Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Paris, France

October 6, 2007

I would tell you that we had the top down and the wind blowing in our hair, but they haven't designed a convertible mini-van. Yet, this describes our spirits on Saturday morning as we pumped up the bass on Toby Mac's CD, rapped out lyrics like, "I've got a handful of dreams, and a heart full of God," and drove 130 kph... 90 mph... (slow for the autobahn!) toward Paris, France.

We drove into the city from the east side, crossed the Seine River, and oohed and aahed at the Notre Dame as we followed our GPS unit to the hotel we lined up online before we left. Now, I say "lined up" in the loosest of terms because I'm not your typical make-reservations-and-get-a-print-out-for-proof kind of gal. I mean, I looked up several hotels online, wrote down the addresses, and figured we'd have Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. (So when I tell you that our marriage went to yet another level as we traversed more unknown territory... uh, huh.)

Paris is a big city. (I'm not telling you. I whisper that to myself again for the 500th time.) Caught up in the bumper to bumper traffic with motorcycles and scooters riding down the white lines, zipping in between cars while we maneuver our wanna-be-SUV chunky mini-van down streets designed for Europe's slim streamlined Smart Cars, we made our way toward the 5th Arrondissement. "You have now reached your destination," said the GPS lady in her British accent. We looked up and sure enough, there was Hotel Stella. Now, where to park. After 15 minutes and familiarizing ourselves with the layout of the land within a 2-block radius, I decided we needed a diversion from the rising blood pressure in the two front seats. So I programmed in "Sacre-Coeur Basilica." We laugh... now. So, there we were, driving on narrow, and I mean narrow, cobblestoned streets, our vehicle the only one in the vicinity as we inched our way through the throng of people who side-stepped only slightly and ever so slowly while pointing and laughing at us. Again, the British accent, "You are just about to reach your destination." We could see the Basilica's white dome and spirals just ahead. Except, evidently no one informed the satellites directing us from outer space that we're not supposed to drive to the Sacre-Coeur! I admit, I giggled at how completely ridiculous our predicament was. Although I tried not to giggle too hard... it wasn't funny to everyone in the van. I'm thinking, Hey! We're lost... in Paris! How fun is that! LeRoy did not think this.

So now we know. You're supposed to park your car at the bottom of the hill and hike up. Got it. We abandoned the Basilica idea and returned to our original mission: find lodging for the night. After working our way toward the Eiffel Tower and finding a parking lot, we decided to hoof it as we had seen several hotels lining the streets and surely one of them had to have a room! Surely.

We chose a street and started walking. We asked directions from a cute couple walking their baby. Very kind. Accent so thick we hardly understood a word. Smile a lot. Much nodding. Pointing. Baby fusses and they agree in French that she will take the baby in his stroller over by the water fountain while he tries to help the poor tourists. I look and find to my amazement that my children are not swimming in the fountain. This is good. Finally, we turn around and walk back the way we came. I enter every hotel lobby and ask if there are any rooms. No. No rooms tonight. But for tomorrow... their eyes light up. Surely.

At this point I am frantically scanning Rick Steve's lodging options as my husband stands by looking more and more... how shall I say... oh, I don't know... Perturbed sounds a little French and a lot how LeRoy looked. To his credit, he somehow managed to keep his composure rather well throughout this little... what I like to call Grand Adventure. And the children? Well, I'll use Isaiah's description, "We're extreme!" Mostly they went along with the deal with an occasional, "So when are we going to the Eiffel Tower?" We finally found a place to stay for the next night at Hotel du Champ de Mars -- right next to Rue Cler (a cobblestoned street market closed off to vehicles). We decided to stay at the plush Hotel de Vehicula for our first night's stay in Paris. This worked out rather nicely as we had a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower from our window and were about 2 long block's walk to the monument. Next stop: The Eiffel Tower!

