through the Marais neighborhood, found a playground where Mia played with a bunch of French kids, and checked out the Pompidou Centre, which has a huge interactive kids area. But there is really only one story to share. In Venice I bought Mia a maraca, and on the subway home from the Arc de Triomphe Jole handed it to her just as we were pulling through the Tuileries station. As if on cue as the doors opened Mia threw the maraca as hard as she could, landing it on the platform outside the train. My mouth fell open and then in a flash Jole jumped up, grabbed it off the platform and jumped back into the train JUST as the bell chimed and the doors closed. The train erupted in laughter and applause, Jole took a bow, and we continued toward home. Mia, as usual, was not impressed.
After the subway shenanigans I grabbed Chinese just outside the subway—it was raining and I didn't want to think too hard about what to eat, even in France. We haven't had that awesome meal yet in Paris (other than breakfast, because the pastries are of course the bomb). Jole had pizza on the brain so he ordered from a spot in the Latin Quarter and walked over to pick it up in what became a driving rainstorm by the time he got home. He said the pizza was worth it though :)
Day 14: A Special Guest
Before we got to Paris Jole mentioned repeatedly he wanted to go the Louvre several times. Many museums in Paris close on Mondays, so we couldn't get to the Musee d'Orsay and we went back to the Louvre instead. This time we walked through Napoleon's apartment (holy shit I need to redecorate) and the Greek, Etruscan and Roman sculpture area. Even with this second visit we saw just a fraction of the works in almost two hours of walking around. We also had an expensive, yummy lunch in one of the museum cafes, and then left and went to Angelica's on Rue de Rivoli for their famous hot chocolate. Imagine a fancy expensive chocolate bar melted in a cup and you have it. So rich its almost gross, unless you are the most diehard chocolate lover share one with a friend or just skip it.
On the way home we popped into a market to stock up on snacks for the trip home and French treats to share with friends and family, and then back home to regroup before heading across town for dinner with our old babysitter Nicole! She left SF in October to teach English in the French countryside, and just happened to be coming through Paris while we were there, so we grabbed a cab to Gare du Nord station and had dinner across the street. For our last night in Paris it was awesome to see someone from home and share travel stories (she was returning from a two-week backpacking trip). And Mia loved her—she's only had a few babysitters and Nicole was one of her (and our) favorites, and I'm glad she got to see her again.
We'd planned to visit Sacre Coure after dinner but it was pouring, and we're leaving in the morning. So we cabbed back home, packed, and went to bed at a reasonable hour.
Day 15: On The Road Again
We're leaving today! We dragged all our stuff (now with an extra bag just for souvenirs) on the RER back to Charles de Gaulle. Security took FOREVER and even though we were there two hours early, we were almost the last people on board. Luckily the plane was mostly empty, Mia slept well, and I got plenty of time to write and watch TWO MOVIES! Our trip home has one more stop—an overnight in Washington, DC to see Jole's parents. They always come to meet us inside the airport which is such a treat! We rented a car, grabbed some BBQ for our first American meal in two weeks, and crashed.
The DC leg of the trip was nice but tough. We got to town during the evening rush hour and took a wrong turn on the Beltway—its so funny how you forget places you used to know like the back of your hand. By the time we got to Grandma's house we had a nice dinner together, and I went to bed almost immediately thanks to the time difference. Mia had a little more energy so she played with my in-laws, which was really why we made the stop there. She's growing so fast and even with Skype and FaceTime and Photo Streams and Facebook, there's no substitute for seeing the real thing. They showered her with gifts, it was really sweet.
Day 16: Done and Done
Up at the crack of dawn East Coast time to board our final flight to SFO. Shout out to Hertz for driving us to the terminal so we could keep Mia in the carseat and skip lugging everything on the shuttle! Another long security line meant we were again almost the last people to board, even with the early arrival. We're in the last row but it means an empty seat for Mia. The plane is nice, but the electrical system for the screens is down so no TV or movies. Mia did not nap this go-round but was mostly in good spirits for most of the flight. I am so impressed with her travel skills! Also, I need to give a huge mama-to-mama hug to the woman who gave us two diapers after we ran out halfway through the flight. We'd been so good with keeping the daypack stocked until the last day, but I appreciated her saying "of course, take two!" when I sheepishly asked for a spare diaper.
Coming home was like a dream—stepping out of the terminal into the California warmth and sun was the ultimate welcoming committee. We grabbed a taxi and about 10 minutes later we pulled in front of our apartment, ready to lug our bags upstairs one last time. I emptied the fridge before we left so there was almost no food in the house and we were all hungry. As luck would have it an awesome new breakfast spot opened up just down the street, so we went there for a good old American meal (of course my review is coming soon)! Afterward we did a smidge of unpacking and everyone was in bed by 3:30pm . This jetlag is going to take a while to get over!