In which we make our way to New Zealand for the year

As most people reading this blog know, last year we decided to extend our time out of the US for another year and I took a job in New Zealand!

Packing for a year of settled life on an island where things are reputed to be quite pricy is a different story than last year, where we left with carryon backpacks and a minimalist attitude. This time, we asked ourselves how much we could cram into 300 pounds of luggage. Sports equipment and clothing are expensive here, so into the bags went our ski clothes, goggles, bike helmets and sleeping bags. Eric tossed in some basic tools, I brought my flatiron. The kids took along a box of legos and some card games, as well as favorite books and some art supplies. The tent didn’t make it, nor did our bikes, blender, printer, two burner griddle, waffle maker, kitchen scale, rock collection, entire library (for the boy) or guitars, though all of these were considered at some point and some people (cough the kids cough) tried to stuff them into the sacks when no one was looking. I didn’t check closely enough and the miniature amp made it, despite us not having a guitar to plug into it!

 

We initially flew to California to visit my parents, and got a few looks as we lumbered along the Southwest baggage check-in line, where despite their generous baggage allowance most people seem to travel with little more than a roller bag. “Going camping?” the check-in guy asked, fishing for an answer. “We’re moving to New Zealand,” we replied. “Oh, I didn’t know Southwest was running an international moving service now,” he said with a smile. In California we had a lovely time with family and running around the Park where I used to play as a kid.

The flight from SFO to Auckland takes 12 hours and 50 minutes, and normally I’d be too excited to sleep much at the prospect of being able to squeeze in 4, possibly 5 movies during that time. Alas, it was not to be as we were planning to drive directly to Whakatane on the day of arrival, and I’m more likely to sleep on a plane than Eric is. I ate the relatively tasty Hindu Vegetarian meal I always order (too much cumin this time) and slept somewhat fitfully for most of the ride.

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Even the currency exchange shows shade at Trump – make your USD great by making them NZ dollars!

Off we went on the 4 hour drive to Whakatane, stopping off for tasty fish and chips just outside Tauranga and rolling into our our beachfront apartment around 2 pm. By coincidence, my longtime friend Judy and her son had been traveling in New Zealand and drove over to Whakatane to see us for a few days before they flew home. We got in some fun beach walks, hot spring time and tasty food. 

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Sunrise from our window

The first few days here could be characterized by a jet lag fog. Barely able to stay awake after 7 pm and then awakening at 3 am, I was dysfunctional for a few days, not even noticing the beautiful beach sunrises through our windows. We managed to get the kids enrolled in school and had them start on Friday, with good reports from both! The boy is in middle school here, which is 6th and 7th grades.  Different from school at home, however, the classes are mixed 6th and 7th grades and most learning takes place in one classroom with the exception of specials. It’s a lot more low key than middle school in the States, which is like a pre-High school with lockers and different classrooms and the like. The boy is especially excited about the wood and sewing shop! The girl’s school is a more typical Elementary school, with the change that her class is combined with the one next door much of the time. One little quirk of Kiwi people everywhere is that they are often seen barefoot, and even on this rainy morning I spied a little boy scampering into school shoeless, splashing through puddles.

 

After the jet lag improved, a feeling of panic set in. Where were we going to live for the year? An online search of listings yielded exactly NO properties. Perhaps people don’t list online? Eric and I then went to several realty offices to ask for long term furnished rentals, and as soon as we uttered the word “rental,” the realtors’ lower lips would stretch away and downwards with a sucking in of air, making the universal expression for “you are screwed, my friends.” Housing is always tight in New Zealand, and compounding matters is that a large flood earlier this year displaced many families who are now renting the houses that we might want to rent ourselves. The other problem is that many places are only rented long term during winter, and from December through April are rented short term for the holiday season (seasons are flipped here, so that’s summertime). Eric thought it was heee-larious to keep making jokes about perhaps renting a shipping container, or just living in tents, or getting two camper units. I failed to find this amusing. We went to visit one possible rental, only available through the end of November, which was split into two separate floors, both dingy and dark, with about two feet of aluminum countertop for a kitchen. Things seemed dim, and I bought a pack of Tums out of necessity.

It’s a different culture here in that you have a better shot at things if you actually go in person to meet people, rather than the internet focused world of the US. We began to stalk our real estate agent with this in mind. Eric went in one day to find out that the rental agent was on vacation but would be back on Monday. On Monday morning, we wondered if it would help or our hurt our chances if we simply waited in front of the doors, staring through the glass until opening time like curious kittens. We decided instead to visit in the early afternoon, only find that she had gone out. We tried our luck a few hours later, and still, she wasn’t in. We were beginning to doubt her existence at this point. Tuesday morning we popped on over again, and voila, there she was. We considered shackling her to a chair lest she scurry off again, but she sat us down and told us of two places that were coming up on the market just that morning. Perhaps she was being friendly and helpful, but I think that she’d heard of our frequent visits and decided that getting us a house was the most efficient way to get rid of us, else we would take to haunting her office like wayward ghosts.  We drove by one of the houses, another dismally dark rental with a tiny aluminum countered kitchen. Our spirits drooped yet again. I popped a few more Tums and wondered if it was acceptable to start drinking at noon in New Zealand, considering the circumstances.

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Central heating doesn’t exist here, so we hang out with sweaters, warm hats, and space heaters.

That afternoon, she took us out to the other house and were happily surprised!  It’s a 3 bedroom house with a wraparound porch, no yard to speak of, but that’s okay because the yard is the beach which is one street over. Most importantly, the kitchen is nice with good counter space, made from some variety of laminate and a good step up from prison decor.

We called a few people we know here to ask their opinion, and everyone told us that we should lunge at the opportunity and take the place, and so we did. We’ve also managed to find a good car to buy here, so all in all things are looking better for now, given that we’re up to step one on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Next week, I start work, we move in, and I’ll post some pictures of the new house, our car, and the hospital!

-s

In which the girl loses a literary friend

It was past bedtime, and I was downstairs reading on the couch. The boys had gone out. The girl had gone upstairs to sleep, or so I thought until I heard footsteps on the wood plank stairs behind me, and turned to see her descending. “I finished ‘Anne of Green Gables,’” said the girl as she came down the stairs. “It was so, so good.” Her eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, and I knew immediately what had happened. “Oh, Matthew…wasn’t that so sad?” Upon this acknowledgement, she contained herself no longer and burst into tears, openly weeping. “Why did he have to die?” I just held her on the couch. “It’s unfair, too,” I added, “That Anne couldn’t go to college anymore, and had to come home.” “I don’t understand, why couldn’t she just go anyway?” Indeed, it seems harder to understand in today’s world, but a clear impossibility at the time of the book, where college was a luxury for both men and women and often let go for domestic needs.

