Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Exploring (page 1 of 3)

5 Days in Beijing: Day 5 – Beihai Park and Almost Losing a Child

Morning came early as usual during this trip. Maybe we’ll be adjusted to China time just when it’s time to head back to California. I was a bit less tired when 8:00 p.m. rolled around the evening before, so maybe we’re almost there. The kids did sleep solidly until 7:00 a.m.

Breakfast was the usual affair in the club lounge on the 17th floor of the Renaissance (SEE: Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing Review). The spread and service have been excellent every day. This is shaping up to be one of the best hotel stays to date, mainly because of the perks we’ve enjoyed due to earning Marriott Platinum Premier status earlier this year (SEE: Fast track status: how to sign up for a Marriott Platinum challenge).

After breakfast we video chatted with mom and our youngest who have been enjoying themselves back at home.

Wangfujing snack street

Even though we’d been staying in a central Beijing hotel, we hadn’t really wandered the surrounding streets. One of the places I’d been pointed toward is the Wangfujing pedestrian street, about a third of a mile south of our hotel. This was our first stop for the day.

Wangfujing is a very walkable area, although very little in Beijing is a quick stroll away. The city is vast and sprawling. Even just walking from the south end of Tiananmen Square to the entrance of the Forbidden City takes longer than you’d expect.

We passed many of the typical high-end retail stores you can find in the central district of good number of cities. But that was not why we were here. If I wanted a BVLGARI purse, I would have bought it in Milan a couple years ago.

About halfway to the snack street we passed by an old church, which was extremely unexpected. The current structure is the third (I think) iteration of the Catholic church that has stood on this spot since 1655. Catholic mass happens daily, with additional services on Sunday. Given the current climate of Christian persecution in China, it surprises me that the church is even operating. I highly doubt that it is true to the gospel.

We took a peek inside and then continued on our way to the snack street. It did not disappoint. The kids couldn’t decide if the wriggling scorpions on a stick were utterly cool or totally gross. We decided to pass up the opportunity to ingest any of this “delicacy”.

Wandering into some souvenir shops, we perused the cheap knockoff goods. Some items had a trademark or copyright logo clearly displayed, should you question its authenticity. I somehow don’t think Disney would license these cheap plastic figures to be sold in Beijing for $2 apiece.

Curiosity satisfied after browsing the shops for half an hour, we headed back to Wangfujing Street and our next destination.

Beihai Park

This 1,000-year-old Imperial park was next on the list for our final day in Beijing. We took the bus, the first time we’ve braved one in the Chinese capital. Thank goodness for Google maps and bus signs that have Arabic numerals on them. I’d plotted the bus route in Google Maps to Beihai Park before we left the hotel and took some screenshots. Our 15-minute ride went without a hitch.

The bus made the most sense in this case as it was much faster. The fastest subway route would have been a mere four stops *but* required two transfers. The Beijing subway system is efficient for many routes, especially if you are going a longer distance, but it is often extremely inefficient for short distance travel. Constructed in a loop and grid fashion, it makes great sense for a city as large as Beijing. But it means that almost every trip you take will require 1-2 transfers, which are never quick.

We arrived in Beihai Park around 10:30, a bit later than I’d anticipated. We got “through tickets” for just 30 yuan (~$4.40) for all three of us.

Beihai Park is quite lovely, even during the fall when many of the trees have already lost their leaves. The willows lining the lake were quite beautiful. I’ve been impressed with Beijing’s parks in general. All have been very nice green spaces. It would be nice to visit again in late spring and see them in the height of their greenery. There were some flower displays to make up for the lack of color in the rest of the park.

I was a bit bummed that the Circular City was closed. I’d hoped to see this section of the park near where we entered. We instead began the climb up the hill to the white Dagoba (Tibetan Buddhist stupa) at the top of Qionghua islet.

I would be lying if reading “Dagoba” didn’t immediately make me think of Star Wars and Dagobah, the swamp planet Luke crash lands on when he is searching for Yoda. I know that George Lucas drew on eastern religions for his movies. I just didn’t know it was this blatant. The top of the hill provided us with a nice view of the rest of the lake.

The kids asked if we could rent a boat like we had at Chaoyang Park a few days prior (SEE: 5 Days in Beijing: Day 1 – Our First 24 Hours in the Chinese Capital), seeing so many out on the lake. I thought it was a fine idea. We made our way down and over the bridge out to the boat rental.

An hour on the water in a pedal boat only costs 60 yuan (~$8.75). I’ve been thrilled overall with how inexpensive China is. I’ll remind myself of that when planning other international vacations. When we visited Paris and Luxembourg in the spring, I had to be careful not to break the bank on just food each day.

The kids and I had fun powering ourselves around the lake. Pedal-power was an entirely different experience than our excursion on a boat with a small motor a few days before. Remind me to start biking. It is exhausting. But it was still fun. We spent most of an hour enjoying the lake.

By the time we were done, it was time for lunch. We found a small hole-in-the-wall place back toward Shichahai, where we’d had lunch during our day wandering the hutongs (SEE: 5 Days in Beijing: Day 2 – History and Hutongs). At $18 for the three of us, it was by far our most expensive lunch.

The kids tried duck for the fist time. They weren’t fans. My daughter, who primarily wanted to try it, was grossed out. the duck was served head and all, cut in half and sliced on a platter. I’m going to pack on the pounds eating all the food they don’t finish.

Nanluoguxiang a second time

Since we were once again near this foremost of the Beijing hutongs, a second walk through Nanluoguxiang was a must. The kids had enjoyed it immensely the first time. We picked up some more cheese bread (honestly not sure what it is, but it tastes amazing) at the same shop and sat on some steps to people watch.

