31 May, 2013

Paris (19 May)

Our flat in Paris is a one room studio with a bathroom - one double bed, one double futon, a fold up table, two chairs and three stools, and a tiny kitchenette (basically two hot plate burners, a sink and a broken washer/dryer). It's a little crowded! And one corner of the ceiling has pieces falling down on us periodically. 

But there is hot water and we are so close to everything in the city - the bus stop is a five minute walk from our flat and there is an electric train station really close, too. The only thing we are missing is a good-sized super market. There are two smaller ones that we are able to get our basics (like toilet paper since there wasn't any in the flat). But we pass an absolutely delectable bakery to get to our bus stop and the ever important laundromat.

The one thing that we notice the most, our landlord has given us the wrong password for the WiFi. Courtney is working hard to get everything sorted, but our landlord is a bit flighty. Not exactly a slumlord, but not really up on the details either.

We headed out to the the largest market that we knew off which was about a 15 minute walk. It was time to pick up dinner and food for the next day. In the market we ran into the nice lady who helped us find our way to our apartment. While I was perusing items guess who walked around the corner right by us? A clown in full dress - red nose, big shoes and all. He stopped and talked with Chayton who was so excited that he forgot how to talk, which is something. (If Chayton has a question or wants something, nothing stops him now). But shortly the clown had Chayton talking back to him. Too bad he was all out of balloons; that did make Chayton a little sad. But it was cute to see Chayton talking to a clown inside a little grocery market. Too bad I didn't think about taking a photo. :-(

Our first venture out into the city took us from our bus stop to the Opéra de Paris. Our plan was to take the English tour of the Opera at 11:30am. When we got past security and to the ticket booth, the 11:30am and the 2:00pm tours were filled. I used our Paris Pass and collected our tickets for the next day's English tour. We loved the London Pass so much we purchased the Paris one. It's a very good deal if you want to see lots of sights. I have a feeling Paris will be like London and we will only see a smattering of all the opportunities that the pass gives us.

Off it was to the Paris Story - which is an hour long movie all about Paris. The movie starts way back when Paris was just a small settlement of Roman Gauls and moves all the way through to today. A whole bunch of interesting facts given in a very overwhelming way. It was a movie shown on three cinema screens. Not too bad, but the dialog was in French and we had headphones to translate. Which that wasn't even the hardest part to concentrate on. It was the fact that the movie went faster than the French that was spoken on-screen and then the English would follow. It took a lot of attention just to keep up with it; not to mention trying to retain all the wonderful history and make sense of it all. Now that I've complained about it, I will add that it is a nice introduction into Paris and all of her glory.

By now it was time for lunch. Back to the Opera house to sit on the steps to enjoy the sun and our live entertainment from a guitar playing, singing artist with a song list that included Tracey Chapman, the Indigo Girls and the Eagles while we ate our sandwiches. (Again, no photos. I guess the photographer needed a day off.)

After lunch we ventured over to the Fragonard Parfume Musée. Which ended up just being a really stinky store after walking through a tiny museum. There were some cool old perfume containers from Roman times through to today. But it wasn't what I had expected.  Add to the fact that Chayton put something on his hands and then rubbed his face - instantaneous red marks/welts on his face. I think it was the cinnamon or maybe the Lilly of the Valley. Between washing hands/face, our trusty first aid kit and fresh air, the welts soon went away. Phew. And thank goodness it was Chayton. He tends to have the least amount of drama over things like this. Nazeriah was all worried and upset for the next half hour. 

Kaija had the best idea to get Chayton's mind off his welts - Le Musée Gourmand du Chocolaté or Choco-Story! Yum. While we picked up our tickets we were offered chocolate.  At the chocolate demonstration we were offered chocolate. And at the end when the children turned in their activity sheets, they were offered chocolate. Triple yum! It's only about an hour excursion but well with it. And did I say it was yummy? I picked up a couple of wonderful and exotic hot chocolate recipe ideas. Can't wait to try them!

By now we were all a little tired and hungry, plus it had started raining. Time to find the bus and head home.

29 May, 2013

London to Paris (18 May)

Our travel from Stadford Upon Avon to London to Paris was a Journey to Ernie - but full of little surprises.

We started out on Saturday morning in our rental car driving it back to the airport inat Birmingham. From Birmingham we walked from the rental place to the trains at the airport. We hopped on the train to ride into Eustace Station. From there we need to walked about 15 minutes over to St. Pancreas/ Kings Cross Station.