Waiting in lines is never a problem when there's bars to climb and swing on! All the hands you see on the bars in this picture? Yep, those are my children! How I love the antibacterial wipes that the APPLE class sent with us to Europe! You were right, Shari C.! Those wipes come in handy over here!
All smiles atop the Eiffel Tower! It was about 10:30 PM by the time we reached the top. At the top of each hour, for ten minutes, strobe lights make the structure twinkle from top to bottom. The sight is spectacular both from the ground and while standing inside! We heard that we should prepare for it to be windy and cold at the top. Windy, yes. But only slightly chilly. (Anyone who knows our hot Isaiah won't be surprised to see him sans jacket.) So we strolled the perimeter, verified that Paris is indeed the City of Lights, read every framed piece of information. (Does it surprise you that the boys found it particularly fascinating that four men from the Alpine Paris Mountain Climbers Club scaled the face of the Eiffel Tower in a 75th anniversary stunt on May 3, 1964? Yes, particularly fascinating, indeed!) Also, and don't quote me on this one because I can't remember exactly how the info board said it, but we read one poster that stated that Gustav's engineering of the structure is so magnificent that the base of the tower doesn't weigh much more per square foot than a linebacker standing on tiptoes. Isaiah, my child who talks about being an engineer and an inventor someday was the one most interested in this little fact. This was the view we awoke to the next morning. Also, it seemed that the entire West Side Community was out jogging or walking their dog. So inspiring! I wished that I had brought along my running attire. Next time I will. Then I can say that I went for a morning jog in the Eiffel Tower park... My children asked to pet every dog that came by... and every dog owner seemed more than happy to oblige. It was so sweet as the owner would finally wave to my children, tugging on the leash to continue on their way, "Bon jour!" they called out. And my children, waving and smiling back, "Bon jour!" Just four blocks from our first night's "hotel," we turned the corner and looked for breakfast on Rue Cler. Israel is in the background on the left checking out the rotisserie. I think Zeke was looking at the other meats behind the glass case.
Ah! Pastries galore! We looked it over, Israel and I picked out our breakfast... But, alas, we were with boys. And we're American. You know, fried eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, hash browns, bottomless orange juice... the works. The boy's faces said it all, You don't really expect me to be satisfied with a croissant filled with fluffy stuff for breakfast do you? So, we moved on.

Here we are at a bridge over the Seine River. We still hadn't found the super-size-red-neck-I'm-from-the-hills-and-want-the-grease-laden-full-meal-deal yet. No, that's because we still hadn't caught on to the fact that we were in Paris! Hello. We're talking dainty, airy, sip-your-orange juice, pick-at-your-croissant and have a little larger lunch. Then, at the end of the day enjoy a very light dinner and a glass of wine. Elegant. Sophisticated. Debonair. Suave. I was embarrassed that I suddenly felt like I was "from the hills."
So, we continued our walk along the Seine River. At one corner an older gentleman on roller blades had paused to watch some film makers who appeared to be filming a car commercial. We asked him, "Excuse me. Uh, I mean, pardon." He turned and offered a smile. "You speak English?" He smiled bigger.

"A little. No, not much."

"Where is a good place to eat breakfast around here?"

"Ah! Down several blocks on that side of the river," he said pointing north. I thought his English was quite clear. "But they're all expensive!"

"Well, where would you eat breakfast?"

He smiled as he pointed to himself, "Me? I would eat at my house!" He looked at me as though I should be enlightened by this information.

I felt enlightened. "Ah! Very good! We'll eat breakfast at your house then! Where do you live? We'll come home with you!" Fortunately we either visited a different Paris than was rumored or else the rumors are just rumors because every single person we met was extremely kind and fun! Upon my declaration, this man laughed with us (at us?), shook my hand, and wished us luck in finding our breakfast.
Me, trying to look suave and sophisticated.

Why do I get the feeling that it isn't working?

Okay, serious, when I studied the layout of the city on the map, I thought, No problem! This will be easy -- it's just like Washington D.C.!! I love D.C.!! Take a fascinating city with lots of awe-inspiring monuments and museums and history, a doable walking plan, and then you just take it from there! At the end of the day, just when you feel like you can't walk another step, you jump on the nearest Metro, (usually no more than a block away), and you take the subway back to your hotel! Easy!

