Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Surprise Trip to Paris!

I know I shouldn't complain, but I'm tired... every year there seems to be a lot of long weekends in the fall and we try to take advantage of every single one of them.  It's exhausting... fun, but exhausting. When planning out the fall, Josh and I were trying to figure out where to go for this particular weekend. Knowing we may be going home in the summer has made us fast track some plans, one of which was Paris.

Josh and I have been to Paris before, just the two of us.  But now that the kids are getting older, we want them to have some input on places that we choose to visit and some of the cities we've been to, the kids have not.  And the kids have been to DisneyParis but just to Disney, not Paris itself.  Earlier this year I offered to take Aidan on a mommy/son trip and I asked him where he wanted to go.  His answer, "Paris".  I suggested Rome (it's cheaper and more to do with him).  He said no... Paris. He's obviously my child when it comes to his expensive taste.  When Aidan and I started to talk about this trip we were going to take, Liam joined on the bandwagon and said he wanted to go back to Legoland with daddy.  Oh the torture!! And so, Josh and I decided that we would take them to Paris AND DisneyParis again.  As Liam was not quite 3 the last time we went, it would be like him seeing it for the first time and while still inferior to it's sister park in Orlando, it's way better than Legoland.  

Since Aidan had wanted to do a trip solo, I did feel bad that we were now combining a trip but it made the most sense.  And we decided to surprise them with it.  Now my version of a surprise is different than Josh's.  Mine is "I just booked a secret trip, guess where???" where as Josh's idea of secret is to not say anything until we leave for the airport and then tell them we are going somewhere.  I do agree that his is a bigger surprise but as I've never been one good at keeping surprises a secret, I had to say something!  

Aidan immediately figured out what it was but I kept denying it up until the end.  He told me he saw my folder (I have a folder for every trip we take).  Then he said he'd just figure it out at the gate at the airport.  Smart kid.  But he was excited anyways.  Liam was stuck on it being Legoland.  Then he thought we were going to Boston even though I told him they don't speak English where we are going and it's only a 2 hour flight away.  So he kept guessing.  Every now and again he stumbled upon Disney and I just redirected him.

They were very excited when I told them we were going to Paris and to Disney though Aidan did tell me he had hoped we would do this trip just the two of us.  Sorry kid... trying to be efficient and meet everyone's needs.  Will try better next time.  But his disappointment didn't last and they were very excited to be heading to Paris!

With Josh at some last minute training outside Amsterdam, it was up to me to get the kids to Paris. Given that I normally do a trans-Atlantic trip with them sans Josh, this I figured would be a piece of cake.  Insert whiny, spoiled, argumentative children here.  Fighting the entire way to the airport and the entire time in the airport.  Finally, we were ready to board.  Now those of you that fly the European economy airlines know the rules on how to travel - ideally with a carryon suit case only.  With RyanAir, they are VERY strict with this one carry on only - and that includes your pocketbook so make sure you can shove that into your carry on as well.

However, we were flying EasyJet and I could have sworn they allowed pocketbooks and a carry on.  So I brought a decent sized tote and inserted my pocketbook into that.  Yeah, no.  As we checked in at the gate going thru the boarding process, the woman told me it had to fit inside my suitcase.  Again, arguing children in front of me and I'm now on the floor in front of the gate trying to shove my tote bag into my carry on.  It fit, but it put us further behind in the line.  Yes, we had assigned seating but with only carry on that we really didn't want to check, I was anxious to find a place to put our bags.  I knew I should have "upgraded" (I use that term loosely on these airlines) so that we could board early, thereby guaranteeing a spot for our bags.  So yup, we were in row 13, Aidan's bag was in row 23 and mine and Liam's bag were in row 3.  So much for trying to be efficient.  Oh and the steward totally could have put Aidan's bag with ours - I think they were just being bitchy... let's see if we can make this poor mom traveling alone with her kids as miserable as we possibly can.

The good news is that the flight was fine.  One of the better ones I've had in a long time.  And the kids slept since I took away their electronics for fighting (score one for mom at least!).  I didn't do very good prep work in advance so I wasn't sure if there was a train to Paris or if we needed to take a taxi.  And not wanting to make my life even more difficult with moody kids (yes, moody despite the fact that they were going to Paris... obviously over tired, hence the naps), I opted for the taxi (turns out upon our return to Charles de Gaulle for our return flight, there is a train station inside the airport - but the taxi stand was in the opposite direction of the train so I would never have noticed it without asking).