Or be watched as the case may be. Apparently while I was taking the photo above, a Chinese lady stepped behind me and snapped a photo of my kids. They told me after what had happened. I’m left wondering if they were the novelty, or whether it was the fact we were sitting on some stone steps when literally everyone else was standing (maybe install some benches?).

The kids remarked a number of times that the Chinese gave them funny looks. We are definitely not the only tourists in Beijing, but it may be the combination of a white guy with two darker kids that makes us stand out a bit. Or maybe it is just the fact that they are foreign kids. I’ve seen very few others.

The kids have been a bit sensitive to this issue, my daughter especially. She must have a keen eye for it since I only noticed people staring at us a couple times.

Our delicious snack finished, we wandered back south through the Nanluoguxiang hutong until we arrived back at the metro station. Tip: visit on a weekday in the late morning like we did originally. The Saturday throng was a whole lot less pleasant.

Our scary moment: almost losing a child

We headed down to the metro at Nanluoguxiang, something that was routine for us in Beijing. We’d ridden it nearly every day in Beijing, and the kids knew the  drill. We bought tickets, headed through security, and then trotted down the steps to the platform.

The train we needed was waiting on the platform, and the bell hadn’t sounded yet for the doors to close. My son asked if this was our train, and I told him yes. Just as he ran into the car ahead of me, the bell sounded and the doors started to close. I knew I wasn’t going to make it, especially with my daughter a couple feet behind me. The doors slid shut. My son’s face was complete panic. Mine must have looked the same to him.

Now if I had more than a few fractions of a second to think, I would have realized that leaving a child alone on the subway platform would be preferable to leaving a child alone on the subway train. Diving through the rapidly closing doors would have been the best choice. As long as my daughter knew to stay put, we would come back to fetch her as fast ass we could.

A child alone on the subway is a more difficult problem. And I knew in that moment that we should have discussed a contingency plan for this situation. I tried to yell through the double doors for him to get off at the next stop. We would be on the train behind him and would meet him there. I couldn’t tell if he understood, but the subway would be underway momentarily. He had to understand.

To my surprise, the doors suddenly opened again. We quickly entered the car and were all reunited! I was so incredibly thankful that someone must have been watching the whole situation and realized we’d been split up.

I previously remember seeing an attendant at some Beijing subway stations standing on a small, raised platform. It seemed odd to me that this was a job (I’d heard of subway pushers for when crowds are thick), but a platform observer seemed strange to me. Now I am extremely thankful someone was there to watch passengers entering and exiting the subway.

The kids and I had an immediate talk of what to do in the situation we just experienced, had my son actually been whisked away. The plan consists of two simple rules: if you end up on the subway without dad, get off at the next stop and wait for me to find you. If you end up loeft on the platform while dad leaves on the train, simply wait there for me to find you. This will go into the safety discussion I have with the kids each time we travel.

Crisis averted, we stepped off the metro just a few stops down the line.

Lama Temple and a Cat Cafe

I’d identified the Wudaoying hutong as an interesting place for another stroll. The hutong offers an eclectic mix of shops and cafés, including a cat cafe. If you’re wondering what a cat café, don’t worry. They don’t cook and serve cats. Cat cafés are typically a coffee or tea shop where patrons share the space with cats who are free to roam and interact with guests. I thought the kids would love it.

But we ran into an issue in Wudaoying: I couldn’t identify the cat café. I’d failed to get an exact name or address, thinking that it would be easy enough to identify along the alley as we walked. After poking our faces into the windows of a few promising shops, I started to wonder if our search might be in vain. We eventually exited the hutong after a quarter mile, thwarted in our search for a cup of coffee with cats. The kids will have to wait for that experience.

However, we were now just a couple hundred meters from the Lama Temple, which was our final destination for the day.

The Lama Temple, or, more properly, the Yonghe Temple, is a temple and monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. Originally constructed around 1700 as an imperial residence, the Lama Temple was converted into a monastery about 40 years later. It is unique in that it is not only a functioning monastery, but also open to the public as a tourist attraction.

Although visiting Beijing in the fall has had its downsides, an upside was certainly walking the tree-lined path from the temple entrance to the first gate. The trees were a beautiful gold color, and unlike other places in Beijing that are efficiently cleaned, a layer of fallen foliage was left to line the path. It is beautiful!

The temple itself is impressive, although possibly less so to us than it could have been, given that we’d visited the Forbidden City the previous day (SEE: 5 Days in Beijing: Day 4 – Tiananmen and the Forbidden City). Many visitors were burning incense in the first courtyard. The kids asked some questions about what people were doing and I tried my best to field answers. I’m quite unfamiliar with Buddhism. Our discussion mainly centered around respecting their culture and religion and how ours differ from theirs.

We visited a few couple other sections of the temple, but didn’t stay especially long. Since it is an active Buddhist monastery, I felt like we were intruding more than anything. Our visit lasted maybe a half hour before we hopped back on the subway toward our hotel.

Ending the day with school

On previous days I would not have attempted school with the kids in the evening, given everyone’s exhaustion level. But the night before was the first one during which they were at least a bit more perky. They still went to bed at 7:45 p.m. without a fuss, but it wasn’t the voluntary crawl under the covers like the other nights.

School away from home has been working well enough. Luckily, the internet speed at the Renaissance is good and we are able to stream my daughter’s lessons. This probably would not have been possible at the Hilton, our first hotel (SEE: Hilton Beijing Review). Dinner in the lounge followed by an hour of lessons it was.