Heh, heh... I wish you could hear my children's perspective on this plan... Ah, yes, we'll be fine-tuning these adventures for awhile I think. However, you'll notice, their still smiling with the City Square in the background.

Isaiah, Eli, and Ezekiel on a bridge over the Seine River. What do you think Isaiah is doing? Remember... sophistication... suave... fancy in France... hm. He's spitting and watching it hit the water... smile. See why I love these guys so much? What fun is it to cross a bridge if you can't spit into the water anyway?

So, we finally relinquished ourselves to a very expensive breakfast of fried eggs, a small, thin slice of ham, quiche (yum!), and a crepe with bananas and chocolate on it. We were so thankful because the next stop was the Notre Dame and breakfast revived us from the six puddles of low-blood sugar emotional melt-downs we had become and readied us for another few hours of sightseeing.

We made it to the Notre Dame as mass was in progress. Our family thought this extremely strange to be walking around admiring stained glass, statues, and flashing pictures while church went on like usual -- as if there weren't 250 tourists staring at them and oohing and aahhing at the beauty of their cathedral.

Even the boys asked, "Mom, are they having church right now?" I told them yes and asked them to imagine what that would be like to sit through church while hundreds of tourists walked around the perimeter of the sanctuary, flashing pictures, and admiring the building. Some preachers and priests would find this terribly disruptive and distracting. I guess others don't let it phase them...

The other side of the Notre Dame...
These street performers played their upbeat jazz while we took a break and simply enjoyed.
A better picture of the performers...
Here were more street jazz musicians we passed as we headed over to the 4th Arrondissement to visit the Jewish Holocaust Museum.

We didn't take any pictures at the Holocaust Museum... just had many hushed conversations as we viewed pictures, read names on the memorial wall, and reflected on the thought of over 76,000 Jews being deported to concentration camps during World War II. Eli and Isaiah are trying to grasp the devastation of what went on here in Europe during the Holocaust. LeRoy and I are trying to grasp it with them. I never cease to be amazed at the depth of empathy that Eli and Zae consistently display. Zeke and Israel, of course, are too young to understand and were confused when everyone got so quiet and serious all of a sudden. But that's okay.

I just couldn't help myself on the picture above and the one below. We came around the corner and here were these two little boys sharing a dessert. There wasn't an adult around anywhere! It just seemed so quaint and sweet as I imagined these two boys taking a few cents Euros and going down to the corner sweet shop to buy a coveted dessert.
Then, a couple of blocks down we found ourselves walking behind this lady. Me and the children laughed soooo hard! It was just so... hm... eccentric! So, with the boys elbowing me and egging me on, "Mom! Take a picture! You have to! Give me the camera, I'll do it!" I finally agreed. And, then, just as I clicked the picture, she turned around and stared right at me. Click! Perfect.

Do you ever wonder if you're on somebody's blog somewhere in the world?

We watched this mime for several minutes before Eli finally went right up to him, stood a few inches from him, and slowly put out his finger to touch him on the arm... Just at that moment the mime jerked to life and tickled Eli in the ribs while shouting, "Aaaa, gotcha!" We laughed and the mime held out his hand to shake Eli's hand. But when Eli shook hands with him, the mime wouldn't let go. He looked over at me and gave me the thumb's up sign as if to check with me that I was cool with all this. I said sure and handed Eli some Euro cents to put in the man's copper tip dish. But he still didn't let go. So, finally, LeRoy told the man to just keep him. At this, Zae and Zeke decided they better come to their brother's rescue so they told the man to let go of their brother. Zeke checked to see how tight the man's grip was on Eli. And me? Well, I figured Eli was still laughing, so I was all good with it, too. I simply handed Eli some more Euro cents to put in the dish... When the mime finally let go, we and the crowd that had gathered all laughed and applauded! How fun! Now my children are interested in learning how to mime. And if you ask Israel about her trip to Paris, this is the memory she is most likely to share with you.
So the mime and magicians, marionette performers, a peace march, a few musicians, and several artists painting and drawing people were all in the square that surrounds the Pompidou Centre of modern and contemporary art. We got on the escalator that moves people through a clear tube across the span of the building and up five floors where we saw more spectacular views of the city. That white speck up in the far right corner of the picture? That's the Sacre-Coeur Basilica. I found out that the monuments and museums aren't exactly cloistered together like they are in D.C. But we enjoyed looking out over the Parisian rooftops. (This reminded me of a book I had begun and now suddenly wished I had finished. Remember the book you suggested for Book Club, Theresa? What was the title of that book? I'll try to get ahold of it again.)