I should have done more research and gone with the train.  We landed during rush hour.  And the heat was 5000 degrees in the cab despite my constantly putting the windows down.  And the cab driver kept trying to screw me out of money which always pisses me off, especially in a country where I don't speak the language and can't communicate the problem... like being in the left lane where the traffic is stopped, yet your GPS states we are going to be bearing right in under a mile and the right lane traffic is free flowing.  When I said something he claimed not to speak English (which I can't prove one way or another).  He waited literally til the road split to switch to the right lane.  I was seething.  Then he got "lost" despite his GPS.  In the end, it was 65 euros and about an hour later before we arrived at our hotel, slightly more worse for the wear.  But we were in Paris!!!!

Since by now it was about 8PM the kids and I decided to just eat at the hotel, knowing full well it wasn't going to be super fabulous Parisian food.  But it met our immediate needs and meant that we would be able to get to bed at a reasonable hour (I had planned to take them for a walk around the city after dinner which would have meant a much later bedtime) so we could start our first full day fresh.  Aidan found the video game room and is now a big fan of Top Spin for the 360.  Too bad we have a wii.  I'm going to guess the graphics just aren't quite the same on the wii.

Ok, so the trip started off a little rough.  The kids managed to stay awake til Josh made it to the hotel, close to 11PM.  Our goal was to be out the door early on Saturday morning to paint the town red... and surprisingly we did pretty well.  And that was without breakfast because it was a fabulous breakfast that we were heading for!

Liam stole daddy's scarf and is toasty warm and ready to rock n roll in Paris!

The Louvre - couldn't convince the kids to go in, though Aidan did at least know what the Mona Lisa was... just had no interest in seeing it.

Foliage!  When you live in a city where the leaves don't change colors and you get to see even just a little bit of foliage, it's a big deal!

When Josh and I went to Paris a few years ago, I had posted it on my Facebook...and no less than 4 totally unrelated people told us that we needed to go to Angelina's for hot chocolate.  And we did.  And it was probably the most amazing, mouth watering hot chocolate ever to be tasted in my life.  They serve it to you in a carafe with a side of freshly whipped cream.  Thick and chocolately, it is by far the best hot chocolate ever.  Should you be in Paris, even just for a day, you must go (it's on Rue de Rivoli).  Liam, was absolutely in agreement... surprisingly Aidan, who has a very mature palate, was not as impressed.  Though he did love the pain au chocolate and who can blame him as that seemed equally delicious.

Ahhhh!  Hot chocolate!  I think Liam put almost all the whipped cream just into his cup alone.

Because once again I didn't plan ahead very well (in my defense we only had 2 weeks in between trips and I didn't have a whole lot of time), I didn't get us tickets to the Eiffel Tower - you needed to do it at least a day in advance and we were planning to be at Disney the next day.  You could still purchase them at the tower but you risked standing in a very long line.  And yup, that's what happened to us. After our delicious breakfast at Angelina's, we started to make our way over to the Eiffel Tower knowing that the earlier we went, the better chances we would have.

This is a statue of a rhino impaling a tiger... Liam was fascinated

Aidan's new thing is giving Liam a piggy back... any opportunity he has.  It slows us down... a lot!

But they are happy :)

Their first view of the Eiffel Tower - a bit fogged in but still visible

Cool lamp post

Trying for another piggy back

The River Seine

Aidan with the Eiffel Tower behind him (I wouldn't let Liam sit on the ledge)

The boys with the Eiffel Tower

Liam and I

Liam and Josh

Fog starting to clear... slowly

Everything is a karate chop or Iron Man punch these days

More pictures???

Pont Alexandre III

For every goofy pose... 

I get one sweet pose

At the Pont Alexandre III

My boys


Another view of the Pont Alexandre III

Just a pretty street I liked

But alas, it wasn't meant to be.  The line was ridiculously long and while the line to take the stairs was pretty much non existent, there was nothing that could convince the kids to climb the stairs.  Having just climbed to the top of the Duomo a matter of weeks ago, I can't say I blame them - it's a lot of stairs! So we sufficed with taking pictures at the base.  Josh decided to take a unique approach to his pictures as you'll see - never a dull moment with these three!!  

The boys first close up of the Tower

Hard to get a shot with the entire tower!

The before and after... I will admit, he's creative

I love that Liam is totally  laying down on Josh like he's ready to take a nap!

