My apologies for how long it’s taken me to get around to writing this one. It’s already February 2013, and I went to France in June last year! Over seven months, but I suppose that’s what happens when my primary focus has been writing a novel, and then catching up on all my other travel posts before I got to this one. Thankfully I kept notes about what I did each day, but this entry will likely be mostly a summary since it all happened so long ago.
At the beginning of the year, our flight to Paris was meant to be on AirAsia, until they announced they would be discontinuing the service. We thought this would mean we weren’t likely to get to go any more, and contemplated just taking the refund. However, AirAsia did say some people would be able to keep their trips, as they’d replace their booking with flights on Malaysian Airlines instead – a better airline for AirAsia prices. So we waited until we got the call and decided to keep the holiday.
Thursday 21st June, 2012
It was difficult to do much on the flight with the attention Leo needed, but Jeremy and I managed to watch Safehouse. Once we arrived in Paris, I let Jeremy guide us around. We took a train to Gare du Nord, then walked to our hotel so we could drop our bags there. It was too early in the morning to check in.
Since we were staying around the Montemarte area, we decided to wander up to Sacre Cœur, the famous white church. On the way I discovered the play, Dangerous Liaisons, directed by John Malkovich was showing (in French), and I wondered if it was the same guy who appeared in the English speaking film version. When we arrived at Sacre Cœur, there were some people there who wanted to tie our hands together for some trick or something, and we had to politely decline. I found myself wondering if their trick involve pickpocketing. After avoiding that, we climbed the hill via steps, which was somewhat difficult when pushing Leo in a pram (though thankfully there were easier steps to push a pram up off to the side), and took a few photos. We could see the Eiffel Tower from there, and also found a building with a giant double band-aid attached to it.
Jeremy had a map of the area on his iPhone, which we attempted to use to then find the Dali museum, but as he had been using it to find our hotel earlier, the battery ran out before we had the chance to get there. Instead we had to guess by memory of where we thought it was, but were unsuccessful. We headed back toward the hotel after that, and stopped at Carrefour Express on the way to pick up some things we could eat in the hotel for breakfast.
Since it still wasn’t late enough to check in, we wandered back toward the train station to have lunch at a place we had passed earlier, where we got baguettes for me and Jeremy, and Croque Monsoir for the boys. We probably should have just got one for the two of them to share, given how little they both ate, but at least that meant Jeremy and I were able to taste it as well.
Finally it was late enough for us to check in, so we headed back to the hotel to do that, and have a nap. We were quite exhausted by then!
After our nap, we went out for dinner in the Montmarte area, where we got to try crepes. From there, we followed the map we had on us to find the Moulin Rouge. We weren’t going to see a show, I just wanted to see it in person because of the movie. There were quite a lot of people around also taking photos right in the middle of the street’s meridian strip. That made it hard to get a really good photo.
We headed back to hotel after that, and still managed to have an early night despite the nap.
Friday 22nd June, 2012
I got up at 4am because that’s when Leo woke up. I entertained him for a while as Jeremy and Doyle slept a bit longer, but then we ended up having an early breakfast and leaving the hotel at 7am. Today was the day I had chosen for us to visit the Louvre, as that is one of the places I most wanted to see and missed out on during my European tour in 2004. It wasn’t exactly close to our hotel, but given how much time we had before it opened, we decided to walk there and take some photos of anything interesting we saw on the way. One example of this was some graffiti on a red and white no entry sign that looked like a man carrying the white line.
We arrived at the Louvre well before the crowds, which meant we managed to get some great photos of the museum without people in them. There were only a few people in the queue by the time we decided to line up at around 8:30am. The kids didn’t really like having to wait in the queue for an hour, but at least we were some of the first people allowed in. We took the escalators down and then Jeremy bought our tickets from a vending machine.
Looking at the map, we opted first to go check out The Mona Lisa, as chances were it was the biggest attraction, and if we’d waited too long, it might have even more crowds. Even as it was we had to wait a while before we got to go to the front of the rope we were allowed to stand behind to get as close as we could to the painting. I’ve heard that a lot of people are surprised by how small it is, but the Mona Lisa is the size I expected it to be. Perhaps I have seen enough examples to know? The thing that actually struck me was that the room wasn’t how I’d pictured it when I read The Da Vinci Code (I don’t think I’ve seen the film to compare, or at least if I have, I don’t remember watching it).
