As all things come to an end, even this story, a day came at last when they were in sight of the country where Bilbo had been born and bred, where the shapes of the land and of the trees were as well known to him as his hands and toes.
And so it was that Thursday morning we said farewell to our life in Paris and headed to Charles de Gaulle for our flights home.
Lunch in Munich was quite German: currywurst and potato wedges. Soon enough we were on board our second (and much longer) flight—bound for home at long last.
Penelope slept for about three hours, curled up on her seat (and my lap). Having heroically offered the window seat to my daughter, I, alas, could not sleep. So I passed the twelve hour flight reading and watching movies (Aquaman: terrible but nice visuals; Dumplin’: loved it! almost as good as the book; and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: mildly amusing).
Jeremy met us inside the International Arrivals terminal at
SFO, and then, there we were, in our own house.
And it was truly a bit surreal to be in our living room after so many
months away. Surreal, but good.
And that was all about ten days ago…
So now: we’re home. I’ve put off writing this final entry on my blog, for a few reasons. Jet lag, yes—always much harder for me when coming home. It’s taken more than a week, but I’m finally fully back on California time.
But I also wanted to wait to write this last entry because I
needed some time to settle into the old rhythms of daily life—and to see what
might be new.
The good news: after three months of city travel via bus and train, I still know how to drive.
We’ve unpacked, though not everything has been put away. New art needs to find its place on our shelves and walls, but clothes are laundered and suitcases are back in storage. After a week at day camp, Penelope is off to her first overnight camp, three nights with the Girl Scouts in the Santa Cruz mountains.
And I’ve started not one, but two summer creative writing courses. This past week I’ve written four poems and the opening of a short story. All very rough drafts, of course… but what a joy to be writing again.
I’ve seen friends and gone hiking, cooked in my own kitchen, and eaten at our favorite restaurants. I’ve seen the Pacific and sat reading in my own backyard. I love being home.
And we have so much of the summer ahead of us: picnics in the park, hikes in the hills, house projects, and lots more reading and writing.
But still—it’s strange to have this travel in our rearview mirror. After so many years of anticipation and saving and planning… it’s done.
By the numbers: three countries, thousands of miles, 23 places stayed, 53 books read, several new favorite foods, and 43,972 words written about this journey. Countless new experiences and memories that I hope will last. That’s part of why I wrote it all down, of course—the better to remember these months of travel and family and adventure.
Words cannot express how grateful I am to work at a school that believes in the rejuvenating power of a sabbatical—time away from the daily demands of teaching to recharge and to grow. I’ve remembered how much I love reading—and writing, and I’m thinking deeply about how I can make both a daily practice even once I return to the classroom in August. And I’ve had so much time with my family, especially Penelope. Watching her see these new landscapes, try new foods, and make friends with kids on countless playgrounds—that’s all been such a joy. I hope this trip has nurtured her love of travel—and reminded her of the pleasures of being at home. Both are such wonderful parts of life.
And one last thing: a heartfelt thank you to you, dear reader. When a colleague at school first suggested that I blog during my sabbatical, I was both excited and daunted by the idea. But once I started, I remembered how much I enjoyed the process of writing—of capturing everyday moments that were elevated to adventures by virtue of their location. It’s been such a pleasure to turn these memories into words, to capture the sense of flying down a mountain in New Zealand or marbling paper in Florence. To take our joy and preserve it in the amber of the page. To bring you along, there and back again, on this journey. Thank you for sharing our adventure.
On Saturday Rachel headed back to Charles de Gaulle to continue her French vacation at a chateau in Tornon-d’Agenais, and Penelope readied herself for another long-awaited visit: this time, a play date with one of her best friends from school back home in California. Sophie and her brothers spend the summers with their grandparents in Paris and Nice, and their Parisian grandparents had generously invited us to join them for lunch at their apartment. So off we headed to the 5th arrondissement.
After a delicious four course lunch, we adjoined to the local park and playground, located at the the Arene des Luteces. On the way there, we passed both one of Hemingway’s houses and Descartes’ residence as well—this is quite a storied quarter of Paris.
When we arrived at the Roman arena, Sophie’s grandparents helpfully shared a bit of its history—how it was built and used when this part of Paris was a Roman city. The arena even hosted naval battles! Today, however, the space was being set up for a weekend festival, with an arts and crafts market, musical performances, and other artistic endeavors (in lieu of the usual petanque or football played on the open space). We watched one performer for a bit—a mélange of physical comedy and juggling tricks, combined with all-body application of wet clay. Quite something!
After some time at the park, we returned to their apartment for “le gouter,” or afternoon snack—which on this hot day meant ice cream cones. The kids played happily for another hour while I chatted with Sophie’s grandparents. Did I mention that I managed to speak French all afternoon? While I’m quite sure their English was more than proficient, once they knew I spoke a bit of French, we conversed en francais… the whole time. I admit, I’m impressed that I managed… though my brain was definitely aching by the end! 🙂
All in all, it was a wonderful day with Sophie’s family—her grandparents could not have been more gracious hosts to us! And such a treat to have a homemade meal with a French family while we’re here in Paris.
On Sunday, we had our final day trip beyond Paris: we were headed to the 36e Medievales de Provins… the largest medieval festival in France. My mother had heard about this festival before arriving in Paris, and she’d added it our wish list. Provins is about two hours away by Metro and train, but the trip was more than worthwhile. Have you ever been to a Renaissance Faire in the States? Imagine that, but now multiple it… by at least ten. The entire walled village is turned over to the festival—and some of the newer parts of city beyond as well. It’s absolutely enormous, with performers roaming down every lane, jaw-dropping costumes, and delicious food and drink at every turn. We had a wonderful, wonderful time.
We’d tried to order Penelope a medieval dress in advance, but had no luck… fortunately, there was a seamstress at the festival who had a warehouse filled with beautiful creations, ready to rent for the day. Penelope selected this lovely gown and spent the ensuing hour (and whole day, really) dancing and posing in her new outfit, complete with flower crown.
At the end of the day, we returned Penelope’s rented gown to the artisan vendor and walked back to the train station—we arrived early, wanting to secure seats on what would undoubtedly be a very full train. By 9pm we were home again in Paris, exhausted but elated by the wonderful day we’d had.
Monday morning we all spent the morning at home, enjoying a lazy day after yesterday’s big outing. But by early afternoon, Penelope and I were ready to cross off one more item from her Paris wish list: cruising the Seine. As with Versailles and the Eiffel Tower, my parents have been many times on river cruises, and they decided to stay home and work on planning the next leg of their travels: eight weeks in England and Scotland.
Penelope and I headed to the Pont Neuf, where we boarded one of the many tourist boats that cruise up and down the Seine, passing many landmarks along the way. By the time we left, on the 2:30pm sailing, the sun was shining fiercely down and the temperature had soared to the low 80s. So we opted for a seat downstairs in the shade—but right by an open window, so we had excellent views.
We spent a most enjoyable hour on the water, seeing museums like the Louvre and the d’Orsay, marveling at the detailed carvings on the bridges (most only visible from the river), and—at the midpoint of the cruise, enjoying great views of the Eiffel Tower.
