“Making a [road] trip about something other than getting somewhere is what makes it memorable.”
We are on our first family vacation outside the US in two and a half years. It’s amazing what a difference that amount of time makes for kids. Look at these pros getting off the TGV from Geneva at the Gare de Lyon in Paris! They rolled their own suitcases and wore their backpacks. So capable!
I’d imagined blogging more on this trip but evenings have been spent reviewing websites and planning for the next day’s adventures. And clutching my aching stomach that is full of over ten kinds of cheeses. Warning: never travel to France with Ollie, who may love cheese more than all the Frenchmen combined.
So far we’ve had three different kinds of St Marcellin, Bleu de Gex, St Félicien, Pélardon, two different Rocamadour, pavé du Tarn, an Ossau-Iraty, and a mysterious slice from the fromagerie at the Maubert-Mutualité open air market. And that’s only the cheese we’ve bought in three days, and doesn’t include the cheeses served to us by friends we visited in the Jura before coming to Paris!
We’ve also had sheep’s milk yogurt (yum!) and an awesome beef bouguignon. I have the recipe from the restaurant and will be attempting to improve my NYC version. We have walked the streets, played in several playgrounds, enjoyed the sights. The kids have been practicing their mercis and bon jours and will not speak French when put on the spot, but casually will when I least expect it. I suppose that make sense.
Today will be our first true touristing day. We’re off to the Eiffel Tower and then hoping for a long leisurely stroll back to our rented apartment in the Marais. And maybe a cheese stop along the way!
On one of our best days in Mexico we made friends with another couple who had two kids close in age to ours. Their son was an excellent swimmer and after lots of beach time, we all headed to the pool. Once Ollie saw his friend go solo on the slide, he was up for it. Next thing you know, Ollie’s going down head first. Then sideways. Then feet first, lying down! We practically had to drag him from the slide after more than an hour. The water slide was awesome and this video shows a bit of the fun.
Before we had kids, Jason and I did a fair amount of traveling. While we never ate cobra eyes or camped on the floor of a straw hut in a remote village someplace, I’d say we were more adventurous than the average American. We’d eat local food and try to explore the spirit of the place we visited. On our honeymoon to Mexico we made a point of driving the free roads, rather than the toll highway, because the free ones passed through small towns. The highway sped by everything.
Since we’ve had two kids, we’ve continued to travel with some success. Last year we had a so-so trip to Mexico and a great trip to France. This year we decided to return to Mexico again. Last year’s difficulties stemmed from trying to eat out every meal with small kids on Mexico time (= waiting thirty minutes just for chips and salsa to arrive at table) and staying at a tiny hotel with no windows, only screens and a breakfast that took forty-five minutes to arrive. I got it in my head that if we stayed at a resort this year, things would be better.
We’ve never stayed at any kind of big resort hotel because frankly, there’s nothing about being in another place when you stay at one. The uniformity that makes it comfortable and familiar obliterates any sense of what makes the destination unique. It was like going to Mexico without having to go to Mexico. For lots of people, this is ideal and I thought it was a trade-off I could make. I thought our room with windows would mean a better night’s sleep for the kids. I thought three onsite restaurants — kids eat free! — would mean easier meal times. I thought multiple pools would give us something to do if the ocean was too rough to swim.
But as we drove to the airpot in Cancun, we passed a little stand on the side of the road selling “cocos frios”, cold coconuts, and I was suddenly so sad. We’d spent a week in Mexico and never once had tortillas served with our meals, never mind the kind of food being served at the roadside stand. The kids ate free for sure, but it was hot dogs and fish fingers and burgers. And aside from quesadillas at lunch, which is hardly real Mexican food, most of what we ate was basic American hotel fare. The ocean was so warm and lovely, and the pools were super fun. But we had round-robin of family sickness. And Minna decided after one meal that she would no longer sit in a high chair and screamed when we put her in it.
Last year at the end of our trip to Paris I wrote:
Traveling with kids is really great because everyone gets forced from their routine and you discover, “Hey, that routine wasn’t so necessary after all!”
This year? Not so much. Of course the routine I like that we have at home is that Minna sits in her own seat at meals. And that my children don’t eat junk “kids’ food” at every (or any) meal. And that Ollie sleeps more than ten hours at night. I’m chalking this trip up to a “learning opportunity”. For future trips, I know I’ll do better when I can control some aspects of our meals, like if we rent an apartment and can cook. More importantly: if we’re visiting a place, we need to experience it as fully as possible. If not, there’s no upside to the disruption of travel, and no sense for me in going away.
We went to Mexico last week, which I hope to write more about shortly. But for now, my favorite picture from our trip. I was sitting and reading, and when I looked up I saw this scene, grabbed my camera, and made a mad dash towards them to capture it. I got off one shot before Ollie stood up to walk towards the water.