On the top floor of the Pompidou Centre there is a pink restaurant with all kinds of funky designs for the tables and chairs.
And every table has a fresh long-stemmed red rose on it. I was surprised that Israel actually found it quite cool and said she'd like a bedroom like this. She later told me when we were walking along the Seine River that she wants to live in Paris someday and that she would like me to come visit her. Sounds good to me!

So we walked through all the exhibits. We oohed and aahed. We scratched our heads and asked each other, "What is it?" We giggled some. We crinkled our noses and eyebrows. We blushed. We critiqued. I even asked the children at one point as all six of us stood in front of a canvas that was completely black with a few sporatic brush strokes of brown and a couple more of orange, "What do you think the artist was trying to say?" My children suggested some varying answers, "Maybe he was mad." "Yeah, or maybe scared." "Or maybe he just didn't know what else to paint." I don't know which one of my children suggested this last one. It could have been any one of them -- they're all just that insightful. One exhibit was a dozen or so inflatable swim floaties... chairs, lounge chairs, beach balls... They were displayed around the floor and hanging from the ceilings. I pointed out that somebody saw this as a wonderful piece of art. Eyebrows crinkle. Again, I am enlightened. The laundry on my couch waiting to be folded? Oh! Careful! It's art! And the mud tracked in by the children? Yes, don't you see the awesome art?

I found a great sight with a wonderful nighttime photo of the front of the Pompidou if you want to check it out... www.pompidoucentre.fr

As we were leaving I said, "That was modern art, children. Now, here's the plan: we're going to study classical art and the artists and then we're going to come back and visit the Louvre. All day we had planned to get to the Louvre -- we even passed by it a couple of times! But now I'm glad that we didn't go yet because it will be fun to study about it and then visit it. (How I wish I could just send for you, Amy, so that we could have the guided tour by an art historian extraordinaire! I'm sure your 5-year old, Brie, could help guide the tour!)

Later that same afternoon Isaiah and I went to go check into the hotel while LeRoy and the others went to hang out at the Eiffel Tower for awhile. That evening we ate at a wonderful restaurant on a corner. We sat outside and like an outdoor theatre, watched Paris life while we ate. Isaiah ordered duck!! And we all sampled a taste but then it was so delicious that he had to guard his plate because we all wanted to have more. This was LeRoy's birthday dinner as his birthday was the next day -- I suggested a little es cargo but he wasn't going for it. I almost ordered es cargo... I'm working myself up to it. The menu said they were sauteed in garlic butter. Can anything taste bad when it's sauteed in garlic butter? Well, I guess we're going back to Paris for the Louvre and es cargo.
October 8, 2007 -- LeRoy's 43rd birthday!!

This time we stepped out of our sweet hotel and onto Rue Cler where we promptly settled ourselves in this cute little PTT Brasserie Cafe. It said in the Rick Steve's guide that they would give a small discount on an American breakfast if we showed them our guidebook. So we did. (Thank you, Carol, for buying such a thoughtful gift for us!) I am still giggling over the thin little slice of ham, laying there pale and sickly underneath two eggs cooked just enough to keep them from running all over the plate. The children were thrilled to have hot chocolate and I felt pretty ecstatic myself to be able to cross off yet another place on my list of "Places in the world I want to sit and enjoy a hot cup of coffee." Although, again, I have to say, expensive croissants and 1/2 cup of orange juice in dainty wine glasses is still a shock to us Americanized Super-sizers.

Doesn't Israel look triumphant at the Arc de Triomphe? She is! We almost took the Metro to this place until we realized that it was only nine blocks to walk. Of course, when we took a vote of whether to walk or take the Metro everyone decided we'd see so much more if we walked!