By the end of the cruise Penelope had decided to stand at the front of the boat, and managed to somehow end up stationed between the captain and the first mate. When I asked her about it, she said it seemed like the right place to stand. But of course. 🙂
Our cruise complete, we decided to wander around Paris for a bit—and to have our last ice cream treat at Amorino. On the way there, we admired the beautiful Samaritaine building—under renovation at the moment…
…and the amazing creations in the window of the Les Halles Lego store.
And then we arrived at Amorino, where we both indulged in a delicious treat—the ice cream cones were perfect for a hot afternoon of strolling around Paris.
Our outing complete, we headed for home, to rest and then
have an early dinner before one of the items on my Paris wish list: playing petanque in the park!
You can’t miss the many groups of people playing petanque or molky in the evenings—or afternoons—they are in just about every Parisian park. So I’d signed us up for an evening lesson with a local, Arnaud, to teach us the basics of the games. Penelope and Arnaud formed one team and my dad and I the other—my mother opted for the role of spectator on the nearby bench.
After instruction and practice, we began our game—it was a tight race, but Penelope’s team triumphed in the end!
Though we very much enjoyed both games, the Molky was our family favorite—we’ll have to find a set when we get home to California and introduce Jeremy to the game!
Our lesson complete, we decided to walk part of the way home, enjoying an absolutely perfect Paris evening. The weather had cooled off, and we were approaching the golden hour… at 9:30pm. It’s not fully dark here until nearly 11pm, which makes for wonderfully long and lovely days.
And so ended another very full day in Paris—and, at 22K steps, a tiring one as well!
On Tuesday my folks were off to spend the day at the Musee d’Orsay while I started the mammoth task of… packing. With our flights home just two days away, it was time to see if everything would actually fit back into our suitcases. Penelope occupied herself with schoolwork and reading (and more screen time than usual) while I sorted and organized and eventually started packing our luggage. By early evening, when Grandma and Grandpa returned home for dinner, we were about 90% done. Not bad! Earlier that day, Penelope and I had walked down the street to select our final pastries from our favorite patisserie. Each of us chose one… and I added an extra—so we shared the five delights between us.
All good things must come to an end… but we certainly
savored this fond farewell to our favorite patisserie.
On Wednesday, Grandma had plans to take Penelope to a traditional French puppet show at the Jardin du Luxembourg, so I decided to take the opportunity for one last stroll around Paris. We hadn’t yet been to the covered passages, so I took the metro over to the 9th arrondissement to wander through a few: Passage Panoramas, Passage Jouffroy, and Passage Verdeau. As in the past, the storefronts alone are worth the trip. Where else might you see a winged wolf with a diamond necklace?
In the Passage Jouffrey I found the toy store we visited in 2014, when Penelope was just three years old—the charmingly named Pain d’Epice. They have a staggering array of dollhouse furniture, traditional French toys, and wonderful games. A veritable model of restraint, I selected only two items: a tiny framed Mona Lisa for Penelope’s dollhouse, and a wonderful box of accessories called Si J’Etais La Maitresse. Inside there are dozens of items for the budding teacher: tiny cahiers, a roll book, award certificates, and textbooks for lesson planning—all perfectly sized for Penelope to use with her dolls and stuffed animals.
Given her penchant for playing school with her assorted
dolls, this couldn’t have been more perfect!
Afterward, I walked the four kilometers back to our apartment, snapping photos of typical French scenery: bistros on every corner, the delightful windows of patisseries, the traditional Metro signs, and even the French practice of rinsing the streets with water gushing through the gutters. A California born during a drought, Penelope doesn’t believe that explanation—she still insists that there’s a water leak every time we see water flowing down the street.
And to my utter delight, I also passed the very store Pixar used in a memorable scene from Ratatouille: the one where Remy’s dad takes him to see how humans really treat rats… an exterminator’s store. It turns out that this particular store is quite a real place: Aurouze, founded in 1872. As the storefront declares, the store is dedicated to the destruction of “nuisance animals.” And on the right-hand side hang more than a dozen trapped and killed rats… all found in the Les Halles area. Quite something to pass on a weekday afternoon!
Meanwhile, Penelope was enjoying the performance at the puppet theater with her Grandma—and some time at the park afterward.
By late afternoon everyone returned to the apartment for a
final evening in Paris: last-minute packing and a family dinner. Tomorrow my parents will return to their
camper (parked about an hour away from Paris) and start driving toward their
Sunday date with the ferry to England.
They’ll be spending the next two months exploring England and Scotland,
ending in an apartment in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival in August. And Penelope and I will be
And so ends this penultimate post for my sabbatical blog… Paris has been a wonderful place to spend two months of our nearly five months of travel—but we are very much looking forward to being home at last.
Sunday morning, bags packed, I bid a very fond farewell to London and headed home to Paris. I arrived in the early afternoon and enjoyed a very happy reunion with Penelope. She was delighted to see me—and perhaps just as keen to discover what treasures I’d found for her on my British excursion. When we’d visited Versailles, she’d accidentally left behind her ring in the bathroom—a ring she’d purchased with her savings at a small jewelry store in Florence. So I’d promised to look for a replacement in London and, happily, found a lovely one that fit even better. We also started reading one of the books I’d found at the British Library: Wicked Words, a book about etymology and word play from the folks who write the Horrible Histories series. Penelope very much enjoyed the chapter on Shakespearean insults, and we’ve been hearing those regularly since then. 🙂
That night we had plans to meet up with another former student, this time one from Stevenson! Scott is in Paris for the month for work, and we’d planned to meet for dinner at our neighborhood creperie in the 11th. We had a lovely dinner together, joined by Penelope. And after crepes, we dropped Penelope back off at the apartment where my parents awaited, and then Scott and I strolled around the 11th, catching up more about his life since high school, lo these many years past, and my sabbatical.
It’s been so lovely to see alums on this trip! And to be honest, that’s one of the reasons I
still love Facebook—for all of the issues social media might have, Facebook has
allowed me to stay in touch with so many of my former students. And it’s such a wonderful thing to see them
growing into themselves as the years go by.
Monday was a day
of shopping and wandering around Paris.
My dad wanted to head to the BHV, one of Paris’ department stores, and
then to the Grand Epicerie (also known as the food hall) of the Bon Marche,
another great department store. So off
we went, exploring the various floors of the BHV (Penelope and I spent quite a
long time on the bookstore/stationery floor; my parents enjoyed the kitchen and
homegoods floors) and then walking from the Hotel de Ville all the way to the
Along the way, we paused to admire many different shop windows and even indulged in an afternoon snack or two.
I neglected to take many photos at the Grand Epicerie, alas—I was too busy filling my basket with exotic mustards and delicious cookies from Bretagne. But I did snap one, of a product that was simply too good to be true: Proust’s Madeleines.
On the way home we stopped at two different playgrounds—one near the Bon Marche, then after a metro ride, Grandpa took Penelope to our local playground for another hour or so.
On Tuesday we decided to venture up to Montmartre—a part of Paris we hadn’t yet seen on this trip (and one I’m not sure I’d ever seen—perhaps on our first family trip in 1989?). Following our guidebook’s tour, we began at the Love Wall near the Abbesses metro stop, where I snapped a pic of my parents, who just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary.