This was her first big emotional death in a book, which is something that I don’t think you ever forget. It’s not her first literary death, having read the Harry Potter series, but it was the first one with this impact.  It’s not also the first book which makes her cry, as that goes to the picture book (from the song lyrics, yes) “Puff the Magic Dragon,” where the boy goes away and leaves behind the dragon. That one makes me misty as well, in all honesty. The poor dragon looks so sad when his friend is gone, leaving him alone in the cave.

Mine was Bridge to Terabithia, assigned reading in the second grade. Two friends, a girl and boy, escape to the imaginary world of Terabithia by swinging on a rope over a creek to the woods. I still recall the gutting hollow feeling when you learn the rope broke, and the girl didn’t rise up. I just looked up the details to make sure I was getting it right and immediately started crying. After I finished that book I vowed never to read it again, devastating as it was.

For the boy, this happened earlier this year with a book called “The Inn Between,” which ends with a girl’s best friend dying, and like all of us above, he was wrecked.

I asked Eric about his, and while he can’t remember the title, he remembers being about ten and the book was about two boys who play baseball together, and one of them dies.

There’s something about getting to know a character over a book, loving the character and also identifying with the person who is left behind that is gut wrenching. It’s a big step the first time this happens, because up until that point everything you’ve read in books generally has a happy ending. Even crises that occur during the story are resolved neatly by the end and everyone goes home and eats ice cream. For many kids, they’ve never dealt with a death of someone they were very close to, and the emotions are something new and raw and unexpected.

After that first one, the world of books and possibility opens up. You’re never really sure again that all of the characters in a book will be there at the end, and that tension is in the back of your head. I wonder if in some way we protect ourselves by not attaching to characters too deeply, lest they not survive, so as not to open ourselves up to that pain again. Over the years I’ve read countless books in which countless people have died, and I remember none of them as well as that first one. The memory of Matthew’s death will stay with the girl for the rest of her life.

I dried the girl’s tears, and after a bit of snuggle time we headed back upstairs, to tuck in and hopefully have dreams of sweeter things.

-s

In which we lament the sad fate of 80s musicians, and PUFFINS!

I awoke on my 40th birthday to a chorus of well-wishes. 40 is a big year, and Eric had asked me earlier in the trip about how I felt about turning 40. I thought about it, and I have to say that I feel really, really good about it. So much has changed in a generation –  when my mom turned 40, we threw her an “over the hill” surprise birthday party. If anyone even thought of throwing me such a party, I would hurt them. Eric thinks that some of the difficulty with the milestone is that for many, it seems that few surprises remain after the age of 40, in that your life is relatively established and you can map out the future course with relatively depressing certainty. Not  downhill, then, but perhaps more of a plateau. I can’t say that this resonates either – five years ago I never would have pictured myself where we are now nor predicted living in New Zealand for most of my 40th year.  I think it’s easy to settle into a routine, and seems daunting to think about breaking it, especially as you reach mid career point which many people are at this age. We’ve been able to step out of that, and take the first big leap and you know what? It makes other big leaps seem so much more possible. So who knows what is on the horizon now? If anything, I feel excited by the time to come ahead. 


I love puffins. Something about their ungainly potbellied birdy bodies and their curved orange beaks is just too adorable not to. For my birthday, I thought we’d do a puffin tour! I’d read that for most of the tours, you can’t get much of a photo unless you’ve got a telephoto lens as puffins are surprisingly small. Instead then, I chose a tour where we would have some time with puffins but also venture out to the bay to do some fishing and then eat the fresh catch! This may seem like an odd choice for a mostly vegetarian family, but I thought it would be nice to do something very, very different. And because I do eat fish occasionally, it seems hypocritical of me to not be able to kill one myself.

I went with Happy Tours, a small family run company, because it was one of the few tours that provides good binoculars for the trip. Captain Snorri welcomed us on board the Saga and outfitted us with protective waterproof clothing, which was adorably oversized on the kids, making them look as though they were wearing rubber sumo suits.

First, off to the puffins! They nest on a small island in the bay, and we saw quite a few with the binoculars. Most surprising is how fast the little critters are when they’re in flight, zooming across the sky despite what would seem like a lack of aerodynamic form.
Then a little further out to drop long fishing lines and catch some cod for our lunch. The fishing poles were taller than us and a bit unwieldly at first, but we all got the hang of it. I can’t really say that fishing like this takes much skill – you drop the line down, the cod chomp on and you pull them up and into the bucket. The girl had a bite first out of our family, squealing excitedly and then needing a little help in holding the rod while she rotated the reel to pull up a nice sized catch! Captain Snorri efficiently dispatched the fish with a quick cut to the main artery, and we soon had a bucketful.

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Photo taken with my phone held up to the binoculars.  Best I could get, really. Puffins!

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the proud fishergirl and her catch

 

On the way back to the dock, Snorri sliced open the fish, showing us what they’d last eaten. A few small crabs for some, and for one a gourmet bellyful of caviar. At least he’d had a nice, rich last meal that one. He efficiently filleted the fish, tossing the offal overboard for the waiting gulls, who sometimes snatched the piece out of the air before it hit the water, and other times engaging in a battle for what goes as gull gourmet – the liver.

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slicing up the cod

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inspecting the kitchen

Once at the pier, Snorri pulled out a hot plate and began to pan fry the fish with lemon pepper, tossing on new potatoes for a side dish. Friends, this was the most delicious fish I’ve ever had. The boy couldn’t get enough and ate four large platefuls. The girl, who normally doesn’t like fish at all had a fair share as well. Bellies full, we thanked Snorri and his son and headed out to town for some souvenir shopping.

 

My main interest in Icelandic souvenirs is the yarn. Iceland has a very proud knitting tradition, and even sells yarn in the grocery stores. Not the acrylic crap that you’ll find at a Wal-Mart in the States, but actual Icelandic wool from the sheep that dot the countryside, direct decendents of the original 9th century immigrant sheep, with long fibers that are spun into a delicate untwisted wool.

At the Handknitting Association of Iceland, I walked passed the sweaters and hats and scarves straight to the walls of Lopi, or Icelandic wool. It was so difficult to choose colors, but I managed! Yarn, it should be noted, is one of the few things in Iceland that is actually cheaper there than elsewhere and I picked up a sweater’s worth for $50. A handknitted Icelandic sweater will cost you around $200-300, which is a fair price for the time involved. In a world where mass-produced fast fashion for the lowest dollar has become the norm, it’s refreshing to see a place where artisan work is still valued.