This brought our Beijing sightseeing to a close. It’d been a fun several days, and a great introduction to China. But Hong Kong awaits!

Our Whirlwind 44 Hours in Luxembourg

After three days in the City of Lights (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3), we hopped on a train across the French hills to the tiny country of Luxembourg. I’d wanted to add a second destination to our trip, and it made sense, given that Paris is just a few hours away. Alternatively, we could have done another location in France, or possibly Belgium. But given the brevity of the trip, Luxembourg made the most sense.

I also have a fascination with tiny countries. When my wife and I toured southern France, Italy and Ireland in 2016, we also spent a couple nights in the tiny country of San Marino. Landlocked within Italy, it is a city-state with a fascinating history (SEE: 5 Reasons to Visit San Marino). We also visited Monaco on that trip, another tiny country (SEE: Hiking Monaco to La Turbie). Luxembourg was a good fit, and totally doable in a day and a half.

Hotel on a hill

We arrived in The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (as it is officially known) in the late afternoon at the main train station. I’d asked the hotel if they have a shuttle that would be able to pick us up. Unfortunately, they don’t , but the staff member who responded to me gave me instructions on how to get there by bus. Turned out to be super easy. We had to make one transfer at the Badanstalt stop.

We were staying at the DoubleTree, which is located outside the central part of town (SEE: DoubleTree Luxembourg Review). The bus didn’t run all the way to the hotel, so we did have to walk a few hundred yards up the hill.

The kids were fairly tired by this point in the trip. We’d spent three days seeing Paris, plus another couple hours in Luxembourg Gardens that morning before heading off to the train station. Our evening would best be spent in the pool, which was fine by them. We also made a couple calls back home, one to mom and their brother, and one to my daughter’s friend.

The one downside of not venturing out was that we had to eat in the hotel, which ended up being stupidly expensive. Not to mention the food was sub-par. But everything got better from there.

An enchanting morning

I’d told the kids the night before that I’d probably be up early to take a walk. They both said they wanted to go, but I knew that 6:00 a.m. was going to come too soon for them. Plus, I did want them to sleep in a bit and get a good night’s rest. I’m sure I could slip out and in before they even woke up.

The next morning was lovely. I left the kids sleeping peacefully in the hotel room and started down the hill. I traced the route the bus had taken from the City center, only departing once I got down near the creek in the bottom of the valley.

There was a light fog over the landscape. This, plus the utter quiet, made it a perfect morning indeed.

I wound my way through the trees along a creek that I could hear but really couldn’t see until I passed through the old city wall and came to some homes along the canal in the valley.

I also passed under the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge, also simply called the “red bridge”. It was far above, barely visible through the fog. The bridge connects the old upper part of the city with the new section, called Kirchberg. This section of the city is notable for containing multiple European Union institutions.

Further along, I came across an elevator that takes you from the bottom of the valley up to the old city. The topography of Luxembourg makes for some wonderful views, but it can make foot travel a bit challenging in places.

I’d not known there was an elevator at this point, but it was more than welcome. I’d been expecting to have to slowly wind my way out of the valley and up to the old city once I discovered a route. This made things far, far easier. It was just a couple more minutes before I strolled past the Badanstalt bus stop where we’d transferred the day before and made my way into the old city.

The old city wasn’t awake yet when I arrived. I spent some time wandering the streets, enjoying the shops beginning to open at the Places d’Armes and the view across the steep valley to the south.

There is a sign on the cultural center (formerly a palace and government building) that commemorates when Allied troops liberated Luxembourg during the Second World War.

Walking back past the cathedral. I grabbed a coffee at one of the only open cafés. It surprised me that the city was so sleepy, but I guess it was a weekend.

I knew it’d be a hike to get to the old city,  but I’d made good time. But taking the bus back made a whole lot more sense than walking. Luckily, the system is super easy to navigate. I ended up jumping on the first bus that would get me close, rather than waiting another 20 minutes for the one that could take me to Rue Jean Engling near the hotel.

I arrived a little over an hour after I’d left. The kids were right where I’d left them, snoozing peacefully. I’d given them clear instructions the night before on what to do if they woke up to me gone (get dressed for the day, don’t answer the door). Turns out those weren’t even needed. So much for getting up early with dad to take a walk! We’d do enough walking that day, so it was definitely better that they’d not been up and out at dawn.  😉

Old Luxembourg

After a nice (and free) breakfast at the hotel, we headed out to enjoy our one full day in Luxembourg. The Old City is the main area of interest, and that is the first place we headed. It was now mid-morning, and the town was a whole lot more alive than when I’d been there earlier. The kids were feeling alive, too, and wanted to play at the…uh…playground. I actually wouldn’t call it that, but other kids were climbing the poles, and, hey, they wanted to join in.

We wandered the streets for a little bit, visiting the Place d’Armes and cathedral first. Luxembourg Cathedral isn’t quite as impressive as others in Europe that I’ve seen, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

The town was waking up a bit more now. People were enjoying breakfast at many of the cafés. It was a very lovely morning. We wandered to the south edge of the town with a view of the Pont Adolphe, eventually making our way to the Luxembourg City Museum, the first real stop on our itinerary that day.

Luxembourg City Museum

I highly recommend the Luxembourg City Museum. The museum costs only €5 and is free for kids. The city-state has a fascinating history, and the museum will give you  great taste of it. The exhibits take you from the founding of the city on its rocky outcropping through to its place in modern Europe.

