Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Paris, Ypres, London 2012

My husband has been trying to get me to Paris for several years now.  It's not that I didn't want to go but life and other things take over and the timing was never right.   Finally this year we decided it was time to go.  We had been promising our two younger children a trip overseas for years as we'd taken their older brothers to England and Wales when they were young.  

The trip happened to coincide with my daughter's 12th birthday.  During the planning we had not intended to go to England at all (I have been several times) but we could not get a direct flight home from Paris on the airline we chose so we decided to take the train to London to catch our flight home and spend a couple of days there.   The big surprise was that I managed to pack their Hogwarts Robes from Universal Studios without their knowledge and my daughter spent her 12th birthday on the sets of Harry Potter...pretty freakin cool if you ask me.

Over the next few pages you will see an account of our trip.   We started in Paris, made our way up into the Canadian War memorials where the children learned of their heritage and the sacrifices their countrymen made so they could live the life they do.   We stopped along the way in Pierrefonds where a certain young lad was in Heaven as he wandered about the halls of "Camelot" from his favorite Tv show Merlin which is filmed in Pierrefonds.

We hired a guide to take us through the battlefields in Ypres, and their father taught them about the Newfoundland Regiment as we stepped upon Canadian soil once again in France.  The kids saw live ammunition recovered from farmer's fields, war graves and trenches.

Off the train in London they relished in the childhood joy of playing on the film sets of their favorite young wizard hero Harry Potter.  (Their mum and dad had a great time too!!!).  They drank butterbeer and rode a broomstick on greenscreen.   Back in London they posed at platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross station.   We meandered past Parliament, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.   We ate Birthday cake along the Thames and took a ride on the London Eye.   They explored the intrigue of the Tower of London and sang London Bridge all across Tower Bridge.

It was a grand trip.  I hope you all enjoy our adventure as I document our trip.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Day One. Toronto to Paris

This was the first flight for our ten year old son and only the second for our 11 year old daughter (who had previously only taken an hour long flight).   They were both a little nervous flying over an ocean and across to the other side of the world in their eyes.

I booked us on Air Transat.   Air Transat is a charter service that basically sells cheap flights around the world.  I have to note that I've become pretty spoiled the last few years accompanying my husband on business trips and flying first class courtesy of points so flying economy on a long flight honestly...was not really something I was looking forward to.   That said.  I was also not willing to pay for tickets in first class for my children.   They don't need it at this age.   The other part of me however desperately did not want to be packed into a tight plane.   As I started to research flight options I noticed Air Transat has something called Club class.  Well....that might just fit the bill.   I won't deny I was still nervous of how the service would be but given the price of the ticket for "club class" was less than an economy ticket on Air Canada we rolled the dice.

What an excellent roll that was.   Not lay flat pods obviously but wider seats, comfortable, dedicated flight attendants and bathroom and I have to say....the food was phenomenal.   Truly the best airline food I've had hands down.   We preordered our meals about 3 weeks in advance of the flight.    The service was fantastic.  (I will save the tale of the flight home for another post because it was FANTASTIC).

We gave the kids some gravol as we took off to ensure they'd sleep and adjust to the new time zone a little easier.  We tried to do the same but neither one of us slept very much.

We landed uneventfully and arrived at our rented apartment via train very easily.  Our flat the "Liette Suite" at Paris Oasis (see trip advisor.com) was spacious and extremely comfortable.   It was pouring rain in the early hours and as much as we had vowed to stay awake it was a losing battle so we all dozed off for two hours while it rained and caught a nap.

Upon waking we sorted ourselves out and were about to embark on a walkabout of Paris.   We discovered however that my camera was gone.  Pickpocketed before we even got to the apartment. I had no camera.   We meandered down to the tourist info booth and located an electronics shop where after some discussion with a reluctant salesman (who did not want to sell me a display model of my lost camera), we set off with a new camera in hand.    NOT a great start, but at least it was before any photos were actually taken.

Our apartment was literally steps to Sacre Coeur and we took a quick photo before continuing along.   The gypsy's were in full force trying to tie bracelets to my children but we'd been warned and they stood their ground with loud NO!'s.

(of course I am looking at the photos from my daughter's camera and I realize she had the date stamp turned on....I have edited some of them as best I can through photoshop but I'm not great so there will be a few here and there with horrid date stamps.)

Here they are outside Sacre Coeur.  Across the street from here they had their first taste of real french crepes with nutella and banana.  Yum

From there we wandered down the way to the Metro station and exited at the Arc de Triumph (after locating the new camera)

 Someone is getting excited!!