 

It was now almost 4 p.m., but as we didn’t have looming darkness to contend with, it was like we had a whole second day ahead of us. Eric found a hot spring river, where you hike about an hour in and then can have a relaxing soak. Normally, it would seem insane to start this at 4 pm – 40 minute drive, then hour long hike, then hour at the river, then hike out and drive back, we were looking at not getting back until 9pm. But as the light at 9 pm was no less bright than that of midday, off we went, fields of purple lupine flanking the highway.

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Taken out the car window – you feel like you’re driving over a purple carpet

Changing radio stations in the car, Eric happened upon one called “80s flashback,” and we headed out, appropriately enough, to “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” They played mostly really good 80s music, and I could sing along to most of it. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” came on, and we talked of the music video with the bright colors and dressing room scenes, and then lamented the sad fate of poor Whitney. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” started playing as we rounded a sharp corner, and Eric reminisced about the time he saw the Smiths on the “Meat is Murder” tour, and I reflected that Morrissey had kind of turned into a racist jerk. Soon enough, “Beat It” was on the playlist, yet another 80s artist with a sad ending. Later in the trip, “You and Me in Paradise” started up, and I immediately groaned and turned down the radio, because there is no reason to ever be forced to listen to the doldrum nasal plodding of Phil Collins. “God I hate Phil Collins,” I said out loud. “Why?” Piped up the girl from the back. “Was he a really bad sort of person?” “No,” I replied, “I just don’t like his music…as far as I know he’s a decent person who’s still alive.” At first I couldn’t figure out where her question came from, but then remembered our earlier conversation where Eric and I talked about the downfall of the prior artists, and realized that she must have surmised that poor lambasted Phil Collins must have also suffered some horrific drug-addled fate.

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rising vapors in the distance

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a bridge to nowhere

The hike itself winds through gorgeous volcanic hills and valleys, covered in moss on the south side, the north side a black rocky cliff. Dramatic landscapes await around corners, where steam rises in long puffs from the ground in otherworldly welcome. Stretches of the trail had zero visibility with steam clouding the way, and as we rounded one such corner and emerged into view again, the river curved around before us, vapor rising into the cool air. Little natural and manmade dams of rocks and stones are laid across it at intervals, creating a series of small pools. The further upstream you go the hotter the water, so wandering along and dipping a toe in we found our Goldilocks pool, changed underneath towels and hopped in. The kids and I passed the time by balancing rock cairns on the stone dam in front of us. While there were a fair number of people there, there’s also quite a bit of river so we had our own little pool to ourselves and stayed in for an hour before the hike and drive back again. 

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The river from above, you can see people soaking a bit downstream.


Our last day in Iceland, and we thought we’d drive around the Golden Circle, what should be called the choking tourist yoke of Reykjavik. The drive itself is fine, but once you arrive at the sites you’re contending with tourists that have been spat out by the busload, small and large. I swear, one of these days I’m going to grab someone by the selfie stick and start beating them over the head with it. I can’t stand those things. The only saving grace of those idiotic fidget spinners is that all of the sidewalk stands that used to sell only selfie sticks now sell fidget spinners, which are far less intrusive to other people. In hindsight, I wish we’d skipped the Golden Circle and just driven somewhere a little off the path to a hike or perhaps to an accessible glacier, but that’ll have to wait for another trip.

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First stop was the Thingvallir, where the North American tectonic plate meets up with the European. You actually walk along the plate itself, and at places along the short walk it has split and fissured, as it’s still constantly moving, albeit slowly. It borders a little marshland with goslings and their protective parents, as well as shorebirds.

Another 50 minute drive took us to Geysir, the original geyser. Is there a geyser there? Yes. Is it kind of cool? Meh. Are there a ton of people standing around waiting to get the exact same picture? Yes. The kids really wanted to see the geyser here, and I had a smattering interest but honestly, I think it’s kind of skippable given the other cool things Iceland has to offer. In false advertising, the large and impressive Geysir rarely erupts, and mostly you’re watching it’s smaller and poorer cousin Strokkur erupt every five to ten minutes.

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woo a geyser

As we drove back to town, we happened across the Kerio crater and dropped by to take a look. Formed from the carcass of a burned out erupted volcano, a pool of aqua water rests at the bottom ringed by red lava stone. The water at the bottom doesn’t fill or drain, instead is reflection of the current water table.

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Kerio crater with a bit of attitude

 

Back in the car, we picked up 80s Flashback again about 40 minutes outside of town. One of my 80s favorites “Right Here Waiting” came on, and of course, I knew all the words. As I sang along, Eric commented that he was basically the 80s precursor to Adele, singing as he did about pining after a lost love. Soon after “Every Breath You Take” was on, and I thought that that song could be the 80s precursor to Taylor Swift, the vindictive response of a jilted lover.

The following morning we piled our luggag into the car, and turned on 80s flashback for one final trip to Keflavik Airport. “And you may find yourself in another part of the world…and you may ask yourself, ‘well? How did I get here?” the Talking Heads crooned as we drove, in a fitting last soundtrack before our flight back home. 

-S

In which I have my very own weeping hour in Reykjavik

The Icelandic Air flights to Reykjavik welcome you to the land of ice and volcanoes with overhead lights of the aurora borealis. The seatbacks each have their own tv, and I watched a documentary called “Yarn” which follows four knitting and crochet artists from different countries who create art in very different formats. I found it interesting how they described knitting and crochet as looked down upon as craft and not art, because it’s largely the realm of women and is used to create practical goods. Men tended to be the weavers in society, producing tapestries that were used for decorative purposes. Women, however, would knit elaborate sweaters, socks, and other garments for use by the family. Something in the practicality of the items means that they are not seen as art, though it could be argued that really this should give them more value. One of the women who “paints” with crochet talked about how she is often criticized for not being a “real” artist because of this. I hadn’t thought about fiber arts in this light before, from a feminist perspective, and if you have the chance to see this documentary don’t pass it up.