This monument has so much history behind it! We were all amazed as we read up on it before we got there. This is also where the Tour de France ends.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
Eli at the top of the Arc de Triomphe. It was so awesome... Eli said to me, "Mom, I just can't wait to tell Diane and the rest of my class that I was actually on the top of the Arc de Triomphe! I mean, we studied this and we studied Napolean. And now I'm actually here!" There was a reverance in his tone. And just when I think I couldn't love Diane, his teacher, more, my appreciation deepens once again.
At the top of the Arc de Triomphe...
This picture makes me giggle every time I see it. This basically sums up our adventures we're having. Many, many smiles and bonding with character-building, face-crunching moments thrown in all along the way. This, too, was atop the Arc de Triomphe.
We walked completely around the top and at one point looked down and saw this bride and groom down below. How symbolic! I hoped that this couple would feel triumphant in their love all the rest of their lives. I know; how cheesy. Even cheesier is the fact that I'm being totally serious!

See the traffic? We watched, mesmerized for a very, very long time. Here's the deal: There are 12 avenues or boulevards that empty out at the Arc. One of them is the 10-lane Champs de Elysees Boulevard. Vehicles entering, (we even saw a couple of dare-devil bicyclists make their way onto this traffic circle!), have the right of way. But there are no lane markings whatsoever once you enter the circle. It's basically a free-for-all. Double-decker tour buses, mini-coopers, BMW's, mopeds... they enter, make their way to the inside, go around until they find their exit, and then make their way -- okay, actually they dart -- toward their exit. It's like the carnival ride Bumper Cars except that the point is to try to avoid hitting anyone else's car. And if someone darts right in front of your car, no biggie, you just slam on the brakes, wait for them to get out of the way, and then continue on your merry way. After watching this for quite a while, Eli asked if we could go get our van and come back to drive on this circle.

Now we have another thing to come back to Paris for.

We sat for awhile at the base of the Arc. We people watched. And, yes, the four people scaling the wall of the Arc in this picture... who do you think they are?? Uh, huh, I'm a proud mama. My children don't just show up as spectators. If there is a way to more fully experience life, they find a way! (In order of how they appear above: Israel -- making her way around the corner, Isaiah, Eli, and Ezekiel. Oh! And that's LeRoy sitting there on the bench just below them.)
I've always dreamed of walking down the streets in downtown New York City. Although I haven't had that opportunity yet, I sort of imagine this is what it might feel like as I looked down the Champs de Elysees and saw a sea of heads bobbing up and down. And there's my girl, Israel!
As we headed back to our van, we found ourselves on the street where all the famous fashion designers have their stores. I read that this is the most fashionable street in Paris. This iron fence ran the entire length of Montaigne Avenue in front of stores with the likes Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani, Vuitton, and Chanel. (The only reason I even know these names are from my fancy, flaming-A girlfriends who I met with from time to time at Peggy B.'s house for coffee and yummy treats! Phew! Every tomboy girl desperately needs a handful of froo-froo girlfriends in her life. The kind who go to Seattle for the weekend to go shopping and come back with lipstick that you can only find in the big city!)

So, anyway, about the fence... My children decided that the whole point of this street was to get from one end to the other without ever touching the ground. How fun is that! Some people just walk down a street. And then others implement their passion and turn it into a competition!! I just don't see how Paris could be more enjoyable without all their energy!

One last picture before having a picnic lunch at the van and heading home.

We can't wait to go visit Paris again!!


  1. I am soooo not a traveler but I swear, Sharon, your blog makes me want to hop a jet!!!!! Amazing writing, inspiring insights and delicious descriptions! Thanks, Dear One!

  2. Sharon,

    Oh how I wish that I could give you a tour of the Louvre! Sitting in a cafe with some croissants and then touring the Louvre sounds wonderful. Prepare yourself for the fact that to really appreciate it you will need at least 2 days to do the museum. (And you still won't see everything). Glad that you loved Paris, it looked marvelous!!

  3. Mike Showalter says:
    Did you move to Germany or are you all on vacation? Looks like many fun times.