Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Love Paris in the Springtime

Notre Dame   
I Love Paris in the Springtime 

  My obsession with visiting Paris began as soon as I found out we had gotten the rotation last July.  In order to gain momentum and further advance my cause, I cleverly started brain-washing my 2-year old daughter starting our first week here.  Now, now, it was perfectly harmless and let me paint you the picture:  It’s our first month.  Ice covers the ground.  Our home is completely empty of furniture except for the few items which fit in the air-shipment (a couple card tables and four folding chairs) along with some new pieces acquired from Ikea.  I’m completely new at this stay-at-home-mom gig and my daughter is used to being entertained for 9-hours a day at school in Texas with singing-time, nap-time, art-time, outside-time, etc. etc. etc.  I’m struggling with trying to keep up with her energy while taking care of our 3-month old at the same time.  We play.  We read.  We sing.  We dance.  I embrace Raffi and Peter, Paul, and Mary songs.  I even learn to adore Elmo because he can entertain her for a solid 20 minutes so I can at least bathe once a day.  We literally walk in circles around the house.  I push the baby in the stroller and she pushes her tiny pink grocery cart pretty much every day for an hour.  It’s too cold to go outside, and even if I wanted to go outside, my double stroller is on its way with the furniture, anyway.  Everything is expected to arrive mid-February.   
  V had given me the DVD, Midnight in Paris, for Christmas along with a Paris guidebook.  Fortunately, these two items were included in the air-shipment.  Anxious for a deviation from Elmo, Charlie Brown Christmas, and Learning About Letters, I busted it out one afternoon.   I had not seen it before and I was pleasantly surprised, seconds after pushing play, to be greeted with a gorgeous montage of picturesque scenes of Paris and lovely music.  My daughter and I were both mesmerized.  The movie played the rest of the afternoon, and I happily discovered that it was actually a movie I could play without having to worry about cursing, awkward scenes for children, etc.  It’s rated PG-13 for ‘smoking’, but goodness.  She sees that everyday outside the train station.   Thus, a new movie was entered into my rotation of obsessiveness.  (For those of you who don’t know, I have this tendency to watch certain movies about a bazillion times.  I’ll watch pretty-much anything once, but it’s the happy-feel good movies that become staples for months on end.)              
    During the subsequent months, as the movie played we talked about boats, fountains, lamp posts, people, rain, umbrellas, the “windmill” (Moulin Rouge), and after about the 20th repeat, we had The Eiffel Tower down.  She recognized Paris as best as any 2-year old could.  And I couldn’t wait to show her the town. 
   The day before we are scheduled to depart, I start to panic.  I’m pushing the double-stroller to the Kruidvat (a CVS equivalent).  I am on a mission to purchase formula and food for the baby for the trip.  Even though Paris is only a 2 ½ hour speed-train ride away, I doubt they have the same formula that we’ve been giving him.  My daughter is screaming.  She’s been screaming all day in the house.  She was screaming in the store.  She’s screaming during the 20-minute walk home and the people riding their bikes past us are eyeing us suspiciously.  I ignore. I reason.  I negotiate.  I plead.  I threaten.  I beg.  I finally give up.  There’s nothing I can do.  It’s just, one of those days for any 2-year old.  I have visions of us in Paris with a screaming 2-year old and I’m worried and defeated and we haven’t even left yet. 
   In retrospect, I had reasons to worry and I had reasons to find hope.  I think the most important take-away from the trip was that I just learned so much about traveling with two children and how to make it successful for everyone.  Up until now, our only two trips with the kids included a not-so-successful Thanksgiving experience at a LaQuinta in Big Spring, Texas – where I ended up driving my daughter around town (didn’t take too long) at 3:00 a.m. to prevent her from waking up her brother and the rest of the hotel and a more-successful, but completely child-oriented trip to a theme park and adjacent hotel for my daughter’s 2nd birthday here in The Netherlands a few months back.  So, in an attempt to summarize five days of fun and craziness, I present to you, my top 10 list of Things I Learned:  (in no particular order)          