The overhead lights slowly flicker and shift colors


The airport is slightly confusing to walk through, and we ended up being the last ones to collect our luggage. I’d read many, many tips online that the cheapest place to buy alcohol was at the duty-free shops, so I got two bottles of wine there, anticipating we wouldn’t go out much because it’s so expensive. Icelandic residents could easily be identified at this point, as they were the ones who were hauling several heavy shopping carts each, filled to the brim with their allotted allowance of beer, wine and spirits, clinking like glass musical chimes as they rolled over the asphalt to their cars.  
We dropped off our luggage at our guesthouse and headed immediately to the pool and hot spring complex Lagurdasalag. We stopped at a sandwich place for lunch, and I was hit with severe sticker shock. I knew that Iceland was pricey, but when you’re paying $15 for a 9″ vegetarian sandwich it takes your breath away a bit. I immediately looked up some grocery stores for later eating. 
The pool was unbelievable, and exactly what we needed after the stairs of the Eiffel Tower the previous day. Man, the Icelanders really know how to set up a pool. A primer then, on Icelandic pool etiquette. At Lagurdasalag, you pay at a front counter and then get a rubber bracelet that then operates the lockers inside. Outside the main locker rooms are cubbies and lockers for your shoes, as your filthy shoes shouldn’t enter the clean space. Take your shoes off and put them here. If you’ve worn your $600 Jimmy Choos to the pool, you can put them into a plastic bag and carry them inside as well. (Of course, if you own these shoes you’re at the Blue Lagoon which costs $60/head and you can drink champagne and not here where it’s $9 for adults and $3 for kids.) Once inside, pick a locker and undress completely, leaving your clothes behind in the locker. Take your towel and your swimsuit with you to the showers, as you will not be returning to your locker until you’re done. Leave your towel on a metal rack outside the shower where it’ll stay until you’re done swimming. Take a shower and use the soap provided (or your own) to wash thoroughly. If you get confused about how to bathe, there are multi-language signs which have large yellow circles over the areas to scrub most vigorously. Now put your swimsuit on and head outside! The key is that the locker rooms stay dry – you would never take a shower and then walk back to your locker dripping wet to get your suit. 

Photos aren’t allowed at the pool, so this is one from the web, obviously not my photo


Outside are several pools, a 50 m lap pool to the left, in front of us a large play pool with a waterslide and then smaller hot pools of various temperatures. Even though the ambient temperature was 56 degrees, the water was so warm that it was unbelievably comfortable and everything was so clean. It’s like the opposite of American waterparks – it’s cold outside so you get into a hot pool. The main pool also has a variety of large foam toys to ride on, and foam islands to walk on. Eric swam laps first, then we all played in the warm water. When you’re ready to leave you repeat the process above in reverse – take a shower, towel off so you’re dry, then go to your locker, get dressed, go outside, put your shoes on and off you go. 
The Guesthouse Galtafell is just in downtown Reykjavik, and was perfect for us. While it was a bit of a splurge (I typically don’t spend more than $100/night for a place), I wanted a nicer place to stay for our last trip, and this was lovely with a sitting area and small kitchenette. We’d awoken at 5 a.m. to get our flight and were too exhausted to think of cooking, so we went downtown to Glo, a vegetarian restaurant I’d heard about. The food was super tasty, and is relatively reasonable for Reykjavik, but at $20/plate it was the last meal we ate out. 

Quite tasty! One main, 3 sides, and sauces.


After this we went for a walk around town, and here is where I must admit to one of my worse moments on the trip. Friends, I had my very own weeping hour. 

Walking the mean streets of Reykjavik at rush hour


Reykjavik is a spotless little city, indeed the smallest (and northernmost, the boy tells me as he reads over my shoulder) capital city in the world. Houses are made of brightly painted corrugated aluminum, and the downtown area shops do a brisk business in selling anything alcidine, which I’ve just learned is the adjective word for puffins. 

Greeting the local residents


My hope had been to walk around, check out the yarn shops, get some ice cream and then head home. The kids started fighting immediately as we walked out to the street, because they’re human and it had been a very long day, beginning with a 5:30 AM taxi ride to CDG airport. This got Eric to be appropriately upset because we hate it when our kids are acting meanly towards each other in public and especially in foreign countries, where I feel like we just represent America poorly and loudly. Ice cream was taken away as an option, it turned out the yarn shops were closed, and then Eric ran to a shop across the street to look at hats, and I felt abandoned. The kids and I ducked into a bookshop and then began the constant chorus of “Mom Mom Mom Mom Mommy Mom! Hey Mom! Come look at this! Mom! Mom?! Mom!” And I reached my limit. What really threw me over the edge was when Eric came into the shop and while the girl was actually pulling one arm of mine to go and look at something, he took the other to show me something else. Literally being pulled in two directions, like a frayed cord, I began to snap. “When do I get to look at something?” I wailed internally. We walked outside and Eric saw another hat he wanted to look at and took off again. The kids asked if they could go home and play a video game and the parents could go out, which made me feel like no one wanted to be with me at all, preferring a screen or hat shop instead. We were standing on the corner when I started to weep. 

Street view looking up to the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral. No amount of cajoling could convince the kids to visit one more church.


Sitting here now in full possession of my faculties, I realize this is all ridiculous. An objective look would just be a family wandering down a small main street and checking out various shops. The kids were beyond exhausted and didn’t have the capacity for wandering and just needed to go home and veg out for a bit. I get plenty of time to do as I wish for myself. In my over fatigued state, however, I couldn’t see this and just felt like the world was all against me. It wasn’t my finest moment, and I can’t say that I went to bed feeling any improved, such was the fortitude of my melancholy. 

Solfar, or Sun Voyager, sculpture on the Reykjavik bay


The sun never fully sets here this close to the summer solstice, only dipping below the horizon so blackout shades are a necessity, and even so some light bleeds in through the sides. Despite this we all collapsed into bed and after a good night’s sleep, all was right again with the world. 

-s

In which we are entranced by the Eiffel Tower, and I pretend to be a Vogue Model

All throughout the city of Paris, the Eiffel Tower rises in the distance like a steel beacon, drawing excited looks from wherever you are. With it’s size, it seems tantalizingly close everywhere but really, it’s quite a distance to the West of many city sights. Most travel guides recommend saving it for the last day of your visit, to cap it off and to be able to see the sights from up high and recognize where you’ve been, especially the kids who will squeal with excitement and recognition at the Parisian landmarks they’ve trod on in days past.
Taking the Metro to the Plaza Trocadero in the morning is the best way to start out, really. Exiting the station, you walk westward with the Architecture museum to your left, blocking the view. Suddenly, you turn the corner and there she is in all her metallic glory, rising up overhead into the blue sky. At 9 am, few people are at the plaza and we had peaceful moments to enjoy the sight and take some uncrowded pictures. It is truly stunning up close. As with so many famous sights, many of which are burned into our memories even if we’ve never seen them in person, I tend to feel a bit jaded initially about the visit. It feels as if it would be something familiar and dull. But as always happens, once I’m actually there I’m struck by their intricate beauty.


Going through security, the brusque North African guards in the small trailer searched through my bag, extricating the metal forks I’d brought anticipating a picnic after our visit. The held them up, and with wide eyes shook them at me, barking “Forbidden! Forbidden!” Over and over as if I was slow before unceremoniously tossing them into the destruction bin. Sigh. I later sent an extra 10 euro to my Air BnB host for the offending and now demolished cutlery.


