When in Rome…

Let me take you back, not just to the summer of 2018 when we took our trip to Rome but to the summer of 1957. There was a young man named Tom Ripley and he had one talent, becoming someone else. If you haven’t gotten the reference by now, The Talented Mr. Ripley, is one of my favorite films, set in dreamy coastal Italy and most notable for its gorgeous cinematography and score by Gabriel Yared.

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If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend it. The cast is fabulous and it’s currently on Netflix. I wish I could time travel and visit Italy during the 1950s. It feels so romantic and stylish.

Our Airbnb was just five minutes from the famous Piazza Navona in Rome. We spent our morning searching for locations where the movie was filmed. Little did I know that using my phone to match the photos would make a glare from the sun that annoyed me, but you get the idea. Piazza Navona looks exactly the same from when the film was made twenty years ago. With exception to the giant Apple store advertisement on a building being renovated.

It took all our strength to not jump into this fountain!

We walked to a store and bought some groceries and stopped for a gelato. We could only find a small convenience store so the groceries were limited. Although they had a full olive bar, unfortunately, we don’t eat olives. So many shops sold every variety of pasta you could imagine however our Airbnb had no cookware.

We spent the afternoon napping and enjoying the air conditioned bedroom while Antz did some work. Then we forced ourselves to take a walk and grab some dinner. It’s hard to find something good in our neighborhood due to all the obvious tourist traps, and I wanted shrimp fettuccine alfredo so bad. The place we chose looked legit yet had no idea what shrimp alfredo was but agreed to make me fettuccine pasta with shrimp.

So, check out what they served me after waiting 30 minutes in an empty restaurant. I didn’t eat one bite, it was ice cold like they took it out of the freezer and put it on a plate. The visibly irritated waiter tried to offer me something else but I didn’t have the energy to wait and I tipped him anyway. I had been in Rome for less than 24 hours and already had two horrible meals. I just don’t eat well when I’m on vacation. I have terrible luck with eating outside of the US. Don’t worry, I survived on an all lemon gelato diet. I loved this vintage movie poster shop but we have limited wall space in our apartment.

At least I found some decent wine! It was a chill first day and the heat made it difficult to go out during the day. We waited until dark and took a lovely night stroll for more gelato although the temperature remained in the 80s.

It’s hard to be glamorous when you sweat off all your makeup from the humidity. I must admit, visiting Rome in the middle of the summer was not a wise choice. The city was overrun with tourists (imagine the worst stereotypical versions) it was unbearably hot and Rome is really a huge tourist trap, like you can’t walk down the street without guys trying to get you to come eat at their restaurant or buy something from their shop. I don’t like feeling accosted when I’m outside. Well, you live and you learn. I was happy to cross it off our travel list but my next visit to Italy will be during off-season and in a town that is not so popular (dying to go to Sicily!)

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20 Rad Things to do/explore/eat in Paris (with kids!)

Bonjour,

My sweet friend Karilyn who is a travel blogger at No Back Home, asked me to share my top twenty things to do in Paris with kids. Firstly, I’d like to dissuade the notion that traveling with kids can be a bummer. Non! If you are planning for a horrible time, you will end up miserable but prep yourself in advance for those unexpected meltdowns and keep these tips up your sleeve and you’ll be asking yourself why didn’t we travel with our kids sooner?

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We got Liv’s first passport when she was three, now she is nine, she has traveled to twelve countries, far more than Antz and I travelled by her age! So, let me help you make your traveling with kids blues fade away by following my guide to Paris.

I don’t travel anywhere without these must-haves:

  • Multi-function backpack – I cannot walk around all day with a purse. It never works for me, I carry too much stuff and I love to be hands-free so I carry this Goodordering backpack/tote. This has been my go-to travel bag for two years now. It has padded straps so it doesn’t hurt my shoulders and I love the extra pockets in the front to hold tickets and extra camera batteries. I use the side pockets for my water bottle and umbrella which you will read more about below. Invest in a reliable travel bag! I’ve seen too many Mom’s struggling with bulky diaper bags and flimsy purses.

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  • Anti-bacterial Wipes – Always handy with kids, I’m not a germaphobe but public spaces can be gross, so it’s always wise to have these on you for wiping ice cream filled faces.
  • A scarf – I have used a scarf as a picnic blanket in the park, to wrap my hair up on a windy day and covered myself up when visiting a church out of respect. I have this lightweight one from J.Crew.
  • Water bottle – There are lovely public water fountains all over Paris. Having a water bottle is essential to surviving a long day in Paris with kids.

