In 2017 at Christmas time, we were chatting with our good friend Marianne McGriff. She was telling us about her plans with her husband, Carver, to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of D Day in Normandy in 2019. They go to Normandy regularly, leading trips wherein they trace Carver’s steps as an infantryman as he invaded France with the Allied troops on June 6th, 1944. These trips are legendary in our circle of friends and family and Cameron and I decided that we should do everything we could to go with them in 2019.
So, here we are. Last fall we were trying to sort out just how our travel plans would go. We knew that we would be in North America until early spring. What to do? Do we head back to New Zealand until June and then fly to France for a week? Those flights sounded expensive…. We had all sorts of plans and ideas that we talked about. In the end, I realized that our flights from North America to France would cost almost nothing because I hadn’t utilized the miles on my credit card until now. I found a house sitting opportunity which would mean that we would not have to pay for lodging for at least part of the time, and we had some family pop up and decide they wanted to join us on our travels. So, why not spend the spring in Europe! We booked some VRBO’s and here we are!
Our time in Canada was great, but we are so pleased to be thawing out a bit and back to spending time with the girls. We were so fortunate while were were there to have awesome support with the girls schooling by a neighbor who helped guide the girls during the day and taught Adelaide piano. Life was pretty busy and not great fodder for a family traveling blog… Although we did take time to have some fun. I found a horse to ride and we spent lots of time with our family friends, the Coulombs.
These days we are back on the road and it is an epic European Tour (said with a fancy British accent). I left Canada first for a quick trip down to California to do some work then I met Cameron and the girls in The Big Apple! He had some appointments there for work so we piggybacked on his lodgings and the girls and I romped around New York and did lots of fun things.
I’m not sure if you are familiar with Eloise and her life at the Plaza Hotel, but my girls have grown up on this precocious character from the books with the same name. It was very fun to check out her stomping grounds and a good etiquette lesson for the girls. When Cameron got the text message from our credit card with the total for the tea he texted me and said: “That must have been some amazing tea.” Yes, yes it was:) We spent lots of time in Central Park and at the Met. I love taking advantage of the free guided tours that most Museums offer. Being in New York we had to hit Broadway for our first big production “The Lion King” which was very well done. The girls’ eyes were popped out the whole time. The time flew by and before we knew it, we were heading to the airport for our red-eye to Paris.
The girls are excellent travelers these days. We all carry our own luggage and just have a backpack and a carry-on sized roller bag each as well as the violin and ukulele which mom and dad usually end up with. As everyone’s load is manageable, walking good distances and negotiating public transport is not such a problem.
We settled down in Paris and proceeded to get busy planning… that is how I role, I plan the day before. Don’t worry, it’s fine, Cameron does all the planning for the boat navigation. But I don’t think it hurt us very much. With the four days we had in Paris we packed it in.
Rick Steve’s book which was kindly placed in our VRBO was a great resource. We took several of his walking tours and learned a ton. The St. Germain district was the best with stops where we learned about Voltaire, saw the oldest coffee house in Europe, saw where Hemingway wrote most of Brothers in Arms and saw the oldest Christian church in Paris.
I had heard that Wednesday was the best day to visit Versailles, and since that has been on my list for a long time, we had to go. It turns out that if Wednesday is quiet, I’d hate to go on any other day…. It was so crowded that it was difficult to appreciate the palace. The gardens, however, were a delight and we spent most of our time taking a nap by the Grand Canal where the swans nibbled at our feet or exploring The Queen’s Hamlet built for Marie Antoinette. We ambled around for hours among the gardens, pigs, goats, and sheep.
One thing that I’ve found interesting is that even when we have been visiting these big cities, we gravitate toward the open spaces. Central Park is a massive park and so extremely well done. The little bridges, lakes, statues, and hidden spaces make you forget that you are surrounded by the big city. The Bois de Boulogne is much less manicured but it is so well used by the people. There are horse facilities (we stopped off at a jumping competition in progress when we were there), people fishing in the ponds and tons of families out enjoying the roughly cut grass and paths that make you feel like you really are out in nature.
We couldn’t leave Paris without seeing Musée de l’armée. As you can imagine we are buffing up on WWII. They have a lovely museum there with the added bonus of seeing the spectacle that is Napoleon’s tomb. Wow…. The girls’ new vocabulary words were ostentatious, self-aggrandize, opulent and grandiose.
I’ve been fortunate to be in Paris several times and have never joined the crazed lines of tourists headed down the glass pyramid of the Louvre. I figured it was time. We decided to do just two hours not to overdo things. The girls have seen their fair share of museums so I was eager not to burn them out. We followed a Rick Steve’s walking tour that took us through the major works of Greece, Rome, and Renaissance Italy and France. This worked perfectly with their last two years of history studies. The tour was great, we all took turns reading about the pieces. The information was engaging, informative and very consumable. The crowds, however, were impossible. As we got closer to the flow toward the Mona Lisa it was laughable being herded along with frustrated museum docents yelling at people to keep moving and all the tourists with their cameras up. As it is reported to be, it was underwhelming, small, behind bulletproof glass and in a strange room that smelled strongly of fresh paint.
But, the whole thing was amazing and fun in its own weird way. What craziness! I still can’t decide if this is a hopeful indication that our culture cares about, loves and is influenced by art, or if we are all just lemmings being told to like something and then scratching each other’s eyes out to get close to what we have been told is greatness. Either way, I’m happy that people want to see art.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to experience and appreciate the Mona Lisa. I found it a little sad that this doted on work of art is treated more like an A list actor at a red-carpeted event than something to be pondered and appreciated. I think I had a much better look at it as it was printed on the grocery bag in the museum store. Gladly there are mountains of other amazing works of art that are in so many wonderfully easy to access museums around the world that one doesn’ t have to climb over one’s neighbor to view.
Today we are reporting from a house in the Loraine region. It is the Vosges mountains about 4 hours east of Paris. We found a house sitting opportunity here through nomador.com We are taking care of a lovely couple’s dog and cat and looking after their house for them while they are on vacation. It is a little village of 600 people with a bakery, a butcher once a week, lots of cows and wheat fields. The girls go to the bakery every day to get our bread. We enjoy our sleep, wake up late and are digging back into school while picking up a few new subjects (typing class begins!).
These days we are feeling so grateful to slow down and enjoy God’s beautiful creation. The mountains here are rolling and verdant. We get plenty of opportunities to speak French (roughly and with plenty of help from google translate), and we are so pleased to relax with our little family. We are blessed and we feel surprised and grateful for the many gifts we have to share with our family.