My daughter happened to meet a young lady busily spinning wool on a spinning wheel in one corner of the museum. They struck up a conversation while my son and I wandered the two rooms nearby. She then protested when we were going to move on. Long story short, I let her hang out with her newfound friend, and she chatted her ear off the entire time. The lady was a Luxembourger-American who had decided to relocate back to the land of her father after growing up in Seattle.

My son and I enjoyed the rest of the museum, moving slowly through the exhibits from floor to floor. The early section has some cool models showing the expansion of the city through the years.

The massive elevator that takes you between floors was a highlight as well. I’ve never seen one so large. They obviously custom-designed it to fill the space.

Near the end, there was a modern model of Luxembourg City. It was very neat to see where we’d already been. I pointed out a few places we’d be headed the during the rest of our visit.

We spent about 1.5 hours at the museum, although you could probably spend more. It’s not all that large, but there is still a good amount to see and read. Our visit concluded, my son and I returned to the first floor to fetch my daughter, who was still happily chatting with her yarn-spinning friend.

The Grund

Exiting the museum, we slowly made our way down to the Grund, the lower section of Luxembourg City along the river. This involved walking a lovely narrow street down toward the casemates. Along the way are some of the best views of the entire city. You can see part of the upper city in the left background, the Grund in the middle foreground down below, and the modern tall buildings in the distance located in Kirchberg.

We arrived at the casemates, a complex of tunnels used a bomb shelters during World War II. You can tour them for a fee, but I decided to pass up this attraction. My son found a piano and decided to give Silent Night (the one song he knows) a go. I did not expect this, given the public setting!

Continuing downward toward the river, we eventually found ourselves winding back to the middle of the Grund, which was directly below us when we started. Even though we could see exactly where we were headed, we probably walked at least three times the distance to get there. I should have paid more attention to the bus schedule, especially considering how reliable the service is and that the kids are free! At least taking the path meant the kids got to stop for a bit and play in the creek.

There was a small open air event going on at the bridge. We bought crepes for lunch from one of the stalls and hung out by the river for a bit. I thought the kids would enjoy a Nutella crepe, but it turns out that combination wasn’t received well. We hung out for a while with the people and vendors, eventually meandering to the other side of the river and waiting at a bus stop to head back to the middle of Luxembourg City. We took a brief joyride on one of the buses to see a bit more of the city before returning to the hotel for the evening.

But wait, there’s day two!

Our full day exploring Luxembourg City may have been over, but we still had a bit of adventure left before we needed to head back to the airport. Day two began with a lazy morning, as we’d done so much walking the day before. After another great (free) breakfast at the hotel restaurant we moseyed on down to the bus stop, just in time to catch the bus to the city center again. But today we caught a different line at Badanstalt this time, however, one that headed out to the edge of town. The point of interest? The Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial.

There are a number of U.S. cemeteries scattered across Europe in which soldiers from both world wars are buried. I figured we should visit the one in Luxembourg, given that we were so close. The cemetery is a 15 minute walk from the last bus stop, down a quiet road. It is in the flight path of the Luxembourg airport, so we got to do some plane spotting on our way there and then on the way back again.

Because our kids are from Costa Rica, they are almost completely unfamiliar with American history, especially history as it relates to the world wars of the twentieth century. I relayed what I could regarding World War II to both of them as we made our way to the front gate of the cemetery.

Overcome by reverence

I knew the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial would command a great respect, but I was not anticipating the level of emotion that I experienced when we walked through the gate.

The cemetery is perfectly maintained. There is a memorial chapel in the middle of the stone terrace. Flanking it on either side are two displays of the names of soldiers who were missing in action during the Second World War along with engravings of military operations.

Many of the soldiers buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial were killed in combat during the Battle of the Bulge, late in the war. It occurred very close to Luxembourg. Down the hillside are row upon row of wooden crosses and Jewish stars for each solider.

At the very top of the hill, closest to the terrace and separate from the other graves is the grave of General George Patton who tragically died just months after the conclusion of the war.

I would highly recommend a visit to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial if you are an American visiting this tiny country.

Off to CDG!

The hours passed by so quickly. I felt like we’d barely arrived in Luxembourg, even though we’d spend a solid day and a half exploring. We made a final stop at the Palace of the Grand Duke. They have a guard outside who parades back and forth and switches off with the one in the booth.

We also had a photo op with Grand Duchess Charlotte. She was the monarch of Luxembourg during the Second World War, but abdicated in 1965 and was succeeded by her son. The “red bridge” mentioned earlier is named in honor of her.

All too soon we had to head back to the hotel, fetch our bags, and return to the train station. The rest of the day was spent making our way back to Charles de Gaulle airport for our flight back to the U.S. the following morning (SEE: Air France A380 economy review: Paris to San Francisco).

I’d say things went smoothly, but I’d be lying. We had a little incident where I got lost in Metz in our rental car. But that is a story for a different day. Our final night was at the Holiday Inn Express Charles de Gaulle (SEE: Paris Holiday Inn Express CDG Airport Review), which ended up being a great airport hotel pick.

3 Days in Paris: Day 3 – Savoring the City

After dragging ourselves through the exhaustion of our first day in the City of Light (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 1 – Surviving the Jetlag), followed by a very full day of seeing the main sights (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 2 – Hitting the Highlights), some extra sleep was called for to start off our third day.

Once the kids were up and ready, we had breakfast at Aux Péchés Normands for the third time. It was already becoming tradition. The little bakery is a two minute walk from our hotel and offers great pastries, plus fresh coffee and juice. Fueled for the morning, we headed back toward where we’d began our adventures two days ago.