  • Cell phone chargers – I have one for each of us because we play Pokemon Go, the Flash Invaders app and taking photos quickly drains our battery power. This one works great. Bonus: If you are an Invader fan, check out my Instagram stories.
  • Kids Headphones – If you are planning a long road trip, these are a necessity! Now that Liv is older, she prefers to listen to her own music and we can crank our old people tunes without any side-eyes from her. Plus I rather use my own headphones during guided tours than use the cheap ones they give you. Liv uses these.

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  • Snacks! – This one is a must-have for kids. Liv gets cranky when she’s hungry and Parisian restaurants close from 3pm – 7pm so I always have apples, nuts or granola in my backpack.
  • Small, travel size umbrella – I strongly recommend bringing an umbrella, even during the summer, the sky has been known to suddenly start pouring and it’s so frequent you will be happier you had it than not.
  • Backpack for your little one – I always let Liv pack a bag with her camera, a few books for long rides, her special lip gloss, a few small toys and her phone and charger. It makes her feel like she’s a big kid having her own things to bring when we travel. She has a Fjallraven Kanken backpack which was expensive but she’s had it for going on five years now.

  • I bought Liv her own instant camera and it has been a game changer for our trips. She loves playing photographer and it helps keep her busy when we are at museums or art galleries when she would normally run wild.
  • A retractable selfie stick – This one may be controversial. I really hate seeing these sticks all over touristy landmarks however, too many times I have ended up with no family photos or blurry, horrible photos taken by a stranger so I have given in to the selfie stick peer-pressure. This one is strongly recommended by my friend Kelly, who used it during her three month sabbatical while traveling solo. It has a built-in tripod and a remote. Just be aware most popular museums do no allow tripods or selfie-sticks.

Please keep in mind, you must say “Bonjour” when entering a business, to the bus driver or before speaking to any Parisian, not speaking first is considered rude. It’s always a good habit to teach your little ones how to say Hello, Goodbye and Thank you in the language of the country you are traveling to.

Okay, now that you are all prepped and ready to go, here’s the first stop.

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    1. Metro station
      (any Metro station)

      You may think walking is the best way to get around Paris but the city is huge and little feet get tired fast. If you pop into any Metro station you can buy a book of 10 tickets (called a carnet) which can be used on the trains and buses. I prefer taking a bus around the city so you can sitesee and enjoy a relaxing ride to your destination. The French public transportation is very easy to navigate and convenient. They even have the arrival times posted on most bus stops. Believe me, you will be doing plenty of walking later.

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    2. Jardin des Tuileries
      Place de la Concorde, 75001 Paris

      This is the Parisian equivalent to Central Park, located near the Louvre museum. Here you will find something for all ages. Playgrounds and sculptures are scattered throughout the impeccably manicured tree lined paths. During the summer and winter months there is a fun fair with games and carnival rides. You will find a carousel, snack stands, a puppet theater and my daughter’s favorite, the trampolines! They cost a few euros for 15 minutes of jumping so make sure you have cash on you.

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      The museum de l’Orangerie is located in the south end of the garden which houses the impressive Claude Monet Water Lilies.

    3. Jardin du Luxembourg
      6eme arrondissement
      Closes at 4:30 pm during the winter months

      This is another popular park, it’s massive and lovely. There’s so much to see here you can easily spend a whole afternoon there! The most fun thing for kids is renting a sailboat and spending 30 minutes playing captain of the sea. Don’t worry, I am referring to a small toy boat and you get a stick to launch it into a lake. Each boat has a different country flag so be sure to choose one that you can tell you little one about.

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      Liv chose Mexico which is where her Grandmother Maria was born. There are pony rides, ice cream vendors and stunning gardens, please be aware, you cannot walk on the grass here and you will get whistled at by security if you do!

    4. Try the snails at Cafe Charlot
      38 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris
      7 am – 2 am

      I know, your kids are probably like mine and will only eat buttered pasta or chicken fingers but I dare you to test their taste buds by ordering escargot at this trendy cafe in the Marais. Our kid refused to try them until we moved here, then she discovered all her French friends ate them, now she loves them. It is open all day, everyday (which is rare) and the waiters are very friendly towards Americans. I tend to opt for an early dinner so we are dining before the restaurant gets too busy and there isn’t much room for drama. Plus I like to get the best table for photos, of course. Be sure to grab a seat inside if you don’t want to be near the smokers and order a Saint Germain cocktail like the cool Parisians do.

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    5. Cité des sciences et de l’industrie/City of Science & Industry
      30 Avenue Corentin Cariou, 75019 Paris

      If your kid is a science geek like mine, this place is for them. There is a science museum, exploratorium, IMAX movie theater and VR experience. The entire area is perfect for kids with a park, boat rides on the canals and a small carnival. Try to go during the week so it’s less crowded.