We walked on, strolling leisurely toward the funicular that would take us to (almost) the top of the hill. On the way, we paused to see one of the best Rubber Duck stores I’ve ever been in (though, to be fair, it’s kind of a niche market), where I spotted this gem:
Alas, not purchased, though seeing this picture again is
giving me second thoughts. It’s just so
Then it was on to the funicular, where Penelope snagged a window seat and took in the view as we slowly rose to the top.
Once there, we surveyed all of Paris at our feet, picking out various buildings (the Pompidou stands out most clearly, perhaps), and then turned our attention to the grand church just behind us: Sacre Coeur.
The next stop on the walking tour was another church, smaller and much older: St. Pierre of Montmartre. And it was there I spotted perhaps my favorite sculpture so far:
We continued along, enjoying the window displays and watching artists in action on the Place du Tertre. Penelope and I both admired the creations of one painter in particular, and we each selected a small canvas to add to our growing art collection.
The streets of Montmartre are just lovely, and we enjoyed following the their meandering curves and exploring a bit—the crowds growing thinner as we wandered away from the central square.
We ended at the (in)famous Moulin Rouge, snapped a quick pic, and then darted across the street to the Metro just as it began raining in earnest.
Wednesday my folks decided to stay home and take an administrative day, but Penelope and I had other plans. We woke up bright and early to head west to… the Eiffel Tower! We’ve had many glimpses of the Iron Lady from various vantage points around Paris, but Penelope’s Paris wish list included going right to the top. Advance reservations for the elevator to the summit were sold out for the month of June, so we’d decided to try our luck at an early arrival and hope for the best.
After a Metro ride, we started walking down the Champ de Mars, reveling in our first glimpses of the Tower.
We joined the impressive queue of visitors waiting to pass through security at about 9:20am or so—and the line began moving just a few minutes later. Then another line, much shorter, to purchase tickets, then a shorter line to ride the first elevator. We were at the top by 11am, so not too bad!
We headed straight to the top, where we enjoyed the amazing views all around—including the art installation currently taking place on the Champ de Mars. The clasped hands are a spray-painted fresco by French artist Saype, who specializes in biodegradable artwork. Quite amazing to see from above.
We continued our walk around the tip-top, taking in the views and spotting landmarks, then began our descent, pausing at each level to snap photos and enjoy the views from each new vantage point. What an amazing structure.
The rain began again that afternoon, so the rest of the day was spent at home, with schoolwork and puzzles on the agenda. We found this one at our local thrift store, and to our delight the box included not one, but two French street scenes. A lovely way to spend our afternoon.
Thursday morning our long-awaited visitor arrived: my sister Rachel. Rachel and her husband Will had planned a summer trip to the southwest of France with several friends, and she’d arranged to come a few days early to spend some time with us in Paris. Penelope had been most excited to see her Aunt Rachel, and she immediately glued herself to Rachel’s side for the next 48 hours. 🙂
After a strong coffee for the jet-lagged Rachel, we set off to the Marche d’Aligre to browse the market. This time we also spent some time exploring the interior market, which reminded me of Oxford’s Covered Market (though this French version is much smaller).
Penelope also wanted to get some flowers to properly welcome Aunt Rachel, so she ordered some from one of the florist’s stalls. The vendor, upon hearing Penelope’s request en francais, doubled the order for free. Another advantage to having a bilingual 8-year-old in the family!
We walked from Marche d’Aligre over to the Bastille market,
then, our marketing complete, stopped at Amorino to introduce Rachel to its
wonders. Though, to be fair, Penelope
would seize upon any excuse to have a sweet treat.
Then it was back to the apartment for a nap (Rachel) and schoolwork (Penelope) and reading (the rest of us). The rest of the afternoon was spent chatting in the living room—and playing with Snapchat filters.
By the time dinner rolled around, we were all ready to head back out. I’d secured reservations at Bistro Paul Bert, reputedly one of the best bistros in Paris (and handily located just a block from our house), and we were all very much looking forward to our dinner.
We enjoyed a white asparagus appetizer, a plate of foie gras, and wonderful steak au poivre with frites. Just fabulous. Somehow we had room left for desserts, and we ordered three for the table to share: L’Ile Flottant, a Grand Marnier soufflé, and a citron tarte.
Full to bursting, the five of us walked slowly home, savoring a beautiful Parisian evening.
Friday morning we enjoyed breakfast at home before taking the metro to the Bois du Boulogne, where we planned to spend the day. Rachel and my parents headed to the Fondation Louis Vuitton, to see the Courtauld Collection exhibit, and Penelope and I got a head start at the nearby Jardin d’Acclimation.
This was our third visit to the Jardin d’Acc, so Penelope was now a pro—and since the park was only lightly attended (it’s still the school year here in Paris), I purchased her an unlimited rides wristband. We’d also discovered that she’s tall enough to go on almost all of the rides without an adult, so I happily read my book on a nearby bench while she went on ride after ride.
I did, however, join her once in a while. Especially on Les Speed Rockets, which was our mutual favorite.
Rachel and my parents joined us for a late lunch, and we found a shaded patch of grass for the picnic we’d packed. After our meal, we explored the park for another hour or so, riding more rides and enjoying the sight of Penelope enjoying herself. In one memorable queue, we met another family from Palo Alto—a small world indeed!
As the afternoon waned, Rachel voiced an interest in a bit of Parisian shopping and walking, and my mother heroically volunteered to stay with Penelope for another hour at the amusement park while my dad and accompanied Rachel back into central Paris. (Sidenote: Penelope’s unlimited wristband revealed a final tally of 39 rides at the end of the day. Impressive!)
We rode the Metro to the BHV, which is definitely our family’s favorite department store. There our father disappeared into the basement floor on a mysterious errand (I suspect it might have been Christmas gift-related), and Rachel and I spent a happy hour browsing the delights of the paper goods floor. My dad had long since headed for home, so Rachel and I opted to walk through the Marais so she could see more of Paris. It was the Friday of Pride weekend, and lots of preparations were underway.
We all eventually arrived back in the 11th and spent an hour or so relaxing at the apartment before heading back out to our last dinner with Rachel. She’d selected our neighborhood creperie, so we headed there once again, eagerly anticipating another delicious meal. As expected, we very much enjoyed our crepes and cider.
All in all, it was a short but lovely visit from my younger sister… who is always ready to photobomb my nicely framed pictures.
My long-awaited solo trip to London had arrived at last… and on Monday morning, I said farewell to Penelope and my folks and headed to Gare du Nord to hop aboard the Eurostar to St. Pancras. It still amazes me that you can take an underwater train from Paris to London (even if you don’t get to see any fish).
I’ve taken the train between Paris and London several times over the past two decades, and it remains easy, efficient, and tremendously comfortable. Speedy too! Monday’s trip was no exception. I arrived at my hotel in Kensington around lunchtime, checked in, and headed to the local Sainsbury’s to stock my room fridge. I’d booked a single room at the Nadler, a wonderful hotel that we’ve stayed at in each of our London trips over the past decade (both the Kensington and Victoria locations). Each room has a mini-kitchenette, which we’ve loved for easy breakfasts and/or dinners at home.
After settling in and noshing on a few of my favorite British snacks, I headed to Covent Gardens for the Monday Antiques Market in the Jubilee hall. Browsing complete, I checked the offerings at the Transport Museum, but they had very few Tube poetry posters left, alas.