Almost there now.   We stopped for some sandwiches along the way.  I have to admit the cost of food was not at all as pricey as I would have expected.  (much cheaper in France than England)

Because no trip in our family would be complete without some sort of mishap.  In addition to the camera disappearance I actually tore my meniscus in my knee prior to leaving.  This made for a little more difficult trip as we had planned to climb the Tower.

They are down an elevator and while the line up wasn't long at the time we arrived (about an hour) we decided to go ahead and try the stairs with no line up.

It was slow and steady but I did it!!!  My doctor advised me that I could try to climb but under no circumstances was I to climb back down.  We did take the elevator back down.  I am so thrilled we did the climb.  If I could do it with my injured knee, anyone can!!

 checking out the view
 He had to look too
 First level
There is Sacre Coeur our apartment is next door

 I made it!!!   Cue We are the Champions
 Eiffel Tower second level
 Pretty View
 At the top of the tower

 Strangling his wonderful wife

Me and my beautiful girl

This made us chuckle.  A little boy was knackered and decided to lay down while waiting for the elevator down.  Fell fast asleep within a minute.

 And that was day one.  We made our way back to our apartment after stopping at the bakery and fruit market with a light dinner made at the apartment  the kids wanted to have a quick swim in the courtyard.

 The courtyard of our apartment

We did not expect to climb the tower that day but I'm glad we did.  It has been almost 10 years since our last trek with children to Europe and I can tell you...it makes a difference!  We were beat.   

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day Two. Musee L'Orangerie, Musee D'Orsay, Legionairre Museum

We woke up to a lovely morning and again hit the Metro down towards the Museums.   We had not planned a lot of art museums as we figured the kids would turn off very quickly and be bored.  I had no intention of dragging two kids through the Louvre.

My youngest however has spent ten years of his life staring at one of Monet's Water Lilies and there was no way I was flying all the way to France and not seeing Monet's works.

Our first stop was the Musee L'Orangerie, where no photos were allowed but we sat and enjoyed Monet's masterpieces.  Even our young lad was captivated by the paintings.  There was something magical about sitting there simply admiring the artistry of these incredible works.

We then sauntered down to the lower level and enjoyed additional works of art.   It was then my  ten year old son then discovered that artists like to paint nudes.  He was rather embarrassed and shielded his eyes constantly.   His sister took great delight in saying. "oh Liam...it's okay, this one is just a still life...you know... fruit."    BAAAHAAAA....psyche.

I love that my little man is still embarrased by the naked form.
We left and then headed to Musee D'Orsay which was once a train terminal.  The building is Beautiful!!  As soon as we stepped in the kids were awed by the clocks and said "HUGO".

Hugo indeed!

The museum was phenomenal and we all enjoyed the artwork and the architecture.   Young Liam was starting to show he had had his fill of artwork so we finally left after exploring the entire museum.

 We wandered about again and found ourselves in the great parks heading towards the Louvre.  We played and enjoyed the scenery and simply people watched for awhile.
 Enjoying the public art
 Walking towards the Louvre
 Dad teased them and told them it was a maze.  Poor Liam...there was a naked statue.  His sister covered her up for him
 Get me outta here!!
 No more art Dad.....no more ART
But the pyramid is pretty cool

Oh...I almost forgot.  We were leaving Musee D'Orsay and happened to go past the Legionairres Museum.  It had a free exhibit of Napoleon as well as their regular exhibits.  It was incredibly interesting.  They had military medals from every country in the world through history.   They were unbelievably beautiful. A nice little side trek indeed.   

We saw the bridge with all the locks attached.  The legend says if you lock the lock and throw the key into the river your love will never be broken.

A full day, so we headed back to the apartment, picked up some crepes and sandwiches enroute and we all collapsed into bed early as we had an early morning trek to Versailles the next day.

It may seem like a low key day (and it was for photos that day) but we spent the day at a relaxed pace just enjoying discovery we would find around the next corner.   We truly just enjoyed the atmosphere.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Day Three - Versailles

We were up early in the am to catch a train to Versailles for our third day.  I had booked a private tour of the King's apartments and I highly suggest booking tours on the official website to avoid any lines and get more of a behind the scenes explanation.  I love audioguides but a live guide is always preferred.

I would highly recommend ensuring your purchase on the website includes all of the area of the palace (the passport) in addition to the private guide or you will pay on site for the gardens/Trianon etc.