    6. See the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night!
      Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris

      It is a no-brainer if you come to Paris you must see the incredible Tour Eiffel! Yet, I don’t want you to miss the nightly sparkle of the tower. There are always large crowds at the tower and the adjacent Trocadero but much less in the evening. Please note, you can no longer go underneath the tower without going through a long security check line so plan to be there ahead of time. The tower sparkles from sunset every hour until 1 am, it’s magical.

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    7. Princess Crepe
      3 Rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris

      What is better than a Parisian crepe? A Harajuku/Japanese crepe! This tiny place is nestled in the Marais and often has a line of people outside. Try the cheesecake and strawberries crepe, you’ll love it. Definitely Olivia approved.

    8. Disneyland Paris
      Boulevard de Parc, 77700 Coupvray

      Liv insisted I add the happiest place on Earth to this list. I will say, I adore Disneyland and it is much less crowded than the one in California. We take the RER A train from Chatelet/Les Halles station which takes about an hour to arrive at the Disneyland station. They have most of the same rides as the US Disneyland but with a European flair. Jack Sparrow charmingly speaks French on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. There is a Queen of Hearts labyrinth maze. I have heard they even have a pineapple whip (similar to Dole Whip) but it’s only available during the summer. The lines are much shorter and there is a seperate Walt Disney Studios park that is very cool.

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    9. Montmartre Village/the majestic Sacre-Coeur Basilica
      1 Parvis du Sacré-Cœur, 75018 Paris

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      Montmartre is arguably the most well-known quarter in Paris. Kids will enjoy taking the funicular up the hill. If you look to the right of the church, you will see a small fence at the bottom of the stairs, you can take this fun photo (slightly tilted) so it looks like the houses are sinking.

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      Then walk around the street to your left past the funicular, at the corner you will catch a glance of the Eiffel Tower. Keeping walking up the hill and you will arrive in Montmartre village. There you can buy tickets for a ride on the Petit Train de Montmartre which will take you on a tour of the area. I highly recommend it.

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      Skip the souvenir shops in the village and walk towards square Jehan Rictus to check out the Mur des Je’taime (Wall of I love you).

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      Afterwards, you can have an unusual dinner experience at…

    10. Le Refuge des Fondus
      17 Rue des Trois Frères, 75018 Paris
      Opens at 7pm (no reservations)

      Due to a heavy wine glass tax, this tiny restaurant now serves all drinks in baby bottles. There are two items on the menu; fondue and meat all served with skewers. This place is a total tourist trap that no locals would ever be seen in, but it is such a blast! The table seating is family style so people have to climb over the tables to be seated along the benches. The staff are notoriously mean and rude but I was somehow able to win ours over. He gifted us with a few baby bottles to take as souvenirs.

    11. Angelina
      226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
      10 am – 6 pm

      This place is a major tourist attraction but it is worth the wait. Located across the street from Jardin des Tuileries, it is a bakery that specializes in its signature, decadent, hot chocolate. I was so surprised to find out they also have white hot chocolate which is equally good, and I want some now!

    12. The Natural History Museum
      57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris

      Every town has one and Paris is no exception. There is a fascinating exhibit of the kingdom of animals on the second floor of this vast museum. In another building is Liv’s favorite, gems and minerals. It reminds me of the Natural History museum in Los Angeles and is definitely worth spending the day. It is located in the garden of plants which is especially pretty during the spring. Make sure to stop at the Dodo Manège carousel which has animals that are sadly all now endangered or extinct. There is also a zoo within the jardin des plantes but I recommend the next zoo.

    13. Parc Zoologique de Paris
      Avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris

      This zoo is located in the 12eme arrondissement on the outskirts of Paris in the enormous bois des Vincennes. I had low expectations for Parc Zoologique because in my opinion, there is no better zoo than the San Diego zoo, so I was delighted to see animals I have never seen in person before. LIKE A SLOTH! I could have stayed there all day watching this sweet guy move in slow motion. We went on a very hot day so we had to keep moving. Antz took a photo of a spider bigger than my hand but I won’t subject you to that nightmare. Kids will definitely love the animal feedings so be sure to check the schedule.

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    14. Choose your own Adventure
      Sports Saber League
      46 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 75010 Paris

      This one is perfect for days you are feeling burnt out on museums and crowds. We like to ask Liv if she could pick one thing to do, what would it be? She was asking about fencing for awhile but the classes were the same day and time as her ballet so I found a similar alternative, Star Wars LightSaber fencing. There is a beginners class on Saturdays and they provide you with a lightsaber if you didn’t pack yours. Antz and Liv did it for two hours and loved it. It’s nice to ask your kids what they want to do because you may find something you wouldn’t have thought to do.