The kids were happy to be back at Kings Cross. They had been waiting to get a special wand-slash-pen that was only at the Harry Potter Giftstore at Platform 9 3/4. Wands in hand we continued onto St. Pancreas Station. Wondering around we found a small grocery store and (with Courtney's good foresight) picked up noodles, red sauce and green beans for dinner. 

After some more wandering we discovered the EuroStar area. After passing through security and getting our passports stamped for France, we waited in the "Lounge" until time to board our train. Finally it was time to board! 

Courtney, the girls and Chayton all sat together and I was right across the aisle from them. After a bit of seat changing around I met my two seat companions. Kaija and I went to the dining area and got her one of the best tasting cups of hot chocolate that I have tasted, plus a coffee for Courtney and I. When I returned to my seat, the two ladies had started up a conversation which I soon joined in.

One lady (Freya) was from London but was a diplomat's daughter and spoke French, Arabic and was learning Spanish. Aiche was from France but living in London with her husband who she met will teaching in Ghana (her profession is a French teacher). Very interesting ladies and I had a nice time sitting with them - it made the trip seem very fast. Before we knew it we were through the Chunnel and out the other side in France, which was a little sunnier then what we left in England.

Boy, reading signs in French (without knowing French) is a little challenging. Again we wondered around the train station trying to figure which way to go and where to find an ATM.  After I spoke with a a couple of French soldiers, Courtney and Kaija went outside the station to the ATM and bought our Metro tickets. Once again we were off. But soon got stuck in the barriers to get into the Metro...  

It seems some of the doors /turnstiles do not like luggage trailing behind you. After Courtney and Kaija got stuck, Chayton eyed the area where you could slide your luggage through (there wasn't a manned information station that we could ask to get a handicap door opened). It was a lot easier after that! Although we did run into another type of exit that had a turnstile and a door that Chayton got stuck in. Seems he's a little too light for their weight sensors to pick up. It took a while after that for Nazeriah to feel safe about us walking through the turnstiles!

Luckily, the Metro is as easy, if not easier, then the Tube in London. We made it to our stop very easily. It took us a little longer to find our Hostel. Which ranks up their with one of our least favorite ones so far. But it had beds, blankets and a kitchen. We were just staying here for one night and heading to our apartment the next day.  

It was late so we cooked dinner and went to bed (each in our own single bunk bed).

24 May, 2013

Stonehenge (16 May)

And could we come here without going to Stonehenge? 

The really isn't much more to say, it's Stonehenge after all. So here are some photos!

Shakespeare's Birthplace and Afternoon Tea (14 May)

Catching up on England ...

We had such a great time in London that it was sad to leave. But the idea of slowing down our crazy "Tourist Schedule" is very appealing. After going non-stop with sightseeing we are taking it down a notch or two at the Macbeth Cottage in Binton, which is very close to Stratford Upon Avon.

That leads us to our outing to Shakespeare's Birthplace. The people of the Shakespeare's Trust (and the many others that pre-dated this organization) took a location (or five) and turned them into a nice educational and entertaining outing. You don't just enter a house and look at old furniture. You do look at old furniture, but they have included very informed and delightful "docents" throughout the experience.

On this part of our Shakespeare Tour (there are five houses that you can visit), the first stop was learning about Shakespeare's father and his glove/tannery workshop. Not only did we hear how great of a glove maker he was, but there were samples of the leather in all states that we could touch and feel. The pouches that he made for people to carry their everyday items in - like their silverware. And the illegal wool that he sold on the side.  (You had to have a special permit to be able to sell wool and it was tightly controlled on who would be granted that allowance. Sort of like a liquor license in New Jersey).

Next up was the master bedroom - the original family bed. Well, not really. The baby would have a cradle and the parents would have the bed. All the other children under the age of eight or so slept in a trundle next to the bed. The parents had a mattress, the kids just had the rope supports and a straw pallet. In Shakespeare's time, it would have been him and three other children in the trundle at one time. We also learned where "sleep tight" and "don't let the bed bugs bite" came from. The bug part is pretty self-explanatory with straw mattresses. Sleep tight comes from tightening the rope supports of your bed - the tighter the ropes, the better night's sleep. The looser the ropes the saggier night's sleep. Chayton was enthrall end as we were treated to a demonstration on now to tighten the ropes.

After walking through the addition to the house, that was made by Shakespeare to open a pub in this location, it was off to the garden and live Shakespeare in the park! (He did this when he inherited the house after his father's death. Shakespeare already had purchased his own family home and didn't need to live in this one. He actually had bought the largest house in Stratford Upon Avon ...)