Walking underneath the tower and looking up, you see the dizzying skeletal angles come into a beautiful symmetry. We didn’t have tickets yet as prebook tickets sell out months in advance. The lines were already moderately long for the elevators, but please – why take the elevators when there’s a perfectly good set of stairs? There’s 700 of them and for 5 Euro for adults and 3 for kids, that comes to 2.3 cents per step! You will not find a better deal in all of Paris. We hopped over to the South ticket stand for the stairs and walked on up, with no lines to wait in at all. Our quads hardened by the walks of the last week sailed up the steps, while we listened to the pathetic wailings other American tourists shuffling up behind us. The stairs afford you a very cool view of the tower from the inside one of the legs where you can see all of the crisscross scaffolding that holds it up. What a marvel this must have been in 1889 when such engineering was unheard of, and it was a wondrous innovation. Seeing it now is wonderous for almost the opposite reason – buildings nowadays are created with an advanced technology, and the beauty of the Tower seems almost quaint by comparison. The girl was enraptured, having had her life dream of visiting the Eiffel Tower realized, and ran up the entire way, outpacing us.

The bones of the Tower from the walk up the stairs

We went straight up to the second floor first, and walked around the perimeter before buying three tickets there for the top floor. Eric, falling victim to his acrophobia, began to edge his way towards the center of the second floor almost immediately, as far away from the railing as possible. He begged off the summit and walked back to the safer first floor where we would meet him afterwards.

Paris from up on high

A long glass elevator ride to the top and voila, Paris is laid out before you in dizzying distance. When our eyes had drunk in the views and the wind had whipped our hair into a frenzy, we headed back down to the second floor. From there, you have to take the stairs again to the first floor to visit the multiple exhibitions – the elevators do not stop on the way down. The first floor is often skipped by many visitors, which is a shame as the first floor has a fun gift shop as well as a very cool free activity book for the kids. We spent almost another hour on the first floor as the kids searched out the answers to the clues in the exhibits, and we actually learned a lot in the process! Did you know that the Eiffel Tower has 2.5 million rivets? Or that it has changed colors a few times during its life, going from bright red to yellow to rust red and then finally to it’s current brown color, needing a fresh coat every seven years? Or that it was only supposed to be up for 20 years and Gustave Eiffel had to fight not to get it torn down? We learned about the hydraulics that operate the lifts, and saw pictures from the opening day of the tower as well, and mockups of how it appeared for the three world’s fairs that had featured it. There are also glass balconies on the first floor that project into the center of the tower, where you can walk onto. As they’re not completely clear it ruins the effect a bit, but was still cool.

Seriously beat up shoe-fie over the glass. Eric got nowhere near the transparent shelf

Photo Cred to the boy, who is developing quite an eye

Afterwards, we went to find a picnic to take to the Champs des Mars and fulfill the original objective of our quest to Paris. First we tried the Gourmandes d’Eiffel, alas it was closed on Mondays! Walking up to the next street we happened on another bakery with prepared sandwiches, quiches, and pastries and hopped back over to the open lawn to enjoy in the glorious 70 degree sunshine. I’d downloaded the free Eiffel Tower audioguide and we spent some minutes listening to a few of the selections.

The tower and lemonade on a sunny day, bliss

While we were there, a group of likely Roma people began walking around, coming up to groups and asking if they spoke English. In general, when anyone does this to me in a foreign country I shake my head and ignore, and we did the same here. In Paris it’s quite the scam where the groups walk around with some petition on a board, often to support some vague “Deaf-Mute” cause. Then they guilt you into giving them some money. You pull out your wallet and they use distraction and sleight of hand to pilfer cash and cards! We held our bags tightly until they all passed by, not wishing to get pickpocketed again.

Another public nap in Paris. Eric is making a habit of this.

Vogue photoshoot dream acheived. Weird posture, unsmiling gaze, gorgeous background, check. I fault the lack of smize to poor photo direction.

Of course an 11 year old boy would have baser instincts


After naptime and the requisite trick picture taking of the tower, it was time to head back home to the flat. First, though, we stopped in at Petit Bateau as the girl had her heart set on getting a striped dress while in Paris, and it seemed to be the best place. She twirled in the dressing rooms and indeed ended up with a striped dress. Or two.
The boy began to needle his younger sister as older brothers sometimes do, and as we began to tell him to be kinder, she said, “It’s okay. It doesn’t bother me anyway. Nothing could ruin my mood today!” Basking as she was in the glow of the visit to the Eiffel Tower.
Eric and I left the kids in the flat to do a little shopping ourselves and perhaps a happy hour beverage. I was hoping to pick up a few pieces of cool French clothing, however every shop we went into it seemed that the latest styles for women were voluminous fabric sacks that billowed around the body. This seemed to be popular in Japan as well, and when Japanese women wear them on the street, they seem impossibly chic. Unfortunately, for someone like me whose silhouette most closely resembles a rectangle, they hang shapelessly and make me resemble a pool of gloopy mud. Not really my most flattering look. We did, however, find an amazing shirt for the boy at Cotton Doux, printed with rainbow t-rex skeletons the one we got for the boy. Eric really wanted to get one as well, however as is perpetually the case, shirts that fit his torso have sleeves that end halfway between his elbow and his wrist. As 3/4 length sleeves haven’t come into vogue for men as of yet, this looks rather ridiculous and not the high French style he was hoping to emulate.


Though it may not seem entirely possible, we were getting a little tired of our daily cheese intake and so got takeout from a vegan burger place near our flat and headed home for the evening.

Take that workout, SoulCycle

We were beat. I checked the health app on my phone and realized that it had been a long day indeed. We packed up our bags for the early flight the next day and headed off to bed. Paris, we love you.

-s

In which we enter the harried world of tourist Paris, and later seek refuge in the woods and art

Our next day was our first weekend day in June Paris, and the city groaned under the weight of human bodies. Places where we’d previously seen empty were swarmed with selfie-stick armed visitors, there were lines at places we’d simply walked into a few days ago. We descended to the path along the Seine to meet up with our friends at St. Chappelle Chapel. These roads have been converted into pedestrian walks, with little diversions for kids along the way like small playgrounds and climbing walls built into the stones along the bank. It’s a way to escape the crowded overland and move through the city in peace.

Rock climbing along the banks of the Seine

Saint-Chappelle, built in the 13th century, is known for its stained glass, and in this it does not disappoint. The chandeliers appear to float in midair, lending even more of a magical air to the multicolored space inside. While waiting in the short line to get in, a French man behind us struck up a conversation. He had lived in Paris for 20 years but had moved out, and was now bringing his son to come visit for the first time, and was clearly so excited to show him around the glittering city. I know that feeling – it’s the same one I get when I take my kids to the Exploratorium in San Francisco, or introduce them to a favorite childhood book of mine. Some of it is the joy of sharing a beloved experience with your kids, and some of it is the magic of watching them feel the wonder of it for the first time. He told us all sorts of fun facts about the chapel, that the palace courtyard in which we stood was the hall of Kings, and that the pillar on the right when you enter has “29 January 1910” inscribed on it and a line below about five feet off the ground, indicating to where the waters of the Seine rose during the great flood of that year. 