Notre Dame de nouveau

Notre Dame cathedral was both the first and last stop on our first day in the city. We’d enjoyed the view of the famous church from the square in front, returning later to enjoy the view from the towers.

But we’d missed one important piece: seeing the inside of the cathedral. This was what we intended to rectify today.

We arrived at Place Jean-Paul II to what seemed like an enormous line in front of Notre Dame. It extended the length of the square, and then wrapped around back towards the front of the Gothic cathedral. There really wasn’t any alternative to get inside, so we just joined the lengthy queue.

The line moved surprisingly quickly, and we were actually inside in under 10 minutes. The inside of Our Lady of Paris is just as lovely as her exterior. I love wandering around old cathedrals. When my wife and I visited Europe in 2016, we went to cathedrals in Milan, Florence and Dublin.

We didn’t stay especially long, just enough to take in the stained glass and immense feel of the cathedral. From Notre Dame we moved on to the other sights located on the Île de la Cité.

Conciergerie and Saint-Chappelle

A short walk later and we were standing at the entrance to Saint-Chappelle, a beautiful chapel with some of the most impressive stained glass I have ever seen. The chapel isn’t very large, but the ceilings are high and the color is mesmerizing.

Sainte-Chappelle is part of the Palais de la Cité, the residence of the kings of France for centuries. In many ways it is equally as impressive as Notre Dame.

The kids and I enjoyed the stained glass and wandering both the upper and lower levels of Sainte-Chappelle before moving on to the Conciergerie, located just another short walk away.

The Conciergerie is another part of the royal palace on the island in the middle of the Seine, albeit an infamous part of it. It served a number of functions after the French kings moved to the palace across the river, before becoming an infamous part of the French Revolution. Many prisoners were held here before being executed by guillotine, including Marie Antoinette.

I was surprised by how bare the interior is kept. There were a few areas where you could read about the history of the building, but other than that, you just got to wander the bare stone rooms. Bare, that is, except for a flume that is oddly constructed through the space and results in the waterfall you see outside between the towers.

I did my best to relay my limited knowledge of the French Revolution to the kids. They were fascinated by the story of Marie Antoinette, asking again and again why she was killed. The fact that the revolutionaries killed her unjustly, hating her for her wealth and power as one of the French royals, was hard for them to get their minds around.

Even as we left the Conciergerie, the kids continued to ask about Marie Antoinette and what happened during the revolution. I was glad for the moment I could teach them a small nugget of history, right in the place where it happened.

Lazily cruising the Seine

From the Conciergerie we continued our stroll along the Île de la Cité, heading to the dock where one of the river cruise companies operates. Given how much we’d all been on our feet the previous day, I wanted to make sure we broke up our day a bit more with active versus passive activities. I made sure to plan a time where we could just sit and talk and take in Paris. A cruise on the Seine fit the bill perfectly.

The tour company we used was fine, but there is serious room for improvement. Given the price of Paris in general, I was going for cheap. I’m sure there are better companies out there. The main drawback was that the tour guide did little more than point out 8-10 places in very thickly accented English. I caught most of what she said, but the kids hardly understood anything.

But it was still enjoyable to watch the city drift by from the water. The cruise took us from the Île de la Cité to the Eiffel Tower and back again.

We also headed upriver briefly and passed by Notre Dame, which was a highlight from the water.

We also saw (purportedly) the smallest house in Paris.

It was a great way to kill and hour and still enjoy the city. I’d highly recommended adding a Seine cruise as part of your Paris itinerary.

A much needed rest

Even after sitting for an hour, the kids were still tired. Three days of walking and sightseeing was a lot for both of them. It was mid-afternoon, and I still wanted to take them to Champ de Mars that evening to see the Eiffel Tower again and basically saw our goodbyes to Paris.

The best course of action was to regroup at the hotel for a while. The kids spent some time watching cartoons while I closed my eyes and tried not to drift off to sleep. Which was hard. I don’t like taking down time and would rather stay out until I’m completely done for the day. But with the kids, I needed to break it up.

But we had to get moving soon before I just decided to stay put. Dinner. We needed dinner.

Au revoir, Tour Eiffel

We headed out after maybe an hour at the Crowne Plaza Paris Republique, and grabbed some more bread, cheese and lunchmeat at a local store. Dinner was on the cheap yet again. However, we splurged afterwards, buying eclairs at one of the top-rated bakeries in the city. It was the most utterly delectable cream-filled pastry I’d eaten in my entire life.

On our way to the Champ de Mars, I became concerned that we might get rained out. The weather didn’t look promising. Sure enough, as we exited the train station, a light rain was falling. Plenty of other people had umbrellas. We weren’t so prepared. Even living in Humboldt, I cannot remember the last time I used an umbrella out and about.

We decided to just make a go of it. Looking at the clouds, I didn’t expect the rain to get worse, and it certainly wasn’t cold. We would be fine. This turned out to be the right call, as the rain let up within 15 minutes.

We walked along the Champ de Mars, bidding the icon of Paris adieu. Just had to get the perfect photo of these two in front of it. We strolled along slowly, me taking it all in. The kids brought up the fact that I’d made them walk up hundreds of stairs to the top. I have no regrets of my decision.

On the other side of the tower we encountered “the bubble man”. He was in the business of providing enjoyment to at least a dozen kids at a time for a small sum from their parents’ pocket (voluntary, of course). The kids enjoyed jumping and chasing the bubbles immensely. The Eiffel Tower made for the perfect backdrop.