I had several hours left before my evening engagement, so I decided to take a walking tour with my trusty Rick Steves’ audio guide. Though I’ve been to London many times before, I’d never toured the neighborhood surrounding St. Paul’s, also know as the City… so why not now? I walked from Covent Garden to the tour’s starting point, the Church of St. Clement Danes and the Royal Courts of Justice and began the tour.
Three miles later, I’d crossed London Bridge and ended the tour on the other side of the Thames, just in time to find some dinner before the evening’s entertainment: a play at Shakespeare’s Globe.
This summer’s plays are largely histories, but I’d elected to see a comedy I’d never seen before: The Merry Wives of Windsor. And I had a bench seat right at the very tip-top of the theatre.
IMHO, this play isn’t one of Shakespeare’s finest, but the performance was wonderful—full of physical humor and wordplay. Falstaff was in particularly fine form.
All in all, a wonderful first day in London—tired but very happy, I headed home for a good night’s sleep, with 21k steps and 20 flights of stairs on my FitBit.
Tuesday morning it was time to head to the British Library to see their Treasures exhibit. Although they keep some of their pieces on permanent display (like Jane Austen’s writing desk), the letters and first editions have often been changed on each of my visits. Today I had the pleasure of seeing pages from Virginia Woolf, two of the Bronte sisters, and Derek Walcott, among many others.
I took some time wandering happily around the ground floor, from the gorgeous displays to the wonderful bookshops, and then departed for my next stop of the day: the Victoria & Albert Museum. The V&A is one of my all-time favorite museums—the art is wonderful, the special exhibits are often spectacular, and the building itself would be worth a visit on its own.
I neglected to take any pictures of the art, but the many
rooms were, as always, most enjoyable—and I spent a happy hour browsing the
enormous gift shop as well. One of the
best museum stores, especially if you like William Morris (which I do).
Alas, I needed to cut short my visit a bit, as I had an art gallery opening to attend across town in Shoreditch.
For the past five years or so, I’ve been following the art career of Lorraine Loots, a watercolorist from South Africa. She specializes in miniatures, and her series of work is called Painting for Ants. And it just so happened that her solo retrospective was scheduled for the very week I was in London—so I had to go.
I arrived promptly at 4pm for the buyers’ preview, and I was delighted to be early enough to purchase one of her works. Someday I might acquire an original, but for today I decided on a piece from her limited artist’s proof run of prints—and managed to buy the last one of the five available of… The Hobbit.
I enjoyed the rest of the exhibit very much—she had over 900 works on display, along with magnifying glasses with which to examine her teeny-tiny work. And with that, I was ready to head home and spend the evening relaxing in my hotel room.
Late that night, alas, I was struck down by food poisoning. We shall therefore, dear reader, pass over the next twenty-four hours, in which I moved only from my bed to my bathroom—at times with great urgency. Let us say no more.
While recovering, however, I did finish watching The Umbrella Academy and start GoodOmens. The former was good, the latter—AMAZING. Having now finished the series, I can say without reservation that it is all-time my favorite book-to-screen adaptation. It’s just brilliant.
So, on to Thursday. I’d had tickets for both the Tate Britain Van
Gogh exhibit and Harry Potter and the
Cursed Child for Wednesday, but since I’d spent the day sick and/or
recovering, I’d had to forfeit both.
Luckily, my Harry Potter tickets
had resold, and I was able to buy new tickets for seats at Saturday’s double
performance. And I decided to try my
luck at the Tate Britain, though the exhibition ticket policy clearly states no
refunds, no exchanges.
I made my way slowly over to the museum via the Tube and a short walk. Still recovering, I was moving at a somewhat glacial pace, a fact underscored by the man on crutches who passed me halfway there. But I eventually made it to the Tate Britain, where a kindly clerk took pity on me and allowed me an immediate entrance to the Van Gogh exhibit, with no extra charge. My fortunes were on the upswing.
The exhibit, Van Gogh and Britain, was very fine indeed. As alert readers will remember, I’ve mentioned the contextual aspect of recent exhibits I’ve seen whilst on sabbatical, and this exhibit was no exception. In addition to a wonderful array of paintings by Van Gogh himself, the exhibit also included many of the paintings mentioned in his letters—painting he’d seen in London museums or as reproductions in art shops. They offered a library of all of the books he was known to have read in English, from Shakespeare to Dickens (and many others). And many of his letters written to his brother Theo were displayed as well, documenting his years living in London. I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, which was surprisingly extensive.
After I finished this special exhibit, I decided to spend a bit more time in some of my favorite galleries—I first passed through the Turner wing (stopping here and there) to visit the William Blake collection upstairs. And then I spent nearly an hour in the 1830s room—my absolute favorite gallery at the Tate Britain. The masterpieces there are stacked three and four deep, and the room contains some of my very favorite paintings.
By now it was early afternoon, and I had just enough time
left in the day for two destinations: the central Bank of England and Kew
Gardens. At the former, my purpose was
straightforward: to exchange obsolete paper bills. Every ten years or so, the UK seems to change
its money—or at least that’s been my impression. And hapless tourists who keep a spare five or
ten pound note in their wallets can no longer spend these bills when they
eventually return to England. But I’d
read online that you can exchange these notes for new ones at the main branch
of the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street.
So off I went—and upon arrival, was questioned thoroughly by first an
armed guard and then a man in a wig and top hat. But eventually my task was deemed an
honorable one, and the new notes were secured.
Made of polymer, not paper—they are slippery devils, indeed.
With now-spendable cash, I set out for Kew Gardens. My energy was flagging a bit, but a few hours wandering in the beautiful botanic gardens was exactly what I needed. After a mid-day rain shower, the skies were beautifully clear and sunny—and the garden shone bright. After the hustle and bustle of the financial district around the Bank of England, Kew was a blessed oasis. Calm, quiet, and lovely.
As an added bonus, Kew is hosting a Dale Chihuly exhibit, so there are a dozen major installations around the grounds, in addition to the usual foliage. The pieces were bright and evocative, sometimes standing out and sometimes more sympathetic to their surroundings. I’ve seen several Chihuly installations in gardens in the US, but this one might just be my favorite.
With the garden closing, I headed back to the Tube station and an evening’s rest at home. Art, fresh air, and the scent of roses had made me feel fully restored, and I’d decided to take a bit of a field trip the next day.
So Friday morning I was bound for Birmingham. This day trip was a bit of a lark, really. A few weeks ago I’d read The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson, in which a now late-middle-aged Bryson tours around England, as a sort of sequel to his enormously popular memoir/portrait of a country, Notes from a Small Island. I found myself charmed, as always, by Bryson’s voice—and also quite intrigued by his description of the Art Gallery and Museum in Birmingham. His book alerted me to the fact the Museum has the world’s largest collection of pre-Raphaelite art—and I decided I might just have to see that for myself. Having never been to Birmingham, I set off without much planned.
I boarded a train at the Euston train station bright and early… or at least early—the skies were quite overcast, and the rain began almost immediately upon our departure. But I was thrilled to be embarking on a new adventure—and I always enjoy a train ride through the countryside.