  1. Do not schedule a train ride during your daughter’s nap time in hopes that she’ll fall asleep because of the rocking of the train.  Nope, won’t happen.  She’ll be so hyped up about the new environment (see LaQuinta, Big Spring comment above) to sleep.  And will only result in craziness from your child and eyebrow raises from other train passengers around you.  The rocking of the train, as a further note, is not as soothing and scary when traveling at speeds between 100 and 180 miles per hour. 
  2. is fantastic resource.  We booked an apartment in Paris – complete with living room, kitchen, bath, and bedroom for less than the price of what we would have paid for a hotel.  This is a great way to travel with kids/multiple adults, etc. The owners even provided us with a travel crib, baby gate, suggestions for restaurants in the area, etc.  It was nice from a privacy standpoint as well.
  3. A sunny day in Paris = a line of a million people to ascend the Eiffel tower.  No worries, though.  If you’re not up to hours of waiting in line to see the city from a bird-eye perspective, there’s always the grassy knoll behind it.  Beware of the short plastic gate around the grass.  After a few priceless photos of your baby giggling uncontrollably with the most recognizable monument in the world behind him, you may be kicked out by French police, along with the other hundreds of people who innocently stepped over the fallen boundary.      
  4. Paris food is completely awesome.  As if I really needed to say that, but it really was easy to find a good meal, which is key when traveling, right?  Around every corner you’ll find a pastry shop or sidewalk café.  Chocolate croissants will ail any mood/sleepless night, and everyone, including my daughter seems to enjoy eating ‘outside’.  Pull a stroller up to the table at a charming sidewalk cafe, and whoa-la!  You’ve got an out-of-the-ordinary family meal. 
  5.  You are not allowed to picnic inside the grounds of VersaillesIn their defense, it IS listed on the map.  But in case you miss it, there are guides to point you in the error of your ways.  They’ll firmly instruct you to leave the area and find a picnic spot outside the grounds, which is fine.  The view is better from the grassy area, anyway.            
  6. FTLOG - Find the tram up to the Sacré-Coeur.  For those of you who may not know (I didn’t), the Sacré-Coeur is a lovely church ontop of the highest point in the City of Paris.  It is a very long, steep climb, and while the memories of your husband stroller-racing a family of Spanish tourists up the 80-degree incline is priceless, at the time, you’ll be so winded, sweaty, angry, from carrying the other baby on your back to even care, much less, document the scene in digital format.   There is a tram to lift you atop the mountain.  I don’t know where it begins, but you bet your money, if we go back, we’ll find it. 
  7. If life-long friend and elementary school teacher offers to accompany you and your family on a trip to Paris, take her up on it.  I am incredibly fortunate to A. have a friend who I’ve known my entire life, just across the border from The Netherlands.  As an Expat, this is rare and priceless.  And B.  The fact that she loves children (my children!) and comes equipped with phrases like, “You must hold my hand so we can be safe.” and hundreds of children’s songs downloaded onto her phone is amazing.   She entertained my daughter while V and I toured the Versailles palace and hung back at the apartment while we had date night in Paris.  I’m grateful and in awe.  She rocks.   
  8. Sometimes, a little wine and ‘cheese’ is all you need.  We departed for ‘date night’ after hours of preparing the kids and ourselves for the event.  One child would stop crying and the other would start.  A romantic evening was hardly what I was in the mood for as we finally escaped the apartment and found ourselves high-tailing it to the nearest Metro to get across town in time for our reservation.  After a quiet, tasty dinner, and a couple glasses of wine, my nerves had started to calm.  We exited the restaurant and as we turned the corner we saw the Eiffel tower.  I smiled and as I started to take photos, the clock struck 10 and the entire tower started to glitter.  It was enchanting.  We continued to head towards it and as we crossed the Pont-Neuf Bridge, a familiar song started to play from my husband’s pocket.  I laughed in recognition of the Midnight in Paris soundtrack, kissed him, called him a goofball and appreciated his efforts.  It wasn’t the most ideally romantic visit to the City of Lights, but we did it in our style, despite the odds.      
  9. Traveling by train period, with two small children, is probably not the best way to go.   There is a mass construction project currently at the Rotterdam Station, where we must connect to the speed train to Paris.  While the friendliest Dutch people in the country apparently work there (one officer took us through the super-secret freight elevator passage ways complete with James Bond theme songs and Billie Holliday elevator music playing on his phone.  Another happily pushed the baby’s stroller throughout the station while instructing us how to find the elevators on our way back) it was just a little exhausting.  We didn’t have to worry about Rotterdam on our way back, though.  We hadn’t anticipated the quickness of the stop and once we completed loading the kids in their strollers, accumulating our luggage, and were about to step out of the train onto the platform, the doors shut closed.  Not to be opened again despite my pounding and “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” like a bad movie.  We rocketed past Leiden to the Amsterdam Schipol station only to turn around and take the train south again.  It was not all bad, though - V did get some sympathetic Good Samaritan hands to help lift luggage or a stroller onto the train once he started carrying our daughter’s pink polka dot duffel bag around his shoulders.  
  10. Get familiar and excited.  Whatever form that may take, whether it be a movie or a Children’s video that introduced my daughter to the concept of going to museums and seeing The Thinker by Rodin and The Mona Lisa, reading a Hemingway novel, or just pursing through guidebooks, being able to see something relatable and recognizable was key to our success.  Watching my daughter’s eyes light up with recognition upon seeing the Eiffel tower for the first time was one of the highlights of the trip.  Even this morning, a week after our return, she ran up to me shouting “Thinker!  Thinker!” as her children’s video showed cartoon rabbits tromping through a sculpture garden full of recognizable art.  As for me, I’ll have to admit, I’m with Rachel McAdam’s character with her distaste of walking through the rain in Paris.  But I’ll agree with Owen Wilson’s character – Is Paris more beautiful by day or by night?  I can’t decide. I can make a convincing argument for both!  Now I just have to figure out how to get my daughter excited about our next family trip to Bruges.  
Sparkling Eiffel Tower and Pont-Neuf Bridge

1 comment:

  1. How exciting! Oh, and ascending the Eiffel Tower is overrated, especially with little kids, good lord. Shannon and I barely made it with just the two of us, and we weren't even hungover.