A carousel ride, the perfect Parisian ending

After that we crossed the Seine toward Trocadero once more. This time we weren’t in a hurry, having already accomplished the mission of the evening. The kids asked to ride the carousel, and I figured this was the last chance we’d have. Of course this one picked a plane instead of a horse.

From there we wandered over to a small park maybe 100 yards from the Trocadero fountains. To my surprise, there were a couple families with kids. Young kids. I’m always taken aback by how late Europeans are out each evening. It was definitely late for us. The kids should have already been in bed. But here we were, enjoying the park, as the hour hand crept past 9 o’clock.

We finally got back to the hotel around 10:00, and quickly to bed. We said goodbye to Paris the following day, which was bittersweet. A final visit to Luxembourg Gardens was all we were able to fit in. We’d had a ton of fun. But the adventure would continue in Luxembourg!

3 Days in Paris: Day 2 – Hitting the Highlights

It figures we’d sleep in a bit after going 31 hours without so much as a real nap. Our first day had brought me to the most exhausted state I’ve felt in years (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 1 – Surviving the Jetlag). I still got up fairly early, but actually felt quite rested.

While the kids continued their unbroken slumber, I showered and did some research for the day. I had a general idea of what we should see but still needed to finalize a more concrete plan. It quickly formed around some of the biggest highlights the French capital has to offer.  But the first order of business was breakfast. Time to get the kids up.

Le Petit Déjeuner Parisien

Since IHG has a pretty lousy elite program, the hotel breakfast wasn’t free. And we absolutely weren’t going to pay somewhere around €60 for the three of us.

To our delight there was a wonderful little bakery just around the corner from our hotel. Aux Péchés Normands offers a delectable array of pastries, plus fresh juices, coffee and a few other items. Ordering was a bit awkward, as my attempt at French lapsed into Spanish at a couple points. How I wish I had the time to study a few more languages. Someday, I keep telling myself.

Fortunately the lady helping us was both patient and kind as I butchered her native tongue, plus took twice as long as everyone else to order. Man, could their staff work. The place was hopping and the the handful of employees were giving it their all.

With some croissants, a juice, and a café au lait in hand, we headed to a little park along a canal to the northeast of our hotel. It was the perfect place to enjoy an utterly Parisian first breakfast in Paris.

Except for the coffee. Standard French coffee is an espresso, which is simply too strong for me.

Walking the Louvre and Tuileries

Stomachs full of delicious pastry, we started our adventure with a metro ride to Châtelet once again. But this time we transferred and traveled one more station to the Louvre. I figured that even though we weren’t going to tour this most famous of art museums, we at least needed to see the beautiful Louvre Palace and walk the Tuileries Gardens.

This is also where we met a German mother an her adult daughter who asked us to take a photo of them. We chatted for a few minutes. They were surprised I was traveling with kids and also surprised we had come all the way to Europe for a week. We had a great discussion on the amazing-ness of travel, and I encouraged them to pay the U.S. a visit. They kindly took a photo of us as well.

From the Louvre we meandered leisurely through Les Jardins des Tuileries until we came to the next destination on the list: Musée l’Orangerie.

Marveling at the Water Lilies

If you’re an art connoisseur, you could probably spent a week at the Louvre and not appreciate everything. We could spend all day there, and I’d barely scratch the surface and end up with two unhappy kids. But I still wanted to get in a little art while in Paris. So we settled for the Musée l’Orangerie.

Located at the opposite end of Tuileries Gardens from the Louvre, the Musée l’Orangerie is substantially smaller than its more famous neighbor. But this trove of impressionist art contains one very iconic piece: full wall displays of Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies).

We spent a while marveling at the walls of horizonless, shifting mix of pond and plants arrayed around us on all sides.

Even I could enjoy such a moment. I’m not much into paintings, especially impressionist paintings, but I find the works of the early impressionists are substantially better than the later, abstract ones.

Most of another hour was spent on the lower floor as we examined a number of other works in the museum collection. Some were quite skillful masterpieces, such as this one.

Apparently I missed an easy career as an artist, if this is all it takes to get you into a famous museum. Maybe I could still switch? I’d have to kick the eccentricity up a few notches.

Eventually all three of us had had enough art for the day and ventured back outside to the banks of the Seine.

The highlight of the trip

It was finally time. I’d told the kids I didn’t want the Eiffel Tower to be a tale of misery, so I made sure it wasn’t on the agenda for the first day. Instead, this most iconic of Parisian structures was slated for lunchtime and early afternoon.

We’d already had some glimpses. Le Tour Eiffel often peeks at you from various corners of the city, reminding you that it is always there, always watching. When we left the Musée l’Orangerie, our view was the best we’d had so far. But a short train ride later, and we were standing underneath it.

Unfortunately, one of the entrances to the Eiffel Tower was closed, and we’d managed to pick the longest security line of them all. Ask my wife sometime how I feel about lines.

Luckily, once inside, the wait wasn’t as bad. This was mainly because I’d elected to go with the cheap and character-building Eiffel Tower experience, to the dismay of my children: the Snyders were taking the stairs up the tower! It was definitely for the best. Instead of waiting in a giant line for an elevator, we started up the metal stairs after a mere 10 minutes in the queue. Here are my two troopers starting out:

I had a blast. In the end, the kids did, too. But the adventure wasn’t without its share of whining and complaining about hiking up the Eiffel Tower when there was an functioning elevator available. But once we’d scaled the first floor, the smiles came back.

The views from the first floor were lovely.

But the views from the second level are even more stunning.

