Thursday, April 08, 2010

Paris in the Springtime, part I

We are all about creating positive memories with and for our kids. 
While we´ve tried to be intentional with this all along, the urgency has increased since my close call with the long dirt nap in October, 2007.  Now, living with polycythemia vera and Behcet´s disease, I am reminded every day that each healthy moment is a gift that should not be wasted.

Robert cashes in frequent flyer miles and hotel points for our spring break trips.  This is a nice family perq for a job that requires about 50% travel.  We want to expose K & A to the big, beautiful world beyond their hometown.   So off to Paris and Madrid we go!

Alex wants to spend his Euros on croissants and Katrina wants to eat crepes every day (she would also like a pair of fancy stilettos, but we´ll have to see about that).

We arrived in Paris on Saturday, April 3rd and took a taxi to the Hilton Arc de Triomphe.  None of us slept much on the plane, so we took a nap before heading out to explore the town.  It was a rainy day, yet the streets were full of people. 

Here we are at the Arc de Triomphe.  We quickly decided that the Eiffel Tower would be our ¨where´s Waldo¨ of Paris.  We took pics every time we could see the Eiffel Tower in the background.


Our first night in Paris, in front of the Eiffel Tower.  Life is good!

Around 10 p.m., we decided to find a place for dinner.  We happened upon a brasserie that seemed off the beaten path (read:  not touristy).  When I said ¨bon soir¨ we were led to a cramped booth and handed a menu in English --  so much for blending in!  The menu included items like bone marrow, chitterlings, and other items that didn´t seem too appetizing to our uncultured palates.  So Robert and the kids opted for dessert and I had a (huge) side dish of haricot vert (green bean salade). 

The waitress appreciated my attempts at communicating in French and she wanted the same from K & A.  Alexander tried to explain that he is studying Spanish in school and she was not impressed.  She was good natured, yet firm in getting him to say ¨merci¨ instead of ¨gracias.¨  Katrina did well with her French.

Alex ordered a chocolate dish that included a small scoop of ice cream.  He was cutting into it when she came by and asked him if he liked it (in French, of course).  When he seemed confused, she asked, ¨what´s wrong?  do you want some ketchup?¨  We got a big laugh at her gentle jibe (some think Americans put ketchup on everything).   

With this fun experience, Ketchup became our symbol of being the typical American Tourists.  You will see a small ketchup jar in many of our photos...

Sunday, April 4th, 2010:  Easter Sunday 
The French do not commercialize and over-market the holy day with Easter bunnies and other frivolities as is done in the U.S.   Robert took K & A to le Musee d´Orsay in the early afternoon.
They encountered a brief hail storm (according to them) en route.

The kids said they saw a bunch of very old stuff at the museum.  Oh, I am so proud of their discerning eyes!   Alex enjoyed Van Gogh's Self Portrait and one of Monet's many Water Lilies paintings.  Katrina's favorites were Degas' statues and ballerina paintings.   Special thanks to the Art teachers over the years who have introduced our kids to the beauty and magic of artistic expression!

That evening, on the way to the Eiffel Tower, Robert was pickpocketed by a young woman on the Metro at the Arc de Triomphe station.  The kids were on the train and Robert was trying to enter the train car but was blocked by a young woman with her arms stretched across two poles.  She kept bumping her back into him and then swirled around and bumped his rear before departing the train just before the doors closed.  He thought her behavior was odd but didn´t realize his wallet was gone until they got off the train.  

Robert called me at the hotel to inform me.  Where on your body was your wallet, I asked.  In the right rear pocket was his answer.  Why didn´t you keep your wallet in your front pocket, I asked.  Because you didn´t remind me, he answered.  Of course (envision the wifely eye roll now).   Fortunately, all the euros were in his front pocket.  The Hilton concierge was wonderfully helpful in connecting me to all the banks so I could report the event.  Fortunately, no activity has been attempted on the cards.

Imagine the disappointment of the clever pick pocket when she realized that her efforts resulted in a bunch of cancelled credit cards, a Georgia drivers license, 2 tickets to the Louvre, and 1,000 Japanese Yen (value: $10)!    All in all, it was a great learning moment for the kids.

Robert and the kids proceeded to the top of the Eiffel Tower and finished off the evening with crepes and french fries from street vendors.  We didn´t know that french fries are served with a big glop of mayonaisse!

Lessons du Jour:
  • Attention aux pickpockets!  Beware of the pickpockets!  (there are signs everywhere to remind you).  Keep your money in your shoe, front pocket, bra -- places where you would notice being ¨bumped¨
  • Say ¨bon jour¨before asking a question.  The custom is a friendly greeting before launching into a request or other conversation.  Americans tend to jump right into their reason for engaging (Where is the ...  or  I would like to buy...  ). 
  • The French really are friendly and they like Americans, despite urban myths to the contrary.  Remember to start with ¨bon jour¨and they will not think that YOU are rude and don´t like them.
  • French fries (pomme frites) are served with mayonaisse.  We are accustomed to salt and ketchup, so be prepared! 

We think it´s funny to see KFC promoting exercise!

Monday, April 5th (Easter Monday):
I´m feeling great and go with my traveling family to report the ¨big crime¨to the Paris Police on the way to
Le Louvre. 

The Police Station was a good adventure -- the first officer spoke no English, so it was up to me to explain what happened the night before.  We were then referred to another police officer who wrote up the report.  I´m sure my grammar and tenses were all wrong, but I managed to tell her that ¨Robert´s portefeuille dans le droit pocket derriere¨ (shared for my French speaking friends to laugh).  Robert tried to explain how it happened with hand gestures and it looked like we had a crazy game of pictionary going on in the police station.

After we got the report and began to leave, Robert turned back to the police officer at the counter and said with glee, ¨C´est la vie!¨  Katrina and I cracked up laughing and got out of there as quickly as possible. 

The Louvre was amazing.  We had a wonderful visit -- saw Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Napolean Bonaparte´s apartment, and many amazing paintings.  Alex liked the rooms full of tapestries the best (just kidding).  We had lunch at Le Richelieu cafe in the Louvre.  Robert said it was the best quiche he´s ever had. 


We walked over to Le Catedral du Notre Dame in time to light a candle and observe part of a Mass service.  The gothic architecture is beautiful as are the stained glass windows.



Outside, a gypsy woman approached me with the standard scam question, ¨do you speak English?¨ to which I replied loudly, ¨NO, I don´t¨  The woman looked puzzled but folded up her paper and walked away.  Katrina thought that I was rude to lie to the woman.  When I explained that this is a commonly-known scam on tourists, Katrina thought it was quite funny.

After that engagement, each time a gypsy woman asked me that question (and I encountered several), I either responded in Greek or Spanish or French, depending on my mood.  Ahhh... I felt so international!

The kids rode a carousel for a quick break (and 2.4 Euros each)... it's great to see teens have fun on kid rides!

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