The magical interior of Saint-Chappelle

Onwards to Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur, and here especially was where the annoying side of tourist Paris reared its ugly head. Crowded sidewalks and side-by-side tchotchke shops selling all the same made-in-China crap that will eventually end up in a landfill. I’d premarked a few possible lunch places on Google Maps and we went to check out a creperie. The one  I’d wanted had too long of a wait for starving bellies, but voila internet, there was one around the corner with good reviews. We headed over and it was tiny, with only a few two top tables left. The kids took one table like little gourmands, and we had our own. Creperies are the best lunch options in the city in my opinion. For between 10-15 euro for the lunch special, you get a savory crepe, a sweet crepe, and a drink of soda or cider, the latter of which is served in a wide-mouthed shallow mug. C’est magnifique!

Ick


Myself? I prefer Sartre to Camus, don’t you?

Goat cheese with marmalade and hazelnuts

We headed up the stairs to the cathedral after lunch, being accosted by men who tie a bracelet onto you and then demand money. Most of us walked on by but as we’re a large group a few were bound to get trapped in the net of deftly lassoed embroidery floss over a pinky finger before being able to shake free. Some steps up the hill later and we stood at the base of the white travertine cathedral, built in the years around 1900. 

Sacre-Coeur, the steps, and lounging tourists

I downloaded the free audioguide, and the boy and I listened to a few seconds as we walked around. It should be mentioned here that this was NOT one of the boy’s best days. He kept picking fights and bickering with his sister, and then me. We were listening to the audioguide together on low speakerphone volume, him standing on my right hand side. The girl was on my left and talking to Dana on her left. The boy then leaned over and across me, nearly knocking over a cordon holder in the process to ask the girl what she was talking about, as he can’t bear a discussion to be had without his input. She rebuffed him and wouldn’t really tell him, which I say fair – you can’t expect people to repeat every conversation which you’re not part of. But then he leaned back to me, annoyed that his sister wouldn’t acquiesce to his demands and became upset that I continued to listen to the audioguide without his presence. “You’ve got to pick – you can either listen to the audioguide with me or walk over and join their conversation. You can’t try to do both at once,” I admonished. Apparently this was too much for him to handle and he got very upset and started fighting back with me. As Sacre-Coeur is meant to be a silent space, this means we had to walk out of the chapel a few times to work this out. Even then, it wasn’t finished and he continued to needle his sister and at one point actually hit her later in the day. 

View of the heat shimmering city from the top of Sacre-Coeur

I’d like to chalk it up to heat and fatigue and hunger, but it’s still obnoxious to deal with at the time. Small graces though – the next day as we were walking along he apologized for his behavior the previous day, “I’m sorry for being so mean yesterday,” he admitted. And this I appreciate, for we all have days when we’re just not quite ourselves for whatever reason, but I’d venture that most of us adults aren’t quite as good at acknowledging it. I know I’m not. More importantly, it goes to the rhythms of travel with children. Not every moment is sheer delight – almost every day are small squabbles, corrections, and minor breakdowns. We get through them, and memory is good sandpaper to erase the edges of the hard days, and leave behind the soft glow of happy times only. 

At the “I love you” wall, Montmartre

We were all spent by the end of the day. I will share here an unpopular opinion, but it is this: Sacre Coeur is skippable unless you are someone who loves seeing cathedrals. If that is the case, do not miss it, but if not, then don’t bother – at least not on a weekend day when the descending hordes make it impossible to enjoy the experience. The area of Montmartre surrounding was lovely, and I wish we’d had more time to just wander the streets, but given the heat and fatigue, it wasn’t to be. Hot, sweaty, and feeling squashed into the city, our flat and dinner was a true relief.
 

Sunday was another looming weekend day, and we decided to avoid the city and seek refuge in greenery. My initial plan was to take the Metro to the Bois de Vincennes on the Eastern border of Paris, but I couldn’t find a bike rental place for kids that was open on Sunday. This ended up being a very happy accident. We ended up instead in the Bois de Bolougne on the Western edge of Paris. When I’d read up about it, I saw a Frank Gehry building – the Foundation Louis Vuitton – that looked beautiful and housed an art museum. I bought a family ticket online and off we went. Arriving at 11, we rented bikes and rode around the park for an hour first. Not really knowing where to go, we got a little off track and out of the really lovely woodsy part. If I did this again, I’d make sure to look up some riding  paths first or at least stay in the western side of the park. It was hard for me to enjoy the ride, honestly. I felt some of the Paris gloss had worn off after the day yesterday in tourist ville, instead of where we had previously spent it in “pleasant surprise-ville” or “picnic-in-a-garden-ville.”

When we’d walked in earlier we’d passed by the Jardin d’Acclimation and saw a queue. What’s the queue for? As it turns out, the Jardin is actually a very large space containing green areas for picnicking and also an amusement park, paddling pool, sprinkler area, and multiple playgrounds. Busy though it was, it is almost entirely French with few tourists that we could hear. A ticket to the foundation also gets you entry to the Jardin, and this was a fun surprise. We got surprisingly tasty sandwiches from a little shop outside the park and walked in for a picnic before our museum visit. My travel mood was restored! I had again the enjoyment of a pleasant surprise and a delightful picnic in a park! 

Picnicking in the shadow of the building, so pretty


I wasn’t sure what to expect from the institute. I knew there was an art exhibition, but not much else. Friends, this is a fabulous place and deserves a stop by all who come here. The building itself is something else, with swooping reflective glass wings that guard over it. Depending on the angle, the roofs reflect the cloudy sky or the shimmering movement of the fountain below. 

Currently there is an exhibition featuring African artists, which had some of the most innovative pieces I’ve seen recently. There’s an excellent free audioguide which comes with a pair of very cool earbuds clad in wood which you get to keep at the end of your visit! If you go, get the audioguide. 

Woven tapestry by Athi Patra-Ruga “The votive procession (to exile)”

Series of hairstyles of Nigerian women, J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere

Series of West African masks made out of found objects, by Romuald Hazoumé

After the galleries, we wandered around the building itself and admired the angles from the interior. 


Then the Jardin beckoned – there are a lot of fun rides to be had for 2.90 euro/ticket, but we wanted to get in a little more time with our friends, who had opted for museums and the tower that day. The kids settled for a run through the playground and then the misters to cool off, and back home we went.A metro ride later and we were at the Place de Republique, where on summer weekends they have a kiosk with free board games to borrow and play on tables set up on the plaza and a bunch of free outdoor games for children scattered around. We met back up with Rob, Dana and S, and left the kids to the games. We went across the street where we could still watch them playing and had a beverage to end our time in Paris together. Occasionally I’d see the girl running across the way, foam sword in hand in front of her chasing away an enemy and with a white felt crown on her head, looking all the world like Max from “Where the Wild Things Are” just without the wolf suit. Then I’d take a sip of my Provençal rosé and return to the conversation. 