I’d read that this was the best level from which to view Paris, as you’re high enough to have a sweeping view of the city, yet close enough to pick out landmarks. I considered going to the top, but given the cost and time,  we’d be happily content with the second level.

Lunch was had at the tiny cafe, which to my shock had prices within the realm of reason. The baguette sandwich was delicious. Nothing beats French bread.

Once we were all satisfied that we’d soaked in enough of the view, we headed down, taking the elevator this time. Turns out you don’t need a ticket to go that direction. Just up.

I’ll have more on the Eiffel Tower later, including a rundown on why I consider the stairs to be the better experience, even with kids. On with our adventure!

Triomphe!

After conquering the Eiffel Tower by foot, it makes sense that our next stop was a monument to victory. Napoleon’s victories, to be exact.

We took our time getting there, though. Across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower is a grand set of fountains and park called the Jardins du Trocadéro. From here you can get some great shots of the Eiffel Tower.

After walking a little further an up the stairs, we headed down to the metro and rode it three stops to the Arc de Triomphe.

Although the Arc de Triomphe isn’t especially tall, the views from the top are great. The Eiffel Tower is still fairly close, and being at the center of 12(!) different avenues makes for some unique photos.

Like many other places in Paris, the kids got in for free. And “child” prices typically last until they turn 18. This is one reason I would suggest visiting Paris as a family before the kids are grown, especially if you can travel hack the flights and hotel. The former is fairly easy. The latter is a pain.

The Arc de Triomphe involved more stairs, to the kids’ dismay. They asked why they didn’t install an elevator. I had to tell them they weren’t exactly common in the early 1800s. Not to mention electricity as we know it wasn’t a thing. And renovating an stone monument like this wasn’t exactly…eh…simple.

My last comment is to avoid the Arc de Triomphe if driving in Paris. Unless you relish a challenge. The giant circle is an utter free for all.

After our stop at the Arc de Triomphe, we found a cheap restaurant on a side street to grab dinner. There was still one more stop on our itinerary.

A Montmartre Evening

Montmartre is a neighborhood of Paris that I never knew existed prior to our trip, or that it is a favorite for many people visiting the city. When I was searching hotel award options (which is pretty difficult for a party of 3+, let me tell you!), one of the hotels I examined was the Holiday Inn Montmartre. It just seemed too far away from everything else, and the metro wasn’t all that convenient, so I quickly decided it wasn’t a good fit.

But it definitely may be on the table for consideration if we ever visit Paris again. The Montmartre area is charming. It consists of a mix of narrow cobblestone streets, small plazas, and a lovely hill to climb from where you can enjoy a view of the rest of Paris.

And atop the hill is the stunning Sacre-Couer Cathedral.

You can access Montmartre via the metro, but it is a bit of a walk up the hill. We rode the metro to the Anvers stop and then walked the streets to Square Louise Michel from where we took the funicular for the final stretch. I have an obsession with funiculars. My wife and I enjoyed the one in Quebec City when we visited in the winter of 2016 (SEE: Canadian Adventures in 16 Pictures).

The kids and I spent some time sitting on the hill enjoying the view. There was quite the crowd who all had the same idea. I don’t blame them; it was a lovely evening.

Even though there was a good amount of daylight left, I figured being out much past 8:00 was going to be too much for the kids. We’d seen a lot and walked a lot, and they needed to turn in early enough to be rested for the next day’s adventures.

Exhausted again

We finally arrived back at the hotel around 8:30. It wasn’t long before the kids were asleep, hopefully dreaming about the fun we’d have the following day, our last full day  in Paris.

I drove the two of them hard on our second day. They were troopers, and definitely enjoyed exploring Paris. But they were quite tired. I probably wouldn’t recommend an itinerary as full as ours, especially if your kids are younger. I was already planning on taking things easier on our last full day, and this just confirmed it.

3 Days in Paris: Day 1 – Surviving the Jetlag

I am a bit late blogging our day-to-day experiences in Paris, but here is the first installment. Two more to follow. 

As we walked off the jet bridge of our Delta 777 (SEE: Delta 777 Economy Review: Seattle to Paris) into Charles de Gaulle airport, I was overcome by that feeling of exhilaration that always accompanies arriving somewhere new. Never mind that I’d napped less than 30 minutes during our 10-hour flight and it was magically morning again. It was a beautiful day to enjoy and explore!

I fondly recalled one of the other times I stepped off a plane to a brand new day: my whirlwind trip to Australia. Heading 7,000 miles away for a mere 5 nights might seem crazy to most. But when you can do it for a hair over $50 per day, it’s within the realm of reason. Planning a trip of a mere week in Europe is pretty analogous.

But this time was different. For the first time I had two kids along. Two kids who were venturing somewhere outside their birth country and their adopted country for the first time. Their excitement was palpable.

Even though they hadn’t really slept, both kids were alert and curious as we navigated customs and baggage claim. Charles de Gaulle isn’t exactly an easy airport to navigate, mainly due to its size, but the signage was decent enough in English. It was just a substantial amount of walking. Finally, we made it to the train station. While I waited in a long line to get our tickets, the kids sat down nearby. This was their first mistake.

The battle begins

During our flight I’d told them how important it was to get at least a little sleep. Due to a last-minute flight cancellation, we ended up on a much earlier flight that anticipated. This resulted in an earlier landing in Paris, which was welcomed. But it also meant we would have to fight through a full day on little to no sleep.

If I was by myself, a nap during the flight would probably have been possible, even as uncomfortable as it is flying economy. But the kids just wanted to binge-watch movies, and I decided to let them. We wouldn’t be watching anything for several days, and it would at least make the flight an enjoyment for them.