    15. Sip mulled cider at the Christmas Market
      Tuileries Christmas Market
      Marche de Noel La Defense (the biggest one in Paris)

      There are several markets throughout Paris that are open during the holidays. I have only been to two, La Defense and Jardin des Tuileries, but there are several within the city. There are booths like a farmers market selling Christmas homemade goods, gifts and food. There are raclette booths which are huge wheels of gooey cheese that are melted and dripped onto bread. The market at the Tuileries has rides and an ice skating rink. It’s a must do if you are in Paris during the holidays. Mamma’s be sure to try the hot wine “vin chaud“, it’s mind-blowingly good.

    16. Eat dessert American style in Paris
      Rue d’Aboukir, 75002 Paris

      We love our neighborhood which has a delightful American expat community. We have gotten to know many of the kind business owners at Boneshaker Donuts, Jean Hwang Currant cookies and Stoney Clove Bakery. Please make sure to let them know that Elizabeth sent you there! You will find every type of cuisine on a stroll down the famous rue Montorgueil. We love picking up a kilo (a French pound) of cherries to snack on during the summer.

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    17. Musée des Arts et Métiers
      60 Rue Réaumur, 75003 Paris

      Super cool, off the beaten path, museum of technology and mechanics. Your kids will love the room full of antique trains, cars and machinery. This museum is never crowded and will captivate your child’s imagination. We have been twice and still haven’t seen everything it has to offer.

    18. Rougier et Plé (awesome art supply store)
      15 Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire, 75003 Paris
      (there are several other locations)

      After all those visits to the art museums  your young artists must be feeling inspired, so I recommend stopping by this mega store to pick up a few art supplies. A small paint palette, a canvas and a brush is all you will need. Then head over to Île Saint-Louis (located on an island behind Notre Dame Cathedral) and spend an afternoon painting the dreamy Paris landscape along the Seine.

      Berthillon Glacier
      Rue Jean du Bellay, 75004 Paris

      Then stop by Berthillon for the best ice cream in town. Any of the brasseries on the corner of rue Jean du Bellay sells it. There is a fancy restaurant that sells it around the corner too.

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    19. Go on a bike ride along Canal Saint Martin
      (for older kiddos)

      Download the Uber app – If you click the bicycle icon it will show you on a map where the Jump by Uber bikes are located. You can’t miss them with their cool, bright red paint. Once you scan them with your phone, you are all set to hit the bike lanes that run along the trendy Canal Saint Martin. The bikes are electric so it’s a smooth and easy cruise while soaking in the beauty of the canals. There’s also a two hour boat cruise that will take you through the canals many locks.

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    20. Get Lost! – The best part of visiting Paris is wandering the cobblestone streets, you will always find something fun to do. There are so many photo booths (they make great souvenirs) and carousels scattered around the city. A few of my favorite kids stores to check out.

      Bonton
      Smallable
      Petit Pan
      Tartine et Chocolat
      Village JouéClub
      Shakespeare and Company (English bookstore)

      Bonus – Pre-Negotiate a deal with your kids for buying souvenirs

      I have to add this because I have been there and know what a downer it is when your kid sees a gift shop and the begging commences. I worked out two options for Liv which has saved me from many tantrums. She collects souvenir coins which are mostly found in churches and museums all over Europe. So far she has over 30 coins! They cost €2, and she knows she can have one so she doesn’t ask for everything in the shop. The second option is when she finds something she cannot resist (which is everytime) she can pay for it with her own money. This has been a great solution because she earns money by doing chores at home. She has learned to save and not do much impulse shopping.

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      A few years before we moved abroad I bought Liv a toy set of world landmarks from Michaels. I also bought these two books, Maps and This is the World, which are informative and beautifully illustrated, to research our trips. We now collect landmarks from most of the cities we have visited. They all are under 2 inches tall so they fit in her Maptote travel bag.

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Always have fun!

Lizzie


Elizabeth is a stay-at-home-Mom/blogger/tour guide offering custom walking tours of Paris at Mon Ami Paree. She is a francophile who is (slowly) learning French, adores traveling and documenting her colorful family’s adventures on her blog, Violently Happy

 

Day trip to Reims, France

I sometimes freak myself out at how much I OVER-plan things for us to do. We were pretty tired from our trip to Cherbourg but I couldn’t resist getting tickets for the magnificent Marie Antoinette fireworks show. Since I still had the rental car for one more day, I decided it would be worth going since we could drive there from Paris. It was on a Friday evening so we surprised Liv after picking her up from school. The event was held in the beautiful Jardin Orangerie at Versailles. Of course, Liv wore her Marie Antoinette dress.