Our guide was excellent giving us a lot of information as we moved through the rooms.  All of the gold on the walls and decor is real gold.  Gold leaf.  there is no painted gold anywhere on site.   Shockingly during the rebellions and revolutions the Palace was never actually looted although the governments did sell off much of the furnishings and such as was needed.  Slowly they are reaquiring pieces as time and money permit. (and the generosity of benefactors).

At one time over 4000 people lived at Versailles as it was the center of government.   It was really quite something.   Hard to truly understand the excess of the time without being there.  From the palace itself to the gardens one has to wonder why one would need so much while the population was starving.   The kids noted that the gardens would make a killer spot for hide and go seek.

We started our tour in an opulant room full of gold leaf ornamentation.
 As you can see the ornamentation was outstanding.  The room ezquisite.

This room had one dedicated purpose only.  According to our guide, it was where they fed the dogs.  That was all.  Dogs were fed here then back to their rooms.

Here is more of the room.  As mentioned much of the artwork and furnishings were removed and sold.  They are working on having them returned slowly but until then.  Black and white copies hang where the originals were.   Oddly enough...most of the mirrors survived

We now move into the King's actual bedroom.   The bedroom in the official State apartments was not where he actually slept.  He went to sleep for show there but then moved into his private chamber.

It does seem rather silly doesn't it?

All of the tapestries in here just arrived and are very recent but all handmade in the traditional manner.  They were really very stunning.   

From his bedchamber we moved on to what we dubbed the Clock room.  Louis XV had a passion for science and astonomy.   There is a large clock along the Paris meridian in this room and it is simply stunning.  It is set to time, date and moon phases until the year 9999.

 This was also in the room and it's spectacular.  The entire piece is carved from wood and is very intricate.

We then moved into the King's inner Cabinet.   The centerpiece of this room (beyond the grand decor) was the roll top desk.  It was the first piece of furniture of this type and a solution to King's concern about being able to leave his papers on his desk without people prying.  It's beautiful and also functional...a quarter turn of a key would lock the roll top and all of the drawers within.

Just because it was a pretty "loo".   The toilet

Louis' scientific passion was also evident in the Library.  The doors were false books (I thought of my dad who also had "secret" doors made of bookshelves at our cottage).   From there the Porcelain Dining Room and the Games Rooms follow

We then went into the Chapel which was stunning!  The artwork on the ceiling representing the Trinity.  Louis the XIV only used it for five years as it was not officially opened until 1710. Everyday the court attended the King`s Mass.  The King would be in the Royal Tribune with his family and the pulbic the side galleries and the nave. The King only attended for major religious celebrations, ceremonies and the order of the Holy Spirit, christenings and weddings from 1710-1789.
 Stunning,  The Pipe Organ and Alter
 The Kings Royal Tribune

This concluded our private tour and we headed into the Chateau proper.  My family was obviously very excited about the prospect of walking even more. (Hey...wasn`t I the one using a Cane?)
 Just Kidding!
 Here they enter the Hercules Salon.  Last one built actually but the first of our self guided tour.  It replaced the first chapel that had previously been situated in this location
 The Hall of Mirrors.

 The King's ceremonial bed. Where he completed the ritual of going to sleep publicly before retiring to his private chamber
 The Queen's Chamber
 Paintings depicting the history  of France line this room.  It's really quite beautiful and I think I preferred it to the Hall of Mirrors
 We took a golf cart to wander the grounds.  It was needed with my knee in rough shape but be prepared for the cost!!  It was 65 Euros for an hour.   They have the speed set so it takes you almost an hour to get to Trianon grounds so it's not inexpensive.  If my knee had not been injured we would have walked as the gardens were truly beautiful

 The Muscial Gardens had just started

This concludes our tour of Versailles.   We stopped at Starbucks enroute back to the train for some much needed coffee and snacks for the kids, before continuing wandering about Paris. 

Upon our return to town we popped into the apartment quickly then headed over to Sacre Coeur.  No photos are allowed in the Church so a few exteriors.
View from the top down into Paris

 At a little cafe to get a snack and drink. 

Nice Look on Cassy's face !!

 I thought this was interesting.  Support Beams holding two building up during renovations
 Dinner time

 The kids wanted me to try the fish eye filter on the camera
 We walked past on our way back to the apartment

 The BEST part of the photo op
 Heh..this is fun!!!
 The signs are works of art on their own