Upon arrival, I headed directly to the Art Gallery and Museum, which houses both Birmingham’s art collection and various historical artifacts as well—including the recently discovered Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold. Though I toured the whole museum, the bulk of my time was spent in the art galleries.
I was impressed by one of the world’s largest watercolor painting—and even more impressed by a William Morris design-in-progress of wallpaper.
A few hours later, I headed north through the city to the Jewelry District, where I stopped at the Rose Villa Tavern. Cozily decorated and well-stocked with regulars, the pub was a most convivial spot for lunch—and to dry out from the soaking I’d received from my walk across town.
My dominant impression of Birmingham’s buildings was red brick—and the effect, especially in the rain, was quite lovely. I also passed a picturesque cemetery, right in the middle of downtown—with a list of its “residents.” Perfectly British nomenclature, that.
After a stop at the historical museum in the Jewelry District, I walked back to the newer part of town to see England’s largest public library—and it really was quite lovely. An interesting design on the outside, and an absolutely beautiful browsing room inside.
My last stop of the day was the Bullring and Grand Central, a positively enormous mall attached to Birmingham’s train station. I’m sure I was the only tourist there—and it was great fun to see locals shopping on Friday afternoon. I very much enjoyed the people-watching and eavesdropping while also browsing through both department stores and smaller boutiques alike. And I bought a new umbrella at Boots, as my cheap umbrella from Florence had given up completely under the all-day onslaught of English rain.
My adventure complete, I purchased a Pret-a-Manger sandwich
for dinner and boarded the train back to London.
On Saturday morning, I had my long-awaited trip to the Portobello Road Market. The Market seems larger and larger every time I visit, and I so enjoy looking through both the antiques and the reproductions alike.
I started with the actual (or at least more-likely-to-be-actual) antiques at the beginning of the market, in the interior shops, then worked my way all the way down to the underpass area, filled with vintage clothing—and then back up the other side of the street.
My browsing (and shopping) complete, I headed back to my hotel to drop off my treasures before taking the Tube to my final London stop: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’d remained deliberately in ignorance of anything about the play, wanting it to be a surprise. No reading, no reviews—nothing. And so it was with great anticipation that I arrived at the Palace Theatre for the Part I matinee.
After Part I ended, I walked over to Punjab, a reliably
tasty Indian restaurant near Covent Garden—one I’ve been to on nearly every
trip to London over the past two decades.
It’s conveniently across the street from Forbidden Planet, a terrific
store for fans of nearly every book or film or TV show you might imagine.
Dinner and neighborhood stroll complete, I headed back to
the theatre by way of the House of MinaLima—a storefront for the graphic design
team behind much of the Wizarding World in the Harry Potter films.
After admiring their gorgeous storefront, I went inside to further admire their wonderful prints—these were among my favorites. I think one (or both?) would look quite lovely in my classroom… maybe a future purchase.
The evening was waning, and it was time to return to the theater for Part II—where I donned my #KeepTheSecrets badge and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the play.
My UK trip (almost) complete, I boarded the Tube to my hotel to pack my bag and get some sleep before my early morning train back to Paris. And what a fabulous trip it was. Paris has indeed been wonderful, but I think London will always have the truest part of my heart. I love the English sense of humor, their reverence for history and literature, and, perhaps most of all, their firm belief in the queue. It’s quite a proper place, and I adore it so.
Oh—and an especially important post-script! This solo trip to London would, of course, not have been possible without the help of my parents, who took such good care of Penelope back in Paris while I was away. An amazing gift for both of us—and we both had a wonderful time. 🙂
After our late night at Disneyland Paris, on Tuesday morning we all slept well—and late in to the morning. We’d scheduled very little for the day, aside from schoolwork and time at our neighborhood playground. In the afternoon, Penelope and I took a lovely walk around our neighborhood, stopping in at a jewelry store, a thrift shop, and other stores that caught our eye—before heading for a few hours of playtime at Parc Raoul Nordling, our closest playground. There, Penelope was immediately absorbed into a small group of girls, all closely examining the snails they’d found.
We finished the day with a family dinner of one of Marks and
Spencer’s fine prepped meals—peking duck (and an excellent one at that). Tuesday was a good start to what this week
was to be (for the most part): small outings and daily life. It’s lovely to be enjoying a slower pace of
life as the spring comes to an end.
On Wednesday we
decided to again stay close to home, but to take a longer walk. We started by heading south to the Viaduc
des Arts and Promenade Plantee… but our path led us directly through
another nearby market, the Marche d’Aligre… and how could we turn away from an
opportunity to browse? So we spent a
happy hour wandering among the small brocante stands, followed by the fruit and
veg—saving the interior stalls for another day.
Penelope was particularly charmed by a stall selling small rocks and fossils,
and she seized the opportunity to enlarge her ever-growing collection. She also enjoyed her lengthy conversation en
francais with the monsieur manning the booth, who exclaimed over Penelope’s
lack of accent (and complimented her beautiful name). He was not the first Parisian to comment on
Penelope’s accent—and it’s lovely to know that she’s mastered this essential
element of fluency in another language.
Our shopping concluded (for the nonce), we continued walking to the Promenade Plantee. The French seem to have a penchant for reimagining uses for defunct railways and stations (see the Musee d’Orsay), and they’ve continued that vision here. In 1994, when the Paris-Bastille-Vincennes line ceased to use this viaduct and tracks, the elevated portion was turned into a beautiful walking path, lined with flower beds, murals, and even ponds in some places. Underneath, the Viaduc des Arts, where artisans have both shops and working studios. On top, there are benches scattered throughout, and since we arrived around lunchtime, they were mostly populated by workers taking their lunch outdoors in the lovely weather.
We strolled down the elevated path, enjoying the flowers, the sunshine (which has been comparatively rare this rainy spring), and each other’s company. Penelope translated the various signs for her grandparents and danced and pranced along the promenade. We spotted a pair of artists working on new mural, and in one alcove, a guitarist playing a slow melody. Quite lovely.
We saw a few joggers, but by and large the walkway really does seem to be used for walking… underscored by the sign we soon spotted.
We ended our walk in a gorgeously landscaped park next to the promenade, as Penelope had spotted a playground.
There we paused for a time before walking back the way we’d come, this time on the street level, soon reaching the Viaduc des Arts and enjoying the imaginative window displays of the artists there.
Jewelers, paper artists, an entire store dedicated to doorknobs and another to flutes—it was a wonderfully varied stroll, and most enjoyable. We reached the end and turned our steps toward home, where schoolwork and perhaps even a bit of screen time awaited us.
Two days of small outings gave us the respite we needed to tackle our biggest trip of the week: Versailles! My parents have been to Versailles many, many times—at least half a dozen—so Penelope and I opted for a girls’ day out to the palace. While it would be my third trip, it was Penelope’s first. Thursday was another holiday in France, and so the fountains would be running—making the visit even more enticing.
Penelope and I caught the local metro, then transferred to
the RER train to Versailles. One of my
favorite parts of living a more urban life during this last part of my
sabbatical has been all of the time available for reading on transport. Whether on the metro or a longer train ride,
everyone in the family turns on our kindles and happily whiles away the minutes
until the next stop. So Penelope and I
both turned our attention to our books while en route—though we did enjoy the
scenery a bit too, especially after we left the suburbs of Paris behind.