But this meant that the exhaustion was starting to catch up to them. I could tell when I returned with our tickets for the RER B into Paris (SEE: Best way to get from CDG airport to Paris City Center) that the real onslaught was about to begin. It was going to be a long day battling jet lag.

The train ride into the city wasn’t any better. It turned into nap time. As we rolled into Gare du Nord, I jostled my daughter awake. We had to make the connection to our final leg on the metro. Finally, 20 minutes later, we were at our hotel, free of our bags and ready to explore.

Bonjour, Paris!

While the exhaustion had been creeping up on me as well as we sat on the train, getting out into the bustle of Paris filled me with a renewed vigor. We could do this. I knew it’d be hard with two tired kids, but I had a few things planned that would hopefully keep their minds off of their fatigue. Off we went to the metro station.

I’d picked the Crowne Plaza Paris Republique pretty much for one reason: easy access to the metro. It was also close enough to the middle of Paris that transit wouldn’t take long anywhere. We could reach multiple sights on the metro without even making a transfer.

Using a mere two words, “ticket” and “child”, in my assuredly terrible French, I managed to get a carnet of child fare metro tickets. I’d not bothered when we’d arrived at the train station, but I felt less hurried once we’d dropped our luggage. Buying packs of 10 child tickets is totally worth it. You can’t beat half off the normal fare.

Off we went on the line to Châtelet. Seeing Notre Dame was first on the agenda. Ok, not quite. The first order of business was sitting the kids down in a quiet park and running through some ground rules for the trip. Don’t run off, hold my hand while we walk, don’t go with any strangers. That sort of stuff. We’d run through this before at the airport, but now that we were here, I thought it wise to reiterate.

Parental spiel over, we headed toward Paris’ famous cathedral on foot.

Le Île de la Cité

Reaching the banks of the Seine was one of those surreal travel moments for me. It was synonymous with the morning I caught my first glimpse of Newfoundland through the dawn fog. Or the moment I walked out of the train station in downtown Sydney and caught my first glimpse of the Opera House. It was that perfect moment of I’m actually here. If only I could capture it and savor the feeling even longer. Even more incredible was being there with two of my kids.

Who immediately began to ask how far we’d have to walk and started to complain that they were tired. Alright. Back to reality.

Notre Dame wasn’t that far of a walk, but for kids who object to hiking a short distance (SEE: 3 Tips for Hiking with Kids in the Desert), there were still a few complaints. But the complaints turned to awe as we rounded the corner and Our Lady of Paris was there to greet us in all her beauty.

It figures that the first thing on the kids’ minds was Quasimodo. Thanks, Disney.

After wandering the square, taking some photos, and admiring the exquisite cathedral, it was time to grab a bite to eat. But I broke a general rule of travel: don’t eat in the heart of the touristy spots. I knew without even experiencing it that the cafés just steps from Notre Dame would be overpriced and the food would be mediocre at best. I’d like to say I was pleasantly surprised, but it the little place on the corner was what I’d expected to a T.

With two tired kids and half my brain cells turned off due to jetlag, I didn’t really care.  At least I can say every other meal was more affordable than our first.

A stomach full of food brought on the urge to nap, which I fought against valiantly. We walked across the street and pulled tickets for the Notre Dame tower. Since tickets are doled out for visits later in the day, we’d have to occupy ourselves for a couple hours until we could climb the stairs to Quasimodo’s perch. No matter. I knew the perfect place to go.

Ahoy, there!

One train stop and a short walk later and we were entering Luxembourg Gardens. Unlike the other major sights in Paris, this one had been off my radar until I started researching for our trip. Make sure it’s on your list when you visit.

The kids amused themselves for the first half hour with the wooden boats available to rent at a rate of €4 each for 30 minutes. Each one bears the colors and initials of a specific country and comes with a stick to help navigate it around the pond.

It is great fun and one of the classic things to do for kids in Paris. The kids had picked the boats of Ireland and Portugal rather hastily. We looked for a Costa Rican boat on the rack when we finished, but couldn’t spot one.

After our sailing adventure we continued further into the park to one of the most superb playgrounds I’ve ever seen. The required entry fee was unexpected, but it was worth every penny.

The kids caught a second wind while my eyelids drooped. Everything in me wanted to curl up on a bench right then and there and fall asleep. But I managed to stay awake for most of an hour while they enjoyed the playground to its fullest. We’d surely make another trip here a different day.

The final stretch

Finally, it was time to head back for our tour of the towers of Notre Dame. Having climbed up to the top of the cathedral in Milan with my wife, I knew just how cool this would be.

However, the kids less than thrilled, mainly because of the stairs. My son told me that there had to be “more than 100” stairs. I countered that there were probably more like 300, which elicited a groan. Turns out there are actually 422 (LOL!).

But it was completely worth it. The views are incredible. Now I might not mind being a hunchbacked bellringer myself if this was my view every day.

We didn’t go to the very top, as the kids didn’t want to climb any more stairs. For once, I relented. They were worn out, and it was time to head back to the hotel.

Utter exhaustion

All of us were thinking about one thing when we finally dragged ourselves back to the Crowne Plaza: bed! We picked up some food at a local market and then headed back to our room. I made the kids shower since it’d been essentially 2 days since their last one.

Even with the TV on, my son passed out within minutes. I decided not to wake him and make him eat more, even though he’d hardly touched dinner. Food could wait. We’d survived our day of jetlag and it was finally time for some well-deserved rest. They’d both need all the sleep they could get for our next days of adventure.

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