The next piece of art I had to head for was the famous Venus de Milo statue, which I hadn’t realised was at this museum. It was really cool getting to see that up close too. We wandered around looking at other sculptures in the vicinity, and then found ourselves in the bottom of the museum, which was more of an archaeological site as it was like the base of a fortress. I thought that was cool, as was seeing a model of how it all used to look with the rest of the castle above that.
After managing to navigate back out into the main entrance area, we had lunch, and then headed to the wing with the Napoleon III apartments, which reminded me much of the Palace of Versailles (which was included in my 2004 European tour). The view from here out to the Eiffel Tower was also really nice. Then we looked at more paintings on top floor, and I was amused at watching all the people who thought they were being funny when they posed with the painting Gabrielle d’Estrées and Her Sister, which features two topless woman where one is pinching the other’s nipple. Many visitors were posing to make it look like they were pinching the other nipple. I must say, though, that I really appreciated the fact that the Louvre allows its visitors to take photographs in the museum, I’ve been to a lot of art museums which do not, and that has disappointed me before because I’d have loved to capture pictures of my favourite paintings I’ve seen. None more than when I was in Madrid and seeing Dalis, though.
After the paintings, we journeyed to see more sculptures that headed down into a sort of sculpture garden (I was most appreciative of the ones that made me think about lesbians), then headed back to the other side of the museum again so I could see more sculptures, but in particular Captive (The Dying Slave) by Michelangelo, and a couple of others which were featured in the map. I must say the map was really helpful for us to find our way around the museum to make sure we saw the most famous pieces of art!
The kids were getting a bit tired of the museum by then, so even though we hadn’t seen everything, we just stopped to see the inverted glass pyramid and tried to watch a movie in French before taking the circular lift back upstairs to the exit.
When we headed out, we crossed the street so we could have a look at the river Seine. The Musée d’Orsay was right across the river, and it was a beautiful building to look at, even though I knew we weren’t going to have time to look inside. Then we walked through the Jardin des Tuileries to the Egyptian obelisk, and crossed the street over to the famous Champs Elysées, which I mainly liked because the name reminded me of my sister. We walked past the Grand Palace, which was another beautiful building, and then tragically found ourselves in a McDonald’s for dinner, because Doyle was desperate for a toilet and we couldn’t find another easy place to find one.
After dinner we continued walking toward the Arc du Triomphe to get some great photos, but also because that was a convenient place to find a Metro stop that could take us back to the stop nearest to our hotel.
Naturally, after such an exhausting day, we went to sleep once we got back.
Saturday 23rd June, 2012
As excited as I was to finally get to go to the Louvre, I think this was the day I was most looking forward to. Having already been to Disney parks in each of Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo and Hong Kong, Paris was the last on my list. I’d made it one of my lifetime goals to visit all of them, and was managing to achieve it by the age of 28 (that is, until they open another one in Shanghai, which is currently expected to open in 2015).
So, despite the fact when we bought out tickets to Disneyland online, it included a bus ride to and from the park, I was not content with the idea of having to wait that long to get there and lose 3 hours of wandering time. It was probably a waste of money for us to do it this way, but we ended up catching the metro and RER train to Disneyland and arrived at about the time the park opened. We’d had to take our ID with us to prove the tickets were ours when we entered (a problem that the people in front of us didn’t understand, and they didn’t speak English). We had bought a pass that allowed us to visit both Disney parks, so we decided to go to the Movie Studios first.
After passing a bunch of Pixar sculptures from Cars and Toy Story, our first ride was Slinky Dog, which we all went on and Doyle hated. Then we went to see the Art of Disney animation, which shows different videos, and you have to walk between a number of different theatres for each one (assuming I’m remembering it correctly). Once we’d walked out of there, we stopped for hot dogs for lunch, because Doyle was hungry.
Next we were lucky enough to find that we could see the English show of Playhouse Disney live on stage starting shortly, and given the kids both watch shows from that station (now renamed Disney Junior, at least in Asia), we thought it would be fun for them. Leo is especially excited by Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, which was the main programme they used in the show, and he loved standing up and watching Toodles. The other shows that were included were Handy Manny, which Leo also liked to see, and My Friends Tigger & Pooh and the Little Einsteins, which hadn’t been playing on Disney Junior Asia for a while by this time, so I don’t think Leo was familiar with them. (Side note: Little Einsteins is back on at a decent hour now, and I think Leo likes it both because of the music and because the main character shares his name).