We arrived at the palace around 10:30am and headed straight for the Gardens. We spent the next hour happily wandering the west side of the grounds, delighting in the fountains and the wonderful music that accompanied them. Penelope was astounded by the spectacle—and, as the crowds were very sparse at that point, we had many fountains almost to ourselves.
The Mirror Pool fountain was perhaps our favorite, as it moved most clearly in tune with the music played. Here’s a brief glimpse of the fountain… and of Penelope.
With our timed entry to the Palace drawing nearer, we decided to break for an early lunch, and chose La Girandole, a restaurant in the Garden. Expensive (of course), but quite tasty and really enormous portions.
After lunch, we adjourned to the Palace for our tour. On the ground floor we followed Versailles’ audio guide, but upstairs switched to our usual Rick Steves’ audio guide. As usual, Versailles didn’t disappoint—from the luxurious bedrooms to the beautiful ceiling murals, to the famed Hall of Mirrors.
Our tour of the palace complete, we headed back to the Gardens to see the farther grounds—the Trianons and Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, as well as more fountains.
We ended the day at the final water spectacle, where we enjoyed the sun that had finally emerged, and Penelope added some lovely flowers to our hair.
Another wonderful adventure complete, we headed back to Paris, where a delicious family dinner awaited us.
morning, it was time for schoolwork and house cleaning—but in the afternoon,
Angela was back to babysit Penelope again.
My parents and I left Penelope happily chattering away with Angela, and
headed for the Petit Palais. Jeremy and
I had toured the permanent collection a few weeks ago, but the new Romanticism
exhibit had opened, and we all wanted to see it. So off we went, back to the delights of this
The Romanticism exhibit didn’t disappoint—and in fact, was wonderfully curated. On this trip I’ve noticed more and more exhibits taking a contextual approach to art, including arts and crafts, furniture, books, and even fashion as part of the context for a particular time period or artist. That kind of context is why I’ve always loved the V&A in London, and it’s so wonderful to see this approach replicated on a smaller scale.
The second exhibit focused on drawings and watercolors from Weimar, also from the Romantic period. A smaller exhibition, but worthwhile—there were some stunning pieces here too.
Soon enough our time was up—I left my folks at the museum, where they planned to stay an extra hour or so to enjoy the permanent collection, and headed home to meet Penelope and Angela. As last time, Penelope had enjoyed herself enormously (and Angela didn’t seem too exhausted… always a good thing). 🙂
Dinner that night was another return journey—back to our neighborhood creperie! My folks and I enjoyed the cidre doux, a speciality of the Bretagne region, and Penelope found her small sample quite tasty as well.
And after our savory crepes were gobbled up, it was time for the sweet ones. This time, I managed to have my camera at the ready and capture Penelope in motion.
She may not have pigtails any more, but she’s still totally blissed out by sweet crepes. Not pictured: the rest of us wearing the same expression as we devoured our own sweet treats.
On Saturday, my parents had made plans to spend the day at the Louvre. Yep, the whole day. As previously mentioned, they are museum marathoners. Penelope and I declined a third visit to the Louvre and opted instead for a combination of schoolwork and short outings. We spent the morning at home, working through some math lessons, reminding me once again why I am not meant to teach a) small children or b) math. After lunch, we were off to the movies. After seeing the Broadway musical version of Aladdin in Auckland, Penelope and I were both keen to see Disney’s new live action film. We’d booked tickets at the MK2 Bibliotheque, a movie theatre next to France’s National Library. The movie theatre itself has an extensive bookstore and gift shop, along with the most bizarre representation of “American sweets” I have ever seen. I’m constantly amazed at what grocery stores and food halls stock here in the American section. Honestly, all of Europe seems to think we exist on a pure diet of marshmallow Fluff and packaged cotton candy.
Penelope and I opted for the popcorn, which was… edible. Barely. But we persevered and headed down to our theater. Unlike the last movie we saw here in Paris, we’d decided to see Aladdin in VOST (version originale, sous-titre), so the audio was in English, with French subtitles.
The movie, like the popcorn, wasn’t fabulous—but it was a fine way to spend an afternoon, and Penelope was delighted to see that Jasmine finally had a song of her very own.
After walking around the stark design of the National Library, we stopped at the nearby Parc James Joyce (!) for some running around. Well, I relaxed on a bench, and Penelope did the running. Temps were soaring in Paris over the weekend—almost as though there was a need to get all the good weather over with at once—and it reached a high of about 86F that afternoon.
After an hour or two, I dragged a reluctant Penelope away and we started our walk home. We walked along the Seine for a bit, and then Google Maps helpfully took us through a sketchy underpass in a semi-industrial part of town. While I was nervously checking my phone, Penelope was dancing with her shadow.
We arrived back at the apartment, which was blessedly cool despite its lack of air conditioning, and relaxed for a bit before heading to dinner. I let Penelope choose our dining plans, and she opted for dinner at Mme. Shawn, our local Thai restaurant. Once there, we happily read our books and noshed on chicken satay before heading home for the night. A most excellent day.
Sunday morning I’d planned to return to the Vanves flea market, only this time solo. While Penelope has enjoyed the various markets, it’s just a bit… easier to browse without an eight-year old in tow. So I set out for the market while my folks and Penelope enjoyed a relaxing morning at home.
It was fun to see the market again—and I was glad to arrive early. Temperatures were supposed to rise to the low 90s on Sunday, but the morning wasn’t too bad. Interestingly, the market was more crowded than last time—with some groups that were clearly part of large tours. Looks like we are heading into tourist high season.
But I enjoyed myself enormously, purchasing some art pieces and an antique medicinal bottle for my small collection. And even more than that, just seeing all the wares on offer. The color and variety are simply splendid.
Meanwhile, Penelope and her grandparents had headed for the Pompidou, spurred on by a children’s book on the museum they’d purchased for Penelope some years ago. Using what she’d learned in the picture book, Penelope led them confidently through the museum (much to their reported delight).
We all met back at the apartment in the afternoon, and then
it was time for mother and daughter to head to… a magic show.
Penelope had first seen ads for magic shops and shows in Italy, but either the timing or location was never quite right. So I tracked down a magic establishment here in Paris, called Double Fond. It’s a bar and café, with most performances for adults, but every weekend they have a few family shows. Crossing my fingers that we’d understand enough AND that adults would not be asked to participate in any way whatsoever, we set out for the café.
When we arrived, we headed to the small theatre in the basement, where to my initial horror (but eventual delight), we joined just six other people in the front row. And there we were treated to an absolutely delightful close-up magic show. The sleight-of-hand was extraordinarily well done, and the magicians’ patter was entertaining throughout. Penelope, of course, understood everything and volunteered enthusiastically—and since there were only four children, each of them was chosen multiple times to act as willing participants in the magic tricks.
It was an absolutely wonderful show. Penelope raved about it all the way home, and has since asked if there are summer magic camps for kids. Looks like I have some more research to do…
(Also spotted on the way home, the least French storefront I can possibly imagine… an automatic pizza dispenser. Quel horreur!)
And with that, it was home to the apartment for an evening
of packing… I’m off to London in the morning!