The boys really wanted to shop after the Tower.  I had told them about the Champs - Elysees and they were all for going there.  Boys after my own heart!  But first right in front of the tower we happened to see a really beautiful old carousel.  The boys needed to go on it.  And knowing that we had a pretty walking intensive day ahead, we went along with it and let them ride. 

In our quest for the Champs-Elysees, we decided to head towards the Arc de Triomphe along the way so that they could see that as well.  I also should remind you that it was about 45 degrees outside and not sunny, so it felt even colder.  By the time we reached the Arc my toes were pretty frozen as we'd already been outside for a few hours by then.  All I could think of was that I needed to get inside somewhere for lunch or shopping or something and warm up!!!

The kids couldn't have cared less about the Arc de Triomphe.  Pretty much just walked right past it.  No interest in walking under the road to get to the Arc itself much less climb it.  In my quest for heat, I was ok with this, not to mention, Josh and I have been here before and seen these things so it wasn't a big deal if we missed a few things along the way on this trip.  

The Arc de Triomphe

We finally made it to the Champs-Elysees and the kids went in search of somewhere to shop.  I don't think they realized when I said it was a shopping street that I was applying that more to myself than them.  Come on, we're going to Disney for them, don't I get something too???  Anyways, we did run into the Peugeot store which was incredibly cool as it had some very cool concept cars inside to check out and an area for the kids to color their own cardboard concept car.  Even Aidan got into it - he's getting to an age where he's starting to appreciate different types of cars.

Coloring their concept cars

Speaking of which, we saw a few Ferrari's and he pointed each one out - then we had a talk about the first one that had a logo painted on it.  I told him that if you are going to drive a Ferrari, you want people to think it's yours and to not waste your money driving one with a DRIVE ME logo on it... it takes away from the prestige of driving a Ferrari.  And believe it or not, I've driven one, years ago... and no, I don't have enough appreciation for it to tell you the difference between driving that and my little VW Golf.  Sorry!!!

Seriously if the Ferrari has "Drive Me" on it, people will know you don't own it... 

After checking out the cars in Peugeot, it was time for lunch.  As you can imagine, there wasn't much as far as reasonably priced meals along the Champs.  You either had Subway or the complete other end of the spectrum.  Since we didn't come to Paris for McDonalds or Subway, we went with the other end.  We might have been better off with McDonalds.  We went to Fouquet's (the boys loved the name and kept saying "fuck it" over and over again.  Ahhh boys...)

Lunch at Fouquet... way overpriced for just eh food... 

Liam's favorite - macarons!  And from the famous Laduree no less!

Proud owner of 16 macarons!

After lunch we did a little more walking around and as we headed back towards our hotel we came upon a Christmas market.  No one could be happier than me about this!  What a total unexpected surprise as usually the markets don't start until closer to December.  It wasn't as beautiful or fancy as the one in Strasbourg that we went to a few years ago, but it was festive nonetheless with some rides, booths full of yummy goodies and tons of things to buy for the holidays.  I would have liked to have spent more time at the market but I could tell after about 9 hours outside, the natives were getting restless to get back to the hotel for a little rest before dinner.

Aidan has been on a big chestnut kick lately

Dinner was nearby at a little restaurant in Les Halles, the area we were staying in.  We had a few recommendations from friends on places to go but after being outside all day long in the freezing cold, we opted for somewhere close by.  The food was fantastic and the kids both shared some oysters with us, a rare treat.

In bed early this time (unlike the previous night where the kids waited up for Josh) we were up and out early to head to our next destination - Disney Paris!  The train station to Disney was literally right behind our hotel and we arrived on the platform within moments of the train's arrival.  Within 40 minutes we were at Disney.  Not to bad...  and in typical Disney fashion, things were pretty well organized and while our room wasn't ready yet, we were checked in and on our way pretty quickly to the park.

Ready to head to Disney!


Now for those that have been to DisneyParis, you know, it's not all that.  It's small.  Very small.  I actually think Port Aventura in Tarragona rivals it in size and actually has likely better rides.  But despite it's small size compared to it's sister park in Orlando, it was perfect for just a day and a half. And really, that's all you need to cover everything.

After getting a "quick" breakfast at Starbucks (the line was HUGE), we were in the park before 10 and on our way.  Despite it not being a holiday weekend and the weather being pretty crappy, the lines were long.  We spent more time in lines than we did on rides.  I need to learn how to do this FastPass thing the next time we do a Disney trip.

View of Disney from our hotel

Iron Man pose

Starbucks in the corner

Entrance to Disney

All decorated for Christmas!