Free games at the Plaza de Republique

Saying goodbye to our friends

After returning to the flat and eating leftover meze, we began to hear what seemed like live music just out the window. A piece finished and I heard clapping – it WAS live music! I craned out of the window but couldn’t see any players. We were tucked in for the night, but my curiosity got the better of me and I headed down the stairs to see where it was coming from. As it turned out, across the street in the little bar were musicians who looked like they’d gotten off of a concert gig and were now just playing for fun. Tarantella, the Star Wars theme, Hey Jude – all were up for grabs for the tuba, stand up bass, violins, cello, and trumpet players. Another pleasant travel surprise! Eric and I went over to listen and play a game of backgammon on a magnetic travel set I have. I am loath to report the truth, but it will be told – he won the game handily

-s

In which I get pickpocketed, and Eric nurses a Brutalist hangover

After a lazy morning in with more croissants, fruit, and yogurt, we headed out for a day at the park. Passing by the Centre Georges Pompidou along the way, our first stop was to the Musee Cluny, the Medieval Art museum. It is housed in one of two remaining Medevial buildings in Paris, and contains multiple medieval artifacts and the ruins of old Roman Baths that used to be onsite. As always, I’m a sucker for anything fiber arts related, and they have a room with seven other “lady and the unicorn” tapestries, clearly a popular motif of the middle ages. Was it the only art form of the time which allowed phallic symbols? Perhaps so. 

Really, the tastiest yogurt ever.

I now feel free of the need to try and visit the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, their medieval art museum. Whenever I go, I talk about how I’d like to visit and see the unicorn tapestries there, and now it’s something of a running joke with Sapana because it’s really far out of town and we never make it there. Spirit, you  are free of the need for more medieval art! (But really it would be nice to make it up there sometime)

Contemplating the sartorial appearance of a knight. One word: heavy

Unicorns! Lions! Monkeys! and a millefiore background. This tapestry has it all.


We strolled down to the Jardin de Luxembourg, intending to pick up bread, cheese, and vegetables along the way for a picnic. I assumed that I’d be able to walk up any street and see a million fromagerie and boulangeries. While there are a lot, they do need to be found. We wandered around for longer than I would have liked in the hot Parisian noontime, and I resolved next time to pre-pick some selections and save them to my googlemap. We found a fromagerie on that app and headed over. Upon entering what was actually a food hall type of place with many smaller vendors, we found the cheese shop closed. I walked over to the butcher next door and asked in French, “What time does the cheese shop open?” “Not until 4 pm!” she explained. “Oh…” I replied, “We were hoping to get cheese for lunch. Do you think the Marks and Spencer food shop next door would have some?” At this she visibly shuddered and placed her hand on her chest, as if to say “God forbid one eats cheese from Marks and Spencer.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that for this American, cheese from Marks & Spencer in Paris would probably be tastier than anything I was used to back home. She told us to go up the street for an open cheese shop, however upon following her instructions there was nary a fromagerie to be seen. We ducked into a Carrefour supermarket, away from her offended eye and bought some brie and comte, some fruit, veggies and two bottles of Heinekin and headed to the park. We got waylaid by a pastry shop and picked up a lemon tart too, because Paris. 
Friends, thus began a perfect afternoon. Walking into the garden from the North entrance, we found ourselves on a path lined with trees that opened into a plaza with a pond in the center. Beyond were rows of larger trees fiercely manicured into severe rectangles arrayed in rays extending southward. I kept remarking to Eric that I felt we’d wandered into an impressionist painting! 

Children sailing boats at the Garden of Luxembourg, Paul Michel Dupuy

Finding  a shady bench, we set up shop, tearing the bread apart and slicing the the cheese and vegetables into it with a plastic knife. Eric used his bottle opening ring to pop the caps off the beers, and we munched away in happiness. Below us was a pond where colorful wooden boats lazily made their way around in the breeze, chased by children holding long slender bamboo poles. When the boats would reach the edge of the pond, the poles were used to push them off into the center again, their little sails billowing out when they caught the wind.  

I like to send the kids out on small missions in foreign countries, especially in ones where they don’t speak the language. I feel it helps them to learn how to operate in unfamiliar circumstances, and at this point they’re comfortable with this. They went down on their own to find out how to rent boats and how much it cost, scurrying up a few minutes later with the verdict – 4 euros for 30 min. I handed them a 10 note and off they scampered to get their boats. The boats sail for a country – the boy wanted Japan but it had been taken, so he settled for Ireland instead. The girl, she sailed for Spain, and I suspect it was partly because her boat would then match her dress. Without electricity or motors, children happily sent the boats around the pond, devising races and competitions. Beware though – some flags look quite similar, as the boy discovered when he found a little pirate trying to poach his Ireland boat instead of the India boat that he actually owned. The cheek! 

Once the maritime adventure ended, we headed over to the large playgrounds. 2 euro for the children to enter, and 1 for the adults. Eh, I could take pictures from outside the fence and save 2 Euros. We handed them enough coinage and found a bench where we could watch in but not actually have to sit among the running bulls. As it was before 3 and not Wednesday (because French children just don’t have school on Wednesday) it wasn’t terribly crowded. The kids befriended a couple of other visitng American kids, Eric took this time to enjoy a nap in the shade, while I read a book (The Sympathizer) and took a few pictures. We ended up spending almost four hours total in the park, and enjoyed every single second of it. 

Fast times on the flying fox

Zut Alors! The Métro!


We popped down to the metro and found it…packed. Cheek by jowl (and guarding our pockets) we made it home and conjured up dinner. This evening from Maison Plisson, a high end small grocery store and cafe around the corner from our flat, akin to Dean and DeLuca. Fresh ricotta and spinach tortellini and a side salad made a perfect summer meal.


After dinner, we let the kids entertain themselves (translation: play Minecraft and some game called Animal Jam on the iPad) while Eric and I scouted out some speakeasy cocktail bars in the area. The first one was Candelaria, in which you walk up to a hole-in-the-wall taco joint with maybe six seats in it, serving up fresh tacos off a flat grill. At first we looked at each other, thinking, this can’t be the place, but then we saw someone exiting through a false wall in the back! We slid on through and found ourselves in a small well lit space, the bottles behind the bar glowing from golden light. 