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Although it was entirely in French, we were able to follow the story of Marie Antoinette’s life in Versailles. It was a whimsical show mixed with classical music and the most insane fireworks ever. Even the character’s costumes had fireworks. As tired as we were, the show was definitely worth it. We all agreed that it was the most spectacular fireworks show we have ever seen!

However, it was painful to get up at 5am the next morning to catch our 6am train to Reims. The good news was the trip was only 90 minutes long which felt like an instant on the high speed train. We were able to take a quick nap on the train.

Traveling from Gare l’est is the best. It’s only a ten minute bus ride away and it’s one of my favorite stations as far as cleanliness, food kiosks and because I use the SNCF app, I just scan a QR code on my phone to board the train.

Reims is in the Champagne region of eastern France and as much as you may want to pronounce it was Rey-ims…for some weird reason it’s pronounced Rance, like rhymes with France.

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We hopped on the tram as soon as we arrived. Hooray for easy, accessible public transportation! This was a rare occasion that I didn’t have an itinerary scheduled for a trip. I always check out the Atlas Obscura website when we visit a new place. I usually visit the local church first, then see a landmark the area is known for and find somewhere off the beaten path. Liv and I also use our MAPS book as a guide to learn about the location we are seeing. It’s super informative and we adore the illustrations. I knew we wanted to go to the local champagne tasting rooms but since Liv was with us, I didn’t make a reservation. I wanted to check out the school named after President Roosevelt where the Germans signed the unconditional surrender of WWII. Liv got May 7th off from school in Paris for Victory Day. I never heard much about WWII when I was in school in America other than Pearl Harbor and Memorial day (which is pretty much celebrated with douchey spring break partying rather than reflection on the horror of war). My Mom always tells me that the reason why Europe is so forward thinking, and provides universal healthcare for their citizens is because they survived a war, so they know how to come together as a nation. Americans are a mess, PLEASE VOTE IN NOVEMBER!

Proud history nerd! Next we went to see Our Lady of Reims cathedral. It was built in 1211 and it is where all the kings of France were crowned. The church has been destroyed by fire but rebuilt many times. In 2011, the city of Reims celebrated her 800th anniversary! The French really know how to build a church.

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Of course Liv lit a candle and we bought a souvenir coin to add to her collection.

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Our next stop was to find a place for lunch. We walked around town but most places were closed since it was too early. We stopped in Flying Tiger because Liv loves that store.

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I wish I bought this cute hand-crank fan because it was the hottest day ever! We couldn’t resist to pick up a bag of chocolates to snack on while we searched for a place to eat.

It was during World Cup fever so we got soccer themed white chocolate. We stopped by Maison Fossier, Liv loves their rose biscuits but we didn’t want to carry around the huge box all day and they sell them at Monoprix.

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We encountered this awesome farmers market and sampled the fruit but they didn’t have any restaurants so we continued our search. We always seem to be too early or too late for lunch!

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We noticed brasseries began to put out champagne bottles while we were walking by but we couldn’t start drinking before eating something. Liv and I got a ice cream cone to cool us down since it was like 100 degrees.

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As tempting as those lovely avocado tarts looked, we continued walking around town to find a place to sit down and eat. We kept getting unlucky because I wanted to visit the town hall but of course it was closed for repairs.

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We finally found an interesting place that was opening for lunch in a few minutes wait.

We were so happy to order fish n’ chips!

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We enjoyed being able to lounge and get out of the sun. Of course as soon as we started eating the crowds arrived and everyone started smoking, cough!

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So I knew it was time for a glass of champagne. We walked to this cool looking place.

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When we inquired about a tasting they informed us they were closing early so no walk-ins. Merde! I called to see if we could make a reservation for the Perching bar which was outside of Reims.

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I saw it on Pinterest and it looked very cool however they didn’t allow anyone under 18 inside so if we went, Liv would have to stay outside of the bar area. There was also a 40 minute drive to get there and Reims didn’t have Uber. The owner gave me a phone number of a car service but the driver wanted €45 each way in cash. We decided to decline because it would have taken too long to drive out there, plus the fare seemed excessive. We ended up walking back to the place we went to for lunch because I couldn’t leave without having some champagne.

To be honest, the champagne was just meh. Antz likes it more than I do. I think it’s too expensive (a bottle started at €75!) We noticed the Veuve Clicquot tasting room was closed while we were walking to the train station.

If you want to go champagne tasting in Reims, make an advance reservation!

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We walked past a medieval church and a plaque dedicated to Joan d’Arc. It was too hot to really enjoy a walk around town so we headed for the train station a few hours early and waited in their air conditioned lobby.

Au revior Reims! Antz and I will have to return without the kid to share a bottle of bubbly.