After all this sightseeing it was time to treat the kids to a real English Afternoon Tea. Not High Tea, which is what the working class would have when they came home and sat at the "high" table and would include meat like a supper. But reminiscent of the society Afternoon Tea which helped keep off the hungries between their two meals (breakfast and then dinner that happened around 8pm). It was also eaten at low tables next to settees, chairs and couches as those society ladies munched delicately while telling each other all the gossip. Okay some probably did have more intellectual conversations (I hope).

I found this cute 1940s themed restaurant appropriately called "The Fourteas." The decor was from the 1940s as well as the costumes of the waitstaff. But more importantly the tea, the finger sandwiches and the cakes were out of this world!

Our tea was brought to the table with a five minute tea timer to ensure the perfect cuppa. Chayton kept a watchful eye on it to make sure that we didn't go over the allotted time. The girls loved the sugar cubes instead of packets of sugar and enjoyed their cups of tea. Chayton opted for the apple juice which tasted freshly pressed right in the kitchen. Courtney and I enjoyed the luxury of having sugar and milk in our tea (we have become experts at drinking our tea black at home and only milk in our coffee when out; we're hoping there is something healthy about that).

The highlight came when our leftovers were boxed up. Chayton's eyes lit up when he saw the cardboard box and twine. My little imaginative recycler. (Post Script: It became a home for his tiger TJ until we left England. He was very sad about having to leave to box.)

23 May, 2013

Paris (21 May)

Today at our bus stop we met three ladies from Brazil. They are staying at a hotel nearby and were trying to figure out the buses to go to Notre Dame Cathedral, which was where we were headed. So our party of five turned into eight. We took up a lot of space on the bus.

it only took us two buses and another helpful French lady to get to the area around Notre Dame. Once there we said goodbye to our new friends since they wanted to go to the cathedral right away and we were going to the Conciergerie first.

Thé Conciergerie is an old palace that Charles V turned into his law courts. So it went from palace to prison and housed many prisoners from the French Revolution - including Marie-Antoinette. The ceiling in the main hall is absolutely beautiful. 

Then it was time to eat, again.

After lunch we walked around the Crypt in Notre-Dame which are escavations made in the late 60s to 70s in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral. What was found was ruins from 27 BC that started the formation of thé île de la Cité (the origins of Paris) when it was only the Gallo-Roman town of Lutetia. Not only that but also ruins from the Middle Ages all the way through the 18th century. It was cool to walk around and see all the old foundations and where roads once had been.

Soon it was time to head above ground again and into the line for the Notre-Dame we went. This one moved fast as it was only the line to walk about inside the Cathedral area. 

The line that really took a long time was the entry into the Towers of Notre-Dame. That one was so long that Courtney and I got a coffee and I treated the children to a Nutella Crepe. Yum.

Not only was the line long, but it started our Marathon le Stairs. (We've come to the very stereotypical view that adding "le" to a word makes it French.) The write-up says there were 400 steps, but I think they missed a few.

After being so high up we decided to head down more steps back underground - into the sewers of Paris. Which despite what you might think are really, really cool! (And yes, you can find reference to Jean Valjean's venture through the sewers.)

After all that it was past our dinner time and we still had to get home, plus shop for food for the next few days. Solution - we picked up some croissants and cheese to eat on the bus ride home. We also found a really large supermarket and did some proper food shopping for a hungry family of five.

Paris (20 May)

We woke up and it was a rainy day in Paris. After breakfast we hoped on our bus and once again we were back at the Opera - this  time for our tour. It is quite a beautiful building. 

Did you know that the common people, aka poor people, had to enter the Opera through a certain doorway three hours before the show began? Not only that, but they had to sit in the very top balconies and wait on hard wooden sits for those three hours. Next came the more affluent people. Again, a different doorway, but they only had to wait an hour or two. Next came the Subscribers, aka the rich people. They got to enter through the main, very fancy, doorway and up the steps you see below, to sit in the main seats. They didn't have to arrive until 20-30 minutes before the show.  The Emperor and Empress could arrive 10 minutes before the show through their special doorway that they could only use and sit in their private boxes. 

The ironic thing is, the seats might be more comfortable the richer you were, but the sound was much more beautiful the higher you went. So the poorest seats had the best sound. Their seats became known as the paradise seats because the music sounded like paradise. The upper class didn't like the way that sounded. After a while they started calling that area the Chicken Coup and the name stuck. It might have a bad name - but it still has the best sound!