The next thing we did was the Studio Tram Tour, which took us to see how they do some of the special effects in blockbuster films, much like I remember from my visits to Universal Studios. Despite the fact it was a little scary for younger kids who perhaps don’t quite understand what’s happening, I think Doyle enjoyed this one.
As we were heading toward the next thing, we waited in line to get some photos with Mickey and Pluto. Then we had to hurry and get over to Animagique so we didn’t miss the show. It was a special stage show with Disney characters that was brightly coloured due to the black-lighting.
Once we got out of there, it was just about time for the Disney’s Stars ‘n’ Cars parade to start, so we found a good place to stand and watch that. It included mainly the usual names (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy), as well cars featuring characters from Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Aladdin, 101 Dalmatians, Lilo & Stitch, Toy Story, Monster’s Inc., and Ratatouille.
On our way out, Doyle and I posed with a statue of Mike Wazowski in the Monster’s Inc. area.
Then we wandered over to the Disneyland park. Jeremy took a photo of the rest of us with the pink castle, with Leo being asleep in the shot. Having checked the times for the shows and parades in this park, we then wandered over to Frontierland. Jeremy and Doyle climbed the fort together while I stayed down and looked after Leo in the pram.
Following that, we were able to walk over to the Tarzan Encounter show, which featured both songs and aerial acrobatic tricks, like Tarzan and Jane swinging through the trees. I really enjoyed it. Leo was awake by this time and watched the show too.
Then it was just about time for Disney Magic on Parade, so Jeremy found us a place near the entrance to the Frontierland fort for us to stay and watch it. Rather than cars, this parade featured floats with two different animated films on each side. My photos of the parade didn’t turn out so good because I was behind so many people. My favourite floats included Alice in Wonderland, which featured a giant Alice trapped inside the White Rabbit’s house, and the Peter Pan one.
For dinner, we headed to Fuente del Oro Restaurante in Frontierland, where Jeremy ordered us Mexican food. Then we headed on to Adventureland, because I really wanted to go on Pirates of the Caribbean to see if it was the updated-post-movie one we had seen in Tokyo, or if it was the original version. I took some photos of a pirate ship on the way, and we also happened to run into Jack Sparrow. It turned out the ride was the original one, so it was cool to experience that again. Then as we walked off the ride into the shop, I found toy flintlocks! I had been wanting to get one for a while to add to my own pirate costume. They had about three different models to choose from, so it took me a while to decide which one to get.
After that, we wandered in to Fantasyland, where Doyle decided he wanted to go on the Peter Pan’s Flight ride. This ended up being Doyle’s favourite attraction, and he talked about it for days afterwards. He particularly liked seeing the crocodile trying to eat Captain Hook.
Then it was off to Discoveryland so Jeremy could ride Space Mountain. The last time we had done a Disney theme park (Hong Kong), I was the one getting to go on Space Mountain, and he didn’t, so it was only fair we swapped this time. I looked after boys and took some photos in the area. I particularly liked seeing Eve and Wall-E. Once we found Jeremy again, we convinced Doyle to do the Star Tours ride with me, since Jeremy had recently introduced Star Wars Episode I to him. He was only barely tall enough to go on, and he was getting a bit frightened while waiting. Then riding it, he didn’t seem to enjoy it too much either.
Once we’d joined up with Jeremy and Leo again, we walked to a more central area to find a good place to watch the Disney Dreams show, which started at 11pm. I was surprised by how light the sky still seemed not long before that. Even with daylight savings, I’d have expected the sun to be completely gone much earlier.
The park closed after that, and it took a long time to get out. We tried to find the bus we were supposed to get home, but it must have left without it since we hadn’t taken it there. We ended up having to catch the last RER back instead, and carried our sleeping boys back to the hotel.
Sunday 24th June, 2012
Jeremy bought an Internet pass in the morning because he wanted to organise our train tickets to Agde. He had been unable to do it from home, but unfortunately waiting this long meant it cost a lot more for us to go.
We took the Metro to La Défense to meet our friend Reileen, who was staying in the area on a work trip. Today happened to be her birthday and so since we happened to be in Paris too, she wanted to spend the day with us. To save on the Metro fare, I actually stayed inside the station with the boys while Jeremy went to fetch Reileen, and then they came and found us. From there, I navigated us to the Bir-Hakeim stop, because Jeremy wanted to take us to the Eiffel Tower.