Road Trip: Cherbourg & Beaches of Normandy

June is always a busy but special month for me. Liv’s birthday is at the beginning of the month, then Father’s Day and ends with Antz birthday. I rented a car and we drove to Cherbourg for a weekend trip for Antz birthday. I have wanted to visit Cherbourg ever since I saw the French musical “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” Since Cherbourg is near the beaches of Normandy, we spent the day visiting Sainte-Mère-Église village, the Omaha Beach Memorial and the American Cemetery. The drive was over five hours and even though I normally would be able to drive longer than that in LA (I drove for eleven hours for our road trip to Portland) something about the French highways seems to lull me to sleep. I drove the first three hours and then Antz took over for the last two.

 

There were many tolls heading west towards Cherbourg. We also noticed livestock on the sides of the highway. At first we thought we were looking at sheep but with a closer look, they were golden cows! They were so pretty we pulled over and tried to snap a photo with some of the cows. The countryside is insanely pretty.

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I was surprised at how small Cherbourg was. Our hotel was just across the street from the harbor.

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We went for a walk around the town looking for a place to eat for lunch. Of course it was after 3 so we missed lunch and nothing was open until after 7pm.

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We found this gorgeous fish market but they didn’t cook the food. Liv bought a bag of apricots, Antz and I got crepes to tide us over.

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Les parapluies were everywhere. I only recently saw the French musical in the last few years although I have always been a big Catherine Deneuve fan. I also discovered that the guy who directed The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of Liv’s friend’s from school grandfather! How rad is that?!!

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We walked around for an hour then hung out in our hotel room. By 7pm, we were starving so we went to the first restaurant we found that was open. We ordered a plateau de fruits de mer for Antz birthday dinner. To our surprise, shellfish is served cold and there’s no melted butter to dip. Sadly, no matter how many times we have tried, we don’t like oysters. As fancy as the meal looked, we really missed our annual seafood meal from Duke’s in Malibu.

We drove around town looking for the Cherbourg sign. Oddly, we could find it’s location on Google Maps so I relied on photos from Pinterest and my intuition. Finally, just as I was about to give up I drove right past it on a steep hill! Since the sign was so big, one of us had to run into the street to get a photo. We waited forever for someone to get a photo of all of us but it’s an isolated area. This selfie has made me want to travel with a reliable tripod. I just don’t see where we could have set one up since there were cars passing in the street.

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The next day we grabbed breakfast at our hotel and headed out early.

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I had to take a photo with my umbrella by the harbor before we left. Our first stop was Sainte-Mere-Eglise. We learned the heroic story of Private John Marvin Steele. As the 82nd Airborne soldiers parachuted into the village, they were under heavy attack by Germans. John survived the jump but his parachute got caught in the spinnet of the church. He hung there limp, playing dead for two hours before he was taken prisoner. He later escaped and captured 30 Germans. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his valor. He is featured in the classic film The Longest Day.

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Miraculously, it didn’t rain. The sun actually came out as we headed towards the American cemetery. I spent hours explaining the D-day invasion to Liv and she listened intently. I was surprised to see how interested in history an eight year old was. I think it hit her the most when I told her how many men were drafted into the war and how her Dad would have most likely been sent to fight if we were alive during that time. During the summer of 1944 over 100,000 total men died.

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This was the most incredible experience for our family. France has always been a romantic place for us but visiting these sites where close to 10,000 people lost their lives felt very somber. We visited the memorial and watched a short film about World War II.
Below is Omaha beach.

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Our last stop wasn’t planned but Liv was asking what happened to the German soldiers so we stopped at La Cambe German war cemetery. It definitely had a different vibe to it. There were very few people there. Over 21,000 German soldiers are buried there. The cemetery has 1,200 maple trees as a gift of peace.

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If you are a history buff, I strongly recommend making this trip. Normandy Discovery Tours offers a tour by French locals. We saw a group of school children at the Omaha beach memorial. I really think that the difference between American children and European is our approach to the past. I feel like Americans shield their kids from the dark side of history but I believe that is doing them a disservice. They lack empathy and may grow up to make the same mistakes of bigotry and complacency. I talk to Olivia about everything, not to frighten her but to open her eyes to the world she lives in. She is a multiracial child so she doesn’t have the privilege to ignore the past suffering of her ancestors. Every accomplishment she makes in her life, she has many generations of proud Mexican and Black people cheering her on.

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Day trip to Nantes, France

Before arriving in France I had a long list of places to travel and things to see. Antz, Liv and I all agreed that one of them was seeing the Les Machines de l’île in Nantes.  I purchased annual SNCF passes because they were on mega sale (they are usually €75 each but I got them for €29!) These passes give us discounts on train fares for trips on the weekends and a special child fare. We plan to take so many train trips, I think it’s a bargain. So I’m sure you have never heard of Les Machines de l’île or le Grand Élephant so watch this clip to see what I’m talking about.