I loved the ceiling mural that was painted by Marc Chagall. Not everyone in Paris agreed with having Chagall paint it. Love it or hate it, the populace starting to come to the Opera just so they could either rave or complain about the ceiling. Attendance was up!

Next up we walked through the Grand Foyer. Now this was excess in overdrive. But get this: only the men were allowed in during intermission. Actually, the women weren't allowed out of their seating area at all until the show was over - and these shows would go anywhere from four to six hours!  Remember when the poor people had to arrive three hours later? Add that onto the total time for the show. (And there aren't any bathrooms in the part of the building, either.)

But, leave it to a Queen of Spain. She was visiting Paris and went to the Opera. At intermission all the men left and the women stayed. However, she was not going to stay put. Out she walked to the Grand Foyer with a long line of women following behind. Since that day women have been allowed into the Foyer.

Next up, the library! Oh to the books!

Our appetites got the better of us and as soon as the tour was over we found a bench to sit down to eat. It was still raining, so we had to eat inside on one of the fancy marble benches with all these statues around us.

Nazeriah really wanted to see some Paris fashion, so after lunch we headed over to the Galeries Lafayette.  It was a bit overwhelming. I think it has to be the largest mall that I have ever been in. Courtney had Nazeriah try on a red Armani raincoat. Oo la la! 

After that we surprised the kids with their own Paris fashion - berets!

After that it was really raining and time to head home. 

20 May, 2013

Anne Hathaway's House & Mary Arden's Farm (17 May)

Next up on our Shakespeare Tour was Anne Hathaway's Cottage (his wife's childhood home) and Mary Arden's Farm (his mother's childhood home).

Anne's Cottage was only a two-room thing when she lived there. But now it is a two story house with lush gardens. I wonder how much was really there way back then. 

We had an amazing docent in the two rooms telling us all sort of stories and taking the time to answer all our questions after our group had left.  I think he liked the extra attention and enquiries from our children. 

I loved learning about how they cooked and being able to see what they actually used. We learned a few things, too. Like "Under Your Thumb." A wife wasn't allowed to let the fire go out, if she did her husband could beat her. But only with a piece of wood no wider than his thumb - hence she was under his thumb. Don't think that would work  nowadays. Curfews were also set because that meant that it was time to cover your fire. Each night everyone had to cover their fire so that the roof wouldn't catch fire while they slept. The bells would ring to remind you to go home and take care of business.  I have no idea what the word is, but supposedly curfew is from the French meaning to cover your fire. Then in the morning the bells would ring to let you know that you could stoke your fire up again (and get cooking for your husband I suppose). We saw the old fashion spit next to the firer that the youngest child would get to turn for hours on end. And they had parts of the next generation spit that used weights/counterweights and a pully system so you only had to set up the pully and leave it alone. Did you know the English had pizza ovens? Too bad they only thought of cooking bread in them. :-)

In the gardens there was a singing tree that Chayton actually "fixed", okay, turned the switch on to get it to sing. It was a tree that had metal mesh all around it. You were supposed to touch the mesh and this ethereal music would start. Once Chayton figured it out, it did do that.

There was a couple of walks in the woods that we took. On the first one we were met by Bubbles the cat who walked with us and showed us all around the Woodland Walk. 

We actually ended up spending two days at Mary's Farm. It started to rain too hard the first day and we promised the children that we would come back.

Mary Arden's Farm was quite large and it is still a working farm, albiet a tourist and educational working farm, today. There are many pastures, cows, a hairy pig, regular pigs, sheep, plus crops, a falconery and an apothecary garden. 

We were able to meet Izzy the Snow Owl (Barn Owl, Ghost Owl, Love Owl). The falconer has raised Izzy since he was a few weeks old - he is only 10 months. Snow Owls are called Ghost Owls because when they fly you do not hear their wings at all. Izzy would fly right by your ears and it would be perfectly quiet. Chayton was thrilled - he was able to have Izzy land on his arm twice. Nazeriah even voluteered to have Izzy land on her! I was quite suprised and impressed. Kaija was too afraid of the crowd around us to give it a try.

Kaija and I loved petting the baby cow and sheep. Nazeriah didn't really want to get close to them; Chayton was up for a little bit of everything. I loved the apothecary room and the apothecary gardens (I have been getting lots of ideas for my next gardens).