Seeing the all "American" Christmas decorations brought a tear to my eyes

Sleeping Beauty's castle in the background

Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Aidan, as always, is a thrill seeker when it comes to parks like this.  Liam, like his mom, is not so much.  So we made perfect teams.  Josh and Aidan would go on a roller coaster and Liam and I would find something a bit more tame for us to go on, something that Aidan wouldn't have enjoyed anyways.  It also made for less arguing when we were able to divide and conquer.

While Josh and Aidan went on Thunder Mountain, Liam and I ran into this guy from the Nightmare Before Christmas.  He was incredibly friendly (and sounded very American)!!

Thunder Mountain

After meeting the Nightmare Before Christmas guy, we took a ferry boat ride - not very exciting but had time to kill while we waited for Josh and Aidan

So cold out that the bridge was slippery almost like ice!  We even saw some snow (turns out it was soap that they make look like snow - but it was magical for just a moment).

Right before the Pirates of the Caribbean ride

Alice in Wonderland

The maze at Alice in Wonderland

The castle

I think he wants that spear

Josh catching "tea" from the teapot

We're going to see Buzz Lightyear!!!!

Aidan and Josh did Space Mountain... 

Star Tours

Aidan "killing" Liam... we then got in trouble for letting them climb on top of these rock things

Our favorite rides were Thunder Mountain (Josh and Aidan), Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Tours (though admittedly I felt a little nauseous) and of course Buzz Lightyear.  Aidan and Josh also did Space Mountain which Aidan didn't love as much but still had fun.  We did lunch on the go and continued on with our rides, trying to hit as much of Magic Kingdom as we possibly could in one day.  It was yet another 10 hour day outside in the freezing cold.  When I made the reservation, the clerk on the phone had told me that the park would be lit up for Christmas while we were there and that each night there were fireworks when the park closed at 7.  So we were determined to stick it out until 7 so we could watch them.  Turns out there is a small show at 6:30 and then the big fireworks weren't til 10.

The castle lit up during the 6:30 festivities

Lights along Main Street USA

Light show

Loved the water fountains next to the castle... see the video below for more!

Video of the 6:30 show - 
it was pretty cool though not as great as I imagine the fireworks would have been.  

With Josh feeling a head cold coming on and me freezing to the bone, we decided to throw in the towel after the 6:30 show and head back to the hotel.  We still had one more day left before going back to Barcelona and didn't want to be too tired to tackle Walt Disney Studios (aka, a mini MGM).

But before we could hit the parks, we had breakfast with the characters at Cafe Mickey.  We were the first ones there which was nice - no rush and we got to meet with the characters before feeling the frenzy of everyone around us.  The kids were disappointed that Mickey and Minnie didn't show but they enjoyed Donald, Pluto and Geppeto.

Even though by staying at the hotel we had access to the parks before hours, it turns out that Disney Studios was not a part of this, hence we spent our first hour and a half the second morning at Magic Kingdom.  The bonus was that we got to do the Buzz Lightyear ride another 2 times without a huge line before heading over to Disney Studios.  Thankfully this mini MGM is small enough that it's easily covered in under a day.

Josh and Aidan immediately got into line for the Crush Coaster while Liam and I made our way over to the Cars teacup style ride.  Everyone had a great time.  We went over to the animation studio and watched how characters are created in movies and then did some interactive games and animation including how to make our own cartoons.  Aidan liked learning the process of how each slide makes a difference in how the animation appears when complete.

Liam loved the Stitch Live show which is similar to the Crush one in Epcot in Orlando.  We didn't get to see the stunt show or do the RC roller coaster (oh darn) since it was closed.  But we did a few more rides before getting ourselves together to head back to Barcelona - after all, there was school the next day!

Testing their scream power

Mike was looking a little rough around the edges, perhaps a few too many kids climbing on him over the years... 

Lightning McQueen ride

They should really position these Cars outside the ride so you have more time to take a picture rather than rushing over when the ride is done before the next one starts.

Watching the cartoon he made

Also watching his cartoon the old fashioned way

This was hysterical!  There was a robot inside the trash can and the guy behind me had the remote - he was scaring people as they came off the Rocking Aerosmith Rollercoaster - as you can see he scared the bejeezus out of Aidan... almost peed myself.  Aidan was not as amused...

All in all, the trip was a great success.  It was cold but it was fun.  And the kids loved Paris!  Now for a one month reprieve (for me, not Josh unfortunately) before our next trip!!


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