We have watched several videos about these magical creatures so I booked a train trip to Nantes to surprise the kid a week before her birthday!

The train ride to Nantes was our longest to date. Just over 4 hours but we sat in a Club Four which is a set of four chairs facing each other with a table. This configuration is rare to book so we really enjoyed it. We departed from Gare Austerlitz.

 

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We did everything you could during the ride. We played video games on our phones, ate snacks, napped, read books, colored in Liv’s coloring book and played an intense game of Uno. I taught Liv how to play the card game Speed (my favorite game when I was in high school). We arrived after noon and it took awhile to figure out how to get to the part of town where the machines were. I would think it is such a popular attraction, the tram would take us directly there. However, we took the tram for about 20 minutes and had to walk over a long bridge and then we found the site.

We were shocked to be sitting next to this cutie on the tram! Our cat Lola would never sit so obediently let alone let us put a harness on her.

We walked past the Château des ducs de Bretagne but it was closed and there was a protest happening nearby.

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During the long walk across the bridge I was wondering if we would end up having to climb that ladder to get to the Le Carrousel Mondes des Marins. It’s hidden in plain sight!

We had no idea what this gentleman was selling when we first saw him riding past. I was hoping for some cotton candy but it turned out to be marshmallow squares in very unique flavors.

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It’s hard to describe the Marine Worlds Carousel. It’s part steampunk, part nautical. There are three levels. The lower (Ocean floor) levels don’t have a floor, so you board via a moveable gangplank which Liv and I felt too apprehensive to ride. So we climbed to the top. I was so bewildered by the sea creatures I kept forgetting to take pictures.

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As you can see it’s a very surreal experience. I was explaining to Liv how the characters reminded me of the films of Terry Gilliam. The only one she has seen is Doctor Parnassus but she got the idea.

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When we reached the top, we were happy to find a floor and the raddest set of creatures. Each one has a moving element that you control like a marionette. Some by steering and some by pedals or pumps. It was very cool but also odd. I couldn’t capture the entire carousel in photos due to the sheer size of it. I loved the music they were playing too. It reminded me of one of my favorite singers Tom Waits.

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Next we walked over to the mechanical elephant. I was surprised to see a sign saying that the elephant ride was sold out. It was close to 1pm, and they weren’t due to close until 7pm that evening. When I found someone who spoke English she said they had to close early due to thunderstorms. Bummer! So we took some photos and marveled at the giant wooden elephant. The gracefulness in it’s movement and agility was remarkable. I wish we could have experienced riding it but seeing it up close was rad.

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I’m so glad I brought my wide lens for my camera because our iPhones couldn’t fit it in one frame in photos. Antz took this video with his iPhone X.

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Liv and Antz went inside the Gallery and Liv was chosen to steer the giant Ant!

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She loved it! We had lunch at the restaurant on the site. It was just about to close so the menu was limited. I got the last Caesar salad they had and Antz and Liv had a chicken sandwich.

The last thing we did was check out the smaller carousel. This one was similar to the large one and the creatures were interactive too. Absolutely enchanting.

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The elephant returned from his walk and Liv got a surprise!

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She dried off with an ice cream cone and we browsed the gift shop. I bought Liv a Nantes souviner gold coin for her collection and I bought a coffee table book about the Royal Deluxe Company. It was heavy in my backpack but I knew they didn’t have it on Amazon and it’s such a beautiful photography book, I couldn’t pass it up. I hope to one day see them perform in person since I have watched every single youtube video of their amazing giant puppets. The work they do is incredible but they don’t announce their shows until a few days in advance so it’s hard to catch them.

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After spending the entire afternoon at Les Machines de l’île, we decided to take the tram back to the train station a little early because Antz had a headache and Liv was tired. To our surprise when we arrived at the tram, it was closed by the local police for some unknown reason. I tried to order an Uber but the app wasn’t working (no wifi) so we had to walk over an hour back to the train station.

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Lucky for us we left early or we would have arrived there late. We sat patiently waiting for our train arrival. Poor Antz headache got so bad we had to go to the pharmacy and buy him some medication. Just when our train was 15 minutes from boarding we saw this on the train schedule display.