On Wednesday our
alarm clocks were set to the horrifying hour of five am, necessary to ensure
that Jeremy made his early morning flight from Charles de Gaulle home to
California. After a fond farewell, I
returned to my slumbers, and woke again around nine am. One of the very best parts of my sabbatical
this spring has been the general absence of alarm clocks from our lives. What a delight to wake naturally (or to the
sounds of your upstairs neighbor).
Since it was to be a very lovely, rain-free day in Paris, Penelope and I had decided to spend our solo day together revisiting the Jardin d’Acclimatation and its delights.
We spent a very full day at the amusement park, returning home around 4pm to welcome my folks to our apartment. They will be living with us for our final month in Paris, and we spent the rest of the day getting them settled in… and then visiting several different grocery stores to fully stock the kitchen with their preferred items. My mother was particularly delighted to find sultana scones and clotted cream at the Mark & Spencers—one of her all-time favorites.
we began planning in earnest, with every member of the new ensemble crafting
his or her Parisian wish list for the weeks ahead. Penelope and I also indulged in an at-home
mani-pedi session. Penelope chose the
color, which she calls “Electric Mermaid.”
Seems about right.
That afternoon Penelope and her grandparents walked around the neighborhood while I set out for the Ile St Louis to meet up with a group of former students who were all visiting Paris. What a delight to see them all! Pauline, Angela, Riya, and Sof met me at Berthillon. We indulged in some delicious ice cream then walked over to the nearby Seine, where we found a bench and happily chatted for a good hour or two. It was wonderful to hear about their adventures—at college and on a gap year—and to share a bit of my own sabbatical adventures with them. At the end, I successfully remembered to demand a photo to document our rendezvous, and Riya immediately produced a selfie stick.
After our meetup, I wandered around the streets of Ile St Louis a bit more, stopping in various boutiques. I even bought (gasp!) another scarf, much to Penelope’s chagrin when I showed it off later at home. We all have our vices…and I do love a scarf.
Friday morning we
headed north to the Belleville market, one of my parents’ favorites from their
extended stay in Paris in the summer of 2014.
We meandered through the market for a few hours, marveling at the sheer
number of produce stands—later, I looked up the online description and
discovered there are more than sixty different stands for fruit and veg. Impressive.
On a side note, I was tickled to discover the new (at least to me) presence of poetry on some Metro cars. London has had poems on the Tube for years, but this was my first sighting of poetry on the Paris Metro.
And then at the market, I spotted this banner for an upcoming Slam Poesie competition.
We continued on through the market, selecting berries for dessert and artichokes for dinner, and then… Penelope spied her heart’s desire. Or at least her desire of the moment. One of her favorite pastimes is imaginary play, complete with varied accessories. Living out of a suitcase has, as you can imagine, limited her wardrobe somewhat. So when she spotted the varied fabrics on display at the market—only one 2 euros a meter!—she pounced. Imagine, she said—it could be a scarf! or a shawl! or a dress! Indeed.
We continued on our way and next, she decided, she needed a bedazzled gown. So up she stepped to the stall, asked for children’s versions, and then proudly wore her new garment through the rest of the market. A passing woman commented, “Trop mignon! Ca merite un photo.” So take a photo we did.
We hopped on the metro back home to deposit our market purchases,
then headed to the ninth arrondissement to visit the Galeries Lafayette. We’d told my parents about the Funorama
exhibit on display there, and they’d decided they wanted to see it before the
celebration ended later this week.
En route, we walked into and then through the massive student protest, part of the worldwide Fridays for Future movement started by Swedish student Gerta Thunberg. Thousands of students were standing first in front of the Opera, then joining a massive march through central Paris.
Once we arrived at Galeries Lafayette, we all admired the stained glass dome and the newest additions. My folks declined to go out on the suspended trampoline (a wise decision), but my father and I did venture out on the glass sidewalk, one level above the trampoline. Amazing views!
Meanwhile, upstairs on the children’s toy and bookstore
floor, Grandma indulged her favorite granddaughter by purchasing a new queen
for her play castle at home, as well as an activity book based on Penelope’s
current favorite show, Miraculous Ladybug. A good day all around!
On Saturday, we woke up early—but for good reason. We wanted to visit the Vanves flea market. This marche aux puces is one of the best in town, with hundreds of stalls selling antiques, knickknacks, art, china—what the French call brocante. My father spotted and acquired an original and amusing sketch of Wagner (his favorite composer), while I admired this enormous map of Bretagne, one of my favorite regions in France.
Alas, the framed map would not have fit in our luggage, so instead I purchased this adorable wee brass mouse.
Meanwhile, Penelope had only to ask how much something cost
for it to be gifted to her by the small owner.
Granted, she was almost always asking about the smallest trinket in the
booth, but still! Needless to say, she
very much enjoyed the flea market—and of all the tiny treasures she brought home, she only paid for
one (after bargaining the stall owner down from 25 to 15 euros for the
porcelain box she’d been eyeing).
That afternoon, we spent our time mostly at home, catching up on schoolwork. We’d found some French books at the local Emmaus (a secondhand store, like Goodwill, a block or so away), and Penelope and I very much enjoyed reading this particular French story together.
On Sunday, having not yet had enough of the markets, we went to our third in three days. This time we headed to our own neighborhood market, the Bastille, which Penelope and I had visited some weeks ago. The Bastille has some wares, but is mostly fruit and veg. And pig snoots.
We enjoyed an hour or so of wandering around the market, and stopping from time to time to listen to the various musicians.
Our bags full of produce and a rotisserie chicken, we headed home for lunch. That afternoon, wanting make sure that Penelope had enough running around time, we decided to head back to the Parc Floral, in the Bois de Vincennes. My mother opted to stay home and rest, but my father came along to see what flowers might still be in bloom. He was delighted to discover there was also an organic wine festival happening that day as well. So Penelope ran off to play in the five enormous playgrounds, my dad strolled around the grounds and sampled some French wines, and I staked out a central bench and happily read a book for the next two hours. Life in Paris is pretty good. 🙂
We’d looked carefully at the forecast for the next days and quickly realized that one of the best days for our next outing was Monday—so we were up bright and early that morning, bound once again for Disneyland Paris.
We started the day at Walt Disney Studio Park, immediately heading for Crush’s Coaster, which didn’t disappoint. It was, once again, Penelope’s favorite of the day. We did a few more rides in this smaller park, ate lunch, and then headed across to Disneyland Park, where more rides awaited. I heard many more English accents this time, and we soon realized it was a Bank Holiday in the UK. But the crowds weren’t too bad at all, and we had plenty of time for all of the rides we wanted—and some of them two or three times!
At Grandma’s request, we stayed to the very end this time and enjoyed the grand finale light show, complete with music and dialogue in French, and terrific fireworks.
Then it was home via the train and metro, where we all collapsed into bed—happy, but very, very tired.
Thursday morning was spent at home, catching up on schoolwork, planning, and the blog. But by the afternoon we were ready for a bit more exploring, so we decided to visit a very small museum: the Orangerie. While the highlight is definitely the rooms constructed for Monet’s water lilies, the museum also holds a wonderful collection of other Impressionist art.
Afterward, we walked over to the nearby Tuileries playground where Jeremy and I read on a bench and Penelope raced around with some newfound friends. It’s such a delight to see her blend in with the French kiddos her age—to see her speaking a second language with her usual blend of friendliness and confidence.