We texted the kids, and as they were fine we decided on another stop – the Red Door. There was a doorman holding the false door open, so this element was no surprise this time, but the fun was that all the drinks were based on architectural styles. Eric chose a “Brutalism” which came served, appropriately, in a concrete columnar glass. Perfect. I chose “Modernism” mostly because it came in a very long-stemmed bowl cocktail glass which felt quite elegant. We chatted with the British waitress afterwards – the staff was responsible for the thoughtful drinks, and she told us they considered various ingredients for months before putting the drinks together. The Brutalism, for example, has ingredients that are all treated rather harshly – burnt roasted orange, oxidized vermouth – down to the coated and fried baby’s breath garnish on top which was indeed edible. I took a bite of the flowers, syrupy and crunchy without being overly sweet.

 

Brutalism and Modernism side by side in cocktail form


—-

The next morning, Eric woke up with a headache and nausea. “I feel terrible,” he groaned. “I think you might have a hangover,” I replied. “I only had two cocktails though!” he said back. Unfortunately, when you are generally a relatively light drinker of beer (no more than two a night) two cocktails with any possible combination of alcohols can easily do you under. For better or worse, I was not so afflicted and so once it was clear that Eric wasn’t suddenly struck with meningitis or another life threatening condition, the kids and I took off to see the pyramid of the Louvre and then visit the Musee d’Orsay, complete with a picnic in the Tuilleries along the way.

 

Most of the time when I’m out and about, I just put my money in a deep inside pouch of my backpack, but today I thought that with going into tourist territory, I’d be better off with my money in a fanny pack (yes, I do have one) right in front of me. As we boarded the relatively empty metro at our first stop, I suddenly felt a few people shove into me forcefully and push me back. I was pushed into the kids, they were pushed into the people behind me, and I couldn’t tell what was happening. A group of British women behind me started talking about times when they were pickpocketed, which made me wonder. We were all crammed intogether in a small space, and then one of the women, teenager really, who had pushed me picked up my coin purse off the ground and handed it to me. Turns out – I HAD been pickpocketed! Given that my attention was entirely on the kids, I hadn’t noticed the group of women hanging around at the station looking for easy targets (me). When they pushed us all in, my focus was nowhere near my money and it was easy for them to zip open my bag and then lift out my coin purse. Now, I actually keep my credit card, driver’s license and a little cash in that, but if you were to pick it up it feels empty. After the thieves got off at the next stop, I checked my coin purse and saw that everything was still in it. The cash, about 50 Euros, wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but to lose my license and credit card would have been a real hassle. The British tourists behind me said that they thought that perhaps the would-be thieves returned my wallet because they felt found out, but I partly think it’s because they thought that there wasn’t anything valuable in it. At any rate, deep into the backpack went the little coin purse. I kept the fanny pack for my phone and for decoy. Mostly though, I felt incredibly foolish – here I am, someone who’s been all over and considers herself a savvy traveler, getting taken for the oldest trick in the book. Sheesh. 

The Louvre? Who cares! BUBBLES!!

After this, we exited at the Louvre where I was triply careful, and walked past the pyramid. I gazed upon the I.M. Pei piece in wonder and gawked at the huge palatial buildings around me, the former Paris residence of Kings Charles V through Louis XIV.  The kids saw “BUBBLES!!” and ran off to play, with barely a sideways glance at the architectural masterpiece. One of the really nice things about having more time in a place is that you don’t have to feel rushed to always be getting somewhere, so bubbles it was. 

MORE BUBBLES!


We spent about twenty minutes in front of the Louvre while they chased bubbles big and small in the sunshine, before heading to Eric Kayser to grab a baguette and some drinks. This time, I’d marked out a few places before we set out for our trip so we wouldn’t wander forever. I’d brought some cheese and salad from dinner the night before, and we settled for a picnic in the Tuilleries. After this we walked over to the Musee D’Orsay, the Impressionist museum across the Seine from the Louvre. Housed in a former train station, the building itself is a gorgeous sight. I’d purchased e-tickets that morning, so we just walked into the museum and skipped the line. Side travel note: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve skipped a line buy buying e-tickets. Why everyone doesn’t do this is beyond me, since most of the people I see in lines are staring at their smartphones. I’ve even bought e-tickets while waiting in a line and then simply left and walked into the speed entrance. Granted there are times this isn’t possible, but for all others, why not? It is always, always worth the extra Euro per person. 

Looking up at lady liberty

There’s an exhibition at the D’Orsay currently on spiritualism and Impressionism. It was packed. We moved slowly, waiting for popular paintings to be able to get in closer without pushing people. Whenever I go to an art museum, I always like to find an artist I like who I’ve never heard of before. This time it was Odilion Redon, who paints dreamlike scenes that draw you into the miasma, so different from other impressionists who generally stick to real-life scenes, painted softly. 

Tree on Yellow Background by Odilon Redon. (Sorry for the crappy photo, best I could get in the crowded gallery)

While the kids and I were looking at an artwork, and I pulled the girl closer to me so that she wouldn’t be in someone’s way, I heard an angry British voice behind me (again with the Brits! What country is this?) “See there?! You just moved in front of me!! I was trying to read the information and you just moved right in my way!!!” I looked back at the man who was at my eye level and said coolly, “There’s no need for that. I wasn’t aware that I moved into your way. All you had to say was ‘Excuse Me, I can’t read the sign anymore,’ and I would have happily moved aside.” “Well! I can’t even look at a piece of art around here without people stepping in front of me!!” he exclaimed back. “It seems to me you need to work on your manners.” I admonished quietly. “My manners are FINE,” he said back angrily. “That’s … debatable,” I said. He moved on, and a French woman next to me said, “You guys are being fine! I don’t know what his problem is. Some people just want to be unhappy.” Indeed. We walked through the rest of the gallery, not letting the incident mar our time there, and later crossing paths with the French woman from time to time and exchanging words of amazement with her about the beautiful paintings.

I CANNOT find the. name of this artist. Internet, if you know it, help.

After a walk through the van Gogh and pointillism galleries, we headed back home to meet up with Rob, Dana and their son S who had flown over from Timisoara to meet up with us!! I’m again floored by people who take time and space out of their lives to meet up with us, and am always, always grateful. This time dinner was from a traiteur, a tip we’d learned from Bruce the bike guy. Traiteurs are takeaway catering places, and we’d walked by a Greek one near our house the last few days. This time we went in and found a little place with a cooler full of delicious looking Greek spreads and foods.  I asked if I could take a picture, and the woman there said “only of the food! I don’t even have any makeup on!” I told her truthfully that she looked beautiful, and snapped a few shots. 

 

We loaded up on dolmades, olives, hummus, artichoke spread, greek salad, tabbouleh, and sarmale that the proprietor told us “people come from far away to eat.” She wasn’t wrong, and we had a happy evening catching up over the delicious food.

-s