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I asked Liv what retard meant in French and she said LATE! It took forever to find an English speaking staff person and they told me that due to lightening striking the train tracks, all trains going to Paris were delayed for an indeterminate amount of time. So we ended up stranded at the train station for FOUR HOURS! The staff brought out little snack boxes and bottled water for everyone but it felt like the apocalypse. People were grabbing the boxes like a riot and Antz headache was worsening. Liv didn’t feel great either and it was too hot to wait inside the station so we sat outside at the tracks which meant we couldn’t hear any updates. The announcements were all in French anyway. We started to panic and worry that we would have to book a hotel for overnight. Then finally around the time we were scheduled to arrive back in Paris, we saw everyone getting up and heading towards the tracks downstairs. We pushed through like cartoon super heros and jumped on the train and sat at the first club four seats we saw. Since all the trains to Paris were late, the staff didn’t check our tickets and we didn’t bother to find our original seats. An English speaking couple sat down across from us and told us we were in their seats but I guess I gave the guy a look like Reagan from the Exorcist and he nicely said, No worries, we’ll sit here. The train ride was supposed to be 4 hours but they put the pedal to the metal and got us into Paris by 1 am. I have never seen more exhausted and frustrated people from all over the world collectively sleep like we did. We were all happy to be out of Nantes.

I scheduled an Uber before the train stopped in Paris before all the rush but I still got hit with double the fare surcharge. Merde! I told our French friends about enduring this trip and they laughed and said Welcome to France!

So despite being disappointed about the elephant ride and the long train delay, we had a good time. I didn’t think the town of Nantes was particularly awesome. As Antz put it, if you seen one town in France you’ve seen them all.

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Tant pis!

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Last day in Iceland

On our last day we stayed in Reykjavik. During the entire week we drove past the magnificent Hallgrímskirkja church everyday. We finally had time to check it out and of course, it was closed the day we went! Even without going inside, it was remarkable. The door alone was rad. The church took 41 years to be completed. Inside the church is a gorgeous pipe organ. I have a DVD with my favorite singer Björk singing in this church but I hope to one day see her perform there live.

DSC_0411So photographers and bloggers, what’s your secret of taking photos of landmarks without all the tourists? Do you ask them to move? Photoshop magic? I get so frustrated that I had to crop out the bottom of the church because tour buses full of folks kept showing up.

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Ta-dah, no people (they are hiding behind Liv)

The church was built to mimic the basalt columns of Vik. It’s the second tallest building in Iceland.

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This statue is Leif Eriksson who was the first European explorer to “discover” North America 500 hundred years before that other guy. Hot ass Viking dude!

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Liv took this most perfect shot of Hallgrímskirkja with her camera and Antz took this epic shot of Liv holding her Instax photo.

It was time to say goodbye to our lovely cottage and we headed downtown for breakfast at The Laundromat Cafe.

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How cute is it that Icelandic people engrave their names on their front doors. I would love to do that on our door.

We stopped at the innocuous tie mural right next to the Chuck Norris Grill. Iceland has a pretty rad street art scene, although they don’t have any Banksy or Invaders.

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DSC_0699DSC_0701Most random thing we saw in Iceland.

I planned to have lunch at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (Iceland’s version of Pink’s) however we had hot dogs one night at another place and found them to be awful (they were served cold) so we passed on the steamed dogs. We happened to park nearby so I snapped a shot of this guy getting his breakfast.

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The food was great but this hot chocolate was the best I have ever had!

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You find the laundromat in the basement along with a room for kids to play and read in.

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After breakfast we had just enough time to visit the Viking World museum before turning in our car rental and heading to the airport in Keflavik.

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The museum was right next to the ocean and let me tell you it was freezing cold. I almost died in my dress just walked from the parking lot. Since the museum is on the way to the airport it’s not close to anything so we were the only patrons.

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DSC_0948These were real authentic, very heavy Viking weapons.

I was the only brave one to walk into the Viking ship. I was sure it would collapse. I didn’t even know if I was allowed to walk on it because no one was in the place.

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I hate to say it but the museum was a tourist trap. It was cool to see a real Viking ship but I was very annoyed that they didn’t have any Viking hats for sale (although I know they are cheesy) or more exhibits. We walked through in fifteen minutes and were like “Is that it?”

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We spent forever in the airport gift shop looking for last minute souvenirs. I really wanted to buy Liv a Viking hat but for some odd reason, there were none anywhere. She settled on some Icelandic candy which she ate on the plane.

I have inadvertently started a mini flag collection. My flag from France is getting pretty frayed so I’ll need to replace it. I also have been collecting pins from the countries we visit. I forgot to buy one in Amsterdam though.

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Once inside the airport, it was hot so we began to shed our heavy layers.

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I know, I’m the world’s greatest videographer. This was one of my scariest take-offs because there was zero visibility. I am not afraid to fly but the take-off and landing do freak me out.

Liv and I watched one of her favorite movies on the plane, Spirited Away.

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