On Friday, we headed back to the Louvre for round two. Due to renovation and staffing, a good portion of the Louvre is closed every weekday, and we’d been disappointed to find on our first visit that nearly all of the second floors were closed that day. And since that’s where most of the paintings are, we decided it would be worthwhile to return. We very much enjoyed our return trip, and Penelope enjoyed reading in the many comfortable chairs provided to tired patrons.
Oh and she really liked the Napoleon III apartments as well. So much so, in fact, that we’ve decided to definitely visit Versailles in the next few weeks.
We began our day by riding the 1 metro, which is Penelope’s favorite line in Paris. Running without actual drivers, the train’s first and last cars offer illustrated panels with many (inoperative) buttons for children to imagine themselves as les conducteurs. She first discovered this delightful feature at age three, and at age eight, it still appeals.
Our last stop of the day: a few scoops of ice cream at Berthillon, on Ile St. Louis. Often considered to be Paris’s best, the shop has several locations on the same street. We each chose a flavor (or two)… and agreed that Amorino still has our collective hearts. Berthillon was very good, no question… but Amorino remains our top pick in Paris.
On Saturday, Penelope and I had planned a girls’ day out, including a movie… in French! We booked our tickets to see La Princesse Des Glaces, Le Monde Des Miroirs Magiques, an animated film.
The movie was showing at a theater near le parc de la Villette… in the intriguingly-named Salle du Momes. When we arrived, we were delighted to discover that the cinema was reserved solely for children under 14 and their families. There were the usual stadium seats—but with lots of boosters—or families could choose couches, bean bags, or comfy mats on the floor of the front row. Huge bins of Legos were everywhere, along with climbing walls and ball pits. We’d never seen anything like it! And the idea, of course, is that kids can be free to be squirmy and wiggly and even run around during the movie—and no one will bat an eye, because we’re all in the Salle du Momes. Penelope was delighted, and spent the 20 minutes of the pre-show time playing in the various areas. During the movie itself she was glued to the screen, but I can definitely appreciate this kind of environment for little ones.
As for me? I’d say I understood about 75-80% of the film, which is pretty darn good! As I often say in daily conversation with clerks here, “Je peut comprendre mieux que je peut parler,” and I was delighted to discover that that sentiment is actually true. My French resurfaces a bit more with each year that Penelope spends in her immersion program, but living here has definitely put my skills to the test.
After the film, we headed back to the Cite des Enfants to enjoy some more hands-on kid museum time, then outside to one of the enormous playgrounds that dot the grounds of the Parc.
On Sunday, Jeremy and I planned to return to our regular art museum routine, and Penelope was excited to spend time with another of my former students. Angela has just finished her first year of college, and she’s visiting Pauline here in Paris before heading to the south of France for a summer program. Since the day was forecast to be a bit rainy, we’d found some arts and crafts at a local store, and prepped the dining room table for various games and activities. Later on, when the skies turned sunnier, Angela and Penelope finished crafting and headed for our local playground. At the end of the day, Penelope reported she had the “best time ever!”—and Jeremy and I soon learned that she’d convinced a second babysitter in a row into buying her a sweet treat. Ha!
Meanwhile, the parents were visiting Le Petit Palais, a positively gorgeous building that houses the permanent art collection of Paris (as well as rotating exhibitions). The current exhibition opens in about a week, but Jeremy and I very much enjoyed the permanent collection—eclectic though it might be. Ranging from antiquity to art nouveau, from sculpture to painting to decorative arts, the collection is housed in a wonderful building adorned with carvings, murals, and spectacular ironwork.
After a few very pleasant hours of strolling through the museum, we rode the metro back to our neighborhood and stopped for a café. Which, in our case, was a pair of Coke Zeros (tres American, I know) and two delicious desserts. As the rain returned and came drizzling down, we enjoyed sitting under the awning and watching Paris scurry by.
Dinner that night was perhaps our most enjoyable yet, at a neighborhood creperie. We first visited Crêperie bretonne, fleurie… de l’épouse du marin (yes, that’s the restaurant’s full name) in summer 2014, visiting my folks, who were living in Paris for three months. In fact, it’s the very place where Penelope tasted her first sweet crepe!
She devoured this evening’s crepe too quickly to catch a similar photo… but we’ll be back with the grandparents in a few weeks, I’m sure. Perhaps we can stage this scene once again. 🙂
On Monday we headed for the grand magasins, as we’d promised Penelope a chance to experience the huge trampoline-like structure at Galeries Lafayette—it’s part of their “Funorama” campaign. They’ve temporarily set up play areas on each floor of the massive department store, and the piece de resistance is definitely this contraption, suspended under the enormous stained glass dome.
After waiting in line (and donning special shoe covers and/or shoes), ten hardy souls at a time are ushered out on to the slowing bobbing surface. We were admonished not to jump or run, a rule I soon found myself endorsing wholeheartedly. Even with slow, careful pacing, the “ground” wobbled wildly beneath us… and there we were, walking precariously above the heads of the largely oblivious shoppers below. Jeremy had, wisely, declined the experience and was watching us from a floor above. Penelope, however, was in her element. A tiny daredevil, she finished the experience saying that she’d like to go again, but only if she could also jump super high and see what would happen.
Our next stop was a few streets away, at an indoor family center called Tete dans les Nuages (Head in the Clouds).
Imagine something like a game arcade, but including bowling, a bucking bronco ride, and virtual reality games as well. We purchased our tokens and got to work: skeeball, bowling, air hockey, basketball hoops, whack-a-mole and more. A very fun way to spend a rainy afternoon!
Tuesday arrived at last… Jeremy’s final day in Paris. I had scheduled an appointment at Les Bains du Marais, so Jeremy and Penelope spent the morning at home together. I’ve always wanted to try a hammam-style spa, and there are many here in Paris. I scheduled an appointment for time in the steam and sauna rooms, followed by a traditional “gommage.” I only snapped one pic, in my fancy robe, before heading into a steam-obscured room with all of the other Parisian ladies. After my treatment, I relaxed for a while in the napping room, sipped on mint tea, and then eventually managed to revive enough for the walk home.
That afternoon was again a rainy one, so we opted for an already wet museum… and off we went to one of Paris’ three aquariums. The Aquarium Tropicale is housed in a spectacular building, built in 1931 for the Colonial Exposition. The entirety of the outside is carved with depictions of the varied regions of France—and its colonies, at the time.
The aquarium is certainly smaller than Monterey Bay Aquarium at home, but we found the displays both charming and informative—everything is described both in English and French. And where else can you spot a squinting fish?
We particularly enjoyed the various crustaceans, puffer fish, and the pair of albino alligators.
After a lovely afternoon with the sea creatures, we headed
home on the metro for a final family dinner.
Penelope and Jeremy played several rounds of Uno and watched a few YouTube
videos (Penelope’s current favorite: Joseph’s
Machines) while I stuffed odds and ends into Jeremy’s luggage.
It’s been a wonderful first month in Paris—and tomorrow we
bid a bon voyage to Jeremy and say bonjour to Penelope’s grandparents, who will
be living in the apartment with us during our second month here. More adventures to come!