I had already seen the Eiffel Tower up close on my previous trip to Paris so I didn’t feel it was as necessary for me to see again, but Doyle seemed keen to go, and Jeremy wanted to take us up to the top. However, the queue to go up was ridiculous because only one of the lifts was running, so we decided to stay down and just take a few photos instead. It was around lunch time by then, so we crossed the street and I took some photos of Palais de Chaillot before we found a restaurant stall on the river to eat. It was starting to sprinkle a bit with rain by then so we had to snuggle up under the umbrellas they had over the tables when we ate.
After lunch, we headed west along the river because I thought I had seen a sign that suggested we might find the mini Statue of Liberty that way, but it turned out I was wrong. We did find another interesting statue in the middle of a bridge, though, and it gave us another nice view of the Eiffel Tower.
After that, we took the Metro back to Sacre Cœur to try and find the Dali museum again. We had a better way of knowing how to get there this time, and it was the last thing I particularly wanted to visit, since Salvador Dali is my all time favourite artist. It also provided a good shelter from the rain for us while we were there.
Even though many of the works in the museum were copies of originals, I still enjoyed seeing so many Dali things in the same place. His surrealism is incredible, and I love how he works in both painting and sculpture mediums. The sculptures were the best aspects of the museum, in my opinion. I particularly liked the melting clocks and the elephant with skinny legs, as they feature in some of his paintings too.
Since it was still raining a bit when we left the museum, I decided I would take the boys back to the hotel while Reileen and Jeremy went off to do their own thing. I liked having the opportunity to catch up on a couple of things on the Internet anyway. When they came back to the hotel, we all went out together for dinner. Thankfully it wasn’t raining quite as much by then.
We stopped at a place that had a 3 course meal for €13. We were able to pick and choose what we had for each course from a set menu, and I ended up deciding to be brave by trying the escargot! Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. It wasn’t that different than oysters or scallops. Scallops I have eaten a few times, but I had only tried oysters in Bali and decided they weren’t as bad as I expected either. For dessert, I tried the creme caramel. Then we headed back to the hotel so I could put the boys to sleep.
Monday 25th June, 2012
I don’t have a whole lot to report about this day because most of it was spent travelling. We had breakfast in our room before checking out. Then we took the Metro to Gare de Lyon, where Jeremy collected our train tickets, and then we caught a train to Agde. Doyle made friends with an older (maybe mid-50s) man who was sitting next to him on the ride, and then got sad when the man had to get off at an earlier stop than us.
Once we got to Agde, we hired a taxi to take us to a petrol station in Cap d’Agde that also served as a rental car place, so we could collect the car we had booked. We’d packed Doyle’s booster seat to use for this, but needed a baby seat for Leo. Then Jeremy drove us to the apartment we would be staying in for most of the rest of the trip.
I was tired and not really interested in going out, so we relaxed for most of the afternoon, and Jeremy went out to fetch dinner for us.
Tuesday 26th June, 2012
I was chucking a sad for half the day because I’m not really a beach person and didn’t especially want to come to this part of France. I only came because Jeremy wanted to come, and I’d intended on staying in the apartment most of the time because of that. So Jeremy went to beach with Doyle while I looked after Leo in the apartment. After they came back, Jeremy dropped Doyle with me while he went to the store to find us something for lunch.
After lunch, since I was still not in a good mood, I stayed in the apartment and napped while Jeremy took both of the boys out for a walk. When they finally came back, Jeremy drove us all back to Agde for milkshakes at a restaurant opposite the train station so Jeremy could use the free wifi for a work phone call.
Once the call was finished, we walked around Agde for a while and found a river and a park. The view was beautiful, with the colour of the sky and water. We found ourselves walking through a park, which led to a really lovely piece of architecture called Château Laurens. Suddenly I found myself thinking coming to this part of France wasn’t so bad after all.
Almost as soon as we let the kids start playing in a playground we found, a lady came by and was talking to us in French. I didn’t understand a thing she was saying, but Jeremy translated and said the park would be closing soon and we had to leave. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was making it up since no one else was leaving, but we went anyway. We walked back to the entrance and then crossed the bridge over the river to find a place to have dinner.
We accidentally ended up in a restaurant we didn’t actually intend to go into, since the signs were a bit confusing, but the food was still good. We ended up having Mexican again.
After dinner, we wandered a bit more around that part of Agde and found some other interesting buildings. My favourite was the one that was painted to look like several buildings. Once there was nothing really left to look at, we headed back to the car and drove back to the apartment.