While poking around online (actually trying to confirm the spelling of Buttner’s, an old department store on Nantucket) I came across this New York Times article from 1989, Changing, Unchanging Nantucket, bemoaning the changing island. It’s quaint in its complaints about the transformation, with notes like “[T]he tariff for motor vehicles had gone to $66.50 from $47.50 each way.” It’s $380 now. And the development and traffic and loss of stores on Main Street he catalogs are nothing compared to what I witnessed this summer. The stores that replaced the stores he misses have been replaced again by new stores — the Benetton is long gone! And yet it’s true, the mores and beaches are still the same. “There have been changes, but Nantucket remains a very special place indeed.” Indeed.
Somehow Paris got suddenly hectic and I got tired and didn't have time to write anymore about our adventures so this is a final Paris recap post, probably in not particular order, with photos.
Ollie pretty much went to a playground every day and by the end of the trip I'd overhear him trying to speak French to the kids he was playing with. The last day in a playground in the Place des Voges some girls were playing some kind of tag game. They'd say something, I don't recall what, and tag each other. Ollie observed for a bit, then ran up to one girl, tagged her and said a close approximation of whatever they'd been saying. Then he ran off while I stood there kind of stunned. A few more weeks and that kid would be speaking French!
At one snack break Minna drank her first milkshake. She was sitting in my father's lap when she suddenly reached for his shake, pulled it towards her and then put her little mouth around the straw! Who knew she could do that?!
I ate steak tartare twice after never having it before in my life. I'd always thought it was just plain ground beef, but it's not, it's seasoned with mustard and capers and onions and it was so yummy. I'm craving it again and I think I'm going to have to make it myself here at home soon. We also ate a lot of macarons. Ollie's favorite was "brown", or chocolate, and he's very keen to make them at home.
I bought confit de petales de rose, a rose petal jelly, but haven't tried it yet. There are always such interesting jellies and jams, I just had to get a new one to try.
Ollie and I went on a carousel at the Tuileries. He wasn't so keen on it at first, so I rode along behind him and my father stood next to him. But after it was done he was converted and stayed on for a second ride. Hopefully he'll remember what fun it was the next time we see one.
Did I mention that Ollie is a running maniac? And that he probably ran half the time we were out on the streets? The nice thing is that each curb cut in Paris had a little bumpy mat in front of it, so he knew just where to stop at every corner.
And I'm sure there's a lot I'm forgetting, like how both kids were so good when we went out to eat. And how Ollie can climb really high on all kinds of equipment at the playground. And how traveling with kids is really great because everyone gets forced from their routine and you discover, "Hey, that routine wasn't so necessary after all!" And how fast it goes once you get there, after months of anticipation and talking about the trip with Ollie, suddenly it's over and we're home and all we have are our memories and photos of France 2010.
Highlights include the Toy boats at the Jardin du Luxembourg. And the whole Jardin itself, so beautiful today as it finally warmed up and the sun shone while we were there. We also visited the Grande Epicerie De Paris where I got some rose petal jelly and fleur de sel from Madagascar, because a girl can never have enough salt!
Ollie very much wanted an ice cream, even passing up a big macaron at the Grande Epicerie saying he'd rather wait for ice cream. And wait he did, because when we got back to the ice cream spot we'd seen on our walk, it took 10 minutes before the guy was available to scoop Ollie's vanilla cone. And only 5 minutes later, as he was rounding a corner, a girl coming by on her razor scooter collided with him. He didn't get knocked down, and he valiantly held onto his cone. Alas the impact broke the top half off and all the ice cream ended up on the sidewalk! I almost cried, but he held it together and ate the cone as we walked home.
Every visit to Paris, I watched little kids play with wooden sailboats in the duck pond at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Today Ollie and I rented our own little “fish boat” and spent an hour chasing it around the pond. It crashed into another boat and got entangled near the duck house. It heeled way over on its side and soaked the deck (no scuppers!). Once someone else pushed it away from the edge before Ollie got there with his long stick to give it a nudge.
Oh and that long stick! Ollie was a danger running everywhere with it, getting it stuck in the edge of a grate and almost pole vaulting into the air. But by the end he’d learned to keep it under control and was pretty good at getting his boat turned around and back into the big sea.
I can’t recommend this enough if you’ve got kids in Paris. 2 Euros for 30 minutes of sheer pleasure in one of the most beautiful gardens anywhere. Every day in summer. Wed, Sat & Sun rest of the year. We got there around 11 AM and there were plenty of boats to choose from. When we passed back through in the afternoon around 3 PM, all the boats were sailing.
I can't decide if this picture of Ollie:
Or this one of Minna:
is a better memory of our first day in Paris. Either way, I love them both because both show the kids out and about at restaurants being really well behaved! Ollie waited so patiently for his chocolat chaud and only spilled a small amount of it over the course of many pourings of melted chocolate and steamed milk into his cup. And Minna was so hungry by the time we got to this restaurant but she gobbled her yogurt and smiled and was so pleasant. A miracle! Of course now that I've written about it we'll never have a decent meal out again. But at least we had Day One in Paris!