Wednesday 27th June, 2012
Even though I’d had a pretty good afternoon in Agde the day before, I was still feeling hesitant to go out to the beach. This is the part where it might be worth mentioning that we were staying in a naturist village. I felt awkward at the idea of being around so many naked people. It’s just not the way I was raised. Despite that, the rules weren’t as such that everyone had to be naked when they went out and about, and many people were either topless or pantsless only. The only rule was that you have some sort of material with you to sit on if you’re going to be sitting at a restaurant or something like that.
So, I ended up going out topless to wander around the local naturist shopping area. It was a bit weird to go into a store and buy some pants and a nice hat when I’m wandering around without a shirt or bra on. Then we went to a patisserie for morning tea, and sat down at a table there to eat and drink. I mostly tried to ignore the oddness of the experience so I could enjoy my chocolate eclair, which was very yummy! They’re definitely the best in France; no eclair I’ve had outside the country could compare.
We did a little more shopping – I bought a sarong as well, which was more appropriate fashion for this location than what I had been wearing – and we got some groceries to take back to the apartment for lunch.
After lunch, we drove around Cap d’Agde for a while, but we couldn’t find what we were looking for, so we went to the information centre to see what else there was, or where to find what we were looking for. We decided on Musée de l’Ephebe, which wasn’t a very far drive, because it looked to have some interesting archaeological artefacts, and I’m very interested in that sort of thing. Unfortunately the museum was not very big and probably not worth the €4 entry fee. I guess the items that had been found in sunken ships were of the most interest to me due to the novel I was writing at the time.
We headed back to the apartment after that, and then out to the beach. It seems this is where most of the naturists were, because the beach was full of them. We found a place for me and Leo to sit for a bit while Jeremy and Doyle wandered off to build a sand sculpture. I did my best to not look at anyone, because I’m already socially awkward enough as it is without trying to figure out what social customs are appropriate for this sort of setting. We had some ice-creams that were being sold by a guy on the beach, and then Jeremy took us all to have a look at some of the other cool sand sculptures he and Doyle had found previously. Leo was getting pretty cranky by then though, so we headed back to find a restaurant where we could get dinner.
Now, by this time, I have to admit it was a bit of an interesting experience to get to eat at a public restaurant whilst my breasts were exposed. I’m not entirely sure why I thought it was necessarily a big deal before – after all, I have breastfed in public, and the exposure is only a little more than that. This was a similar non-sexual setting. But the best part of the dinner was being complimented by other guests on how well behaved our kids were. I think we were just having a fortunate evening.
After that, we headed back to the apartment to go to bed.
Thursday 28th June, 2012
It was already time for us to leave the South of France, so this is another day there isn’t much to report. We got everything ready and checked out, then returned the car and got a taxi to the train station. We ended up having plenty of time to wait for the train, but I always prefer to be safe than sorry.
We caught the train back to Paris, changing trains in Montpeliar — which thankfully were on the same platform. After some confusion, and Jeremy trying to talk to an information lady in French (only to have her later ask if we speak English), we managed to get the right RER train to the airport. From there, we waited quite a while before the shuttle we needed to take us to the Etap hotel arrived. We’ve stayed in Etaps a few times in the UK and they’ve been fairly decent budget hotels for us.
After checking in, we used the free wifi Internet, Jeremy got some things from the hotel to bring upstairs for us to eat, and Leo took forever to go to sleep.
Friday 29th June, 2012
The main reason we’d book to stay at one of the airport hotels is because we wanted to have an easy morning and we knew we wouldn’t have time to see anything else anyway. So we got up and had breakfast at the hotel, then headed outside to wait for the shuttle to the airport, which took quite some time.
The shuttle was quite packed, and took a while to get to our stop. Meanwhile I was stuck talking to an American who had been living in Kenya for about 30 years, who had been travelling with a Kenyan woman. This American woman kept ranting on and on against Obama, and also seemed oblivious to how racist she sounded with some of her comments, despite her company.
Once we got to the right terminal, I managed to get us a little lost trying to find the check in area. Then I felt particularly rushed trying to get through the check in and security due to how many people were there, but immigration wasn’t so bad.
Fortunately, when we got to our gate, we were given priority boarding due to us travelling with Leo, even though the plane was already starting to board by the time we got there. That was pretty good.
On the flight home, Leo slept a decent amount, but Doyle only slept about an hour. We were separated from Jeremy by two people and an aisle. I mostly listened to music and watched some Simpson’s episodes, and tried to sleep.