Last Day in Paris. :0(

Saturday was my last day in Paris, regrettably. :0( The one nice thing though was that Owen had a free day to do as he pleased (no seminars) so we got to spend the day together, which was really nice. :0)

The idea of going to Versailles was brought up the night before, but we decided we'd rather stay in Paris instead of doing a day trip. So we headed off to the D'Arc for some pics. Of course Natasha was as un-cooperative as ever to let us hold her and take a photo so we ended up with a twisty toddler instead.

We walked down the Champs D'Elysee, had some breakfast and then headed to the Eiffel Tower. I had been in Paris for a week and had not went, waiting for Saturday so that Owen and I could go together. He has seen it numerous times, but I had not. I will say I was not disappointed. The park/greenery surrounding the Tower is beautiful. There were many couples, families and children running around enjoying the summer day or just laying on the ground relaxing. I could have spent the entire day there enjoying the sun.

Natasha was impatient though after a little over an hour and we were suppose to meet up with Sannie to return her stroller so we headed off to the Metro. We went back towards our hotel, hit the mall to exchange Owen's watch for one not as big/bulky, ate some lunch and then went to the hotel. Owen napped, Natasha did not (she napped for 45 mins while we were out) and then we went to meet Sannie to give her back her stroller.

After we met her, we went back to the Eiffel Tower where we went down to the Sein for our River Cruise. Natasha hated most of it (tired) but I found it enjoyable. Plus at this point in our vacation I was getting use to the daily tantrums so was able to block her out fairly well. hehe Yes I'm a horrible mother.

We had tickets to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but bc of Natasha's mood, we decided to veto going up and just had back to the hotel. I needed to pack, Tash needed to go to bed and Owen was cranky from Natasha being cranky. :p

Sadly that was my last day in Paris. I left Sunday morning at 8am and spend a super long day travelling back to Alberta.

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Sacre de Coeur and Musee Rodin

The original "plan" for Friday was to go to Versailles. Before I left everyone had told me how lovely it is and it was a "must see". It is not however, located inside of Paris, it's about a 40-45 mins ride on the RER and a short bus ride. My concern with going by myself was that I did not think Natasha would do well with the ride there. Once there, I'd have to stop to let her eat and run around a bit and I'm sure she would continue to be a crazy monkey in the castle and in the Gardens. After her reaction to the Louvre earlier in the week, I decided it was not worth spending an entire day in Versailles when I would more than likely be spending 90% of chasing around my toddler and handling temper tantrums.

Owen also pointed out that because it is October, a lot of the statues may be covered for winter, the garden would not be as pretty as it was in the spring/summer, the fountain probably turned off (most of the time) and so that left only the castle. I decided for this particular trip, I'd skip Versailles and wait until we came back again to visit. Owen wants to come back again without Natasha so we can enjoy some of the night life of Paris. :0)

Instead, I got up, managed to work out my route on the Metro without any problems (a feat in itself!) and headed off to see Sacre de Coeur. It had been on my 'maybe' list of things to see as it did not get a strong opinion when I mentioned it to friends. I was also told it was in a bit more of a shadier park of town. :p Anyway, I hopped the metro and went regardless.

To be honest, I liked it a lot more then Notre Dame. It really is a gorgeous Basilica! With Natasha in tow, we climbed up to the very top! Not the best journey to take when you have a stroller, a 2 yr old, a back pack and a big DSLR camera. I felt like a real pack mule. Plus, about half way up Natasha decided she was not budging and tantrum'd up the last flight. :p I stopped at each "level" to give her 'breaks' but really, it was just too far for her.

Once at the top I went inside and sat down, giving Natasha a rest, some raisins and enjoying the choir and the beauty of the inside. When leaving, I started to dread the climb down. That's when from the steps of the Basilica I saw a trolly/train. I managed to get Natasha over to it with minimal fussing. You are required to purchase a ticket, but it's the same ticket you use for the Metro and since I had an Orange pass for the week it was not a problem. I only wish I'd seen it before I trekked all the way to the top!

It's actually though, easy to miss. When you walk up the hill to the entrance of the Basilica, you need to walk down the narrow street to the left and there you will find the trolly/train. It's blocked from view by the HUGE carasol located at the bottom of the stairs.

Next I went to Musee Rodin. Again not something that scored high on the list of things to see, but my friend Sannie highly recommended it as a beautiful museum and one that is quite a bit smaller and usually a lot less busy then the other ones.

I can say she was not lying, the museum was beautiful. About 1/4 of it is outside (the famous "The Thinker" statue) while there are 2 more floors located in a building (where you'll find the other famous statue "The Kiss"). The gardens though that surround the statues are gorgeous! There is also a cute little cafe located in the back of the gardens if you want to stop for a bit of a snack.

Natasha enjoyed this museum immensely since she got to run around like crazy in the gardens and there was not anything for her to break, crawl on or touch. Statues are pretty sturdy. :p

"The Kiss"


I did a quick lap inside, was told nicely no photography allowed (I actually did not see any signs, not that anyone pays attention to them, but I do try to) then a nice leisurely walk around the gardens before I left to head back to the hotel.

Arc de Triomphe & Shopping with Sannie

We got a late start to our day yesterday and it did not bode well with Nastasha. Since arriving in Paris I am up by 7.30/8am and we are out the door by 9am at the latest. Yesterday though we were meeting Sannie again at 1.30 to do some shopping and since the only thing on the agenda for the day was to see D'Arc Triomphe, I had some time to kill in the morning.

We left around 11, earlier then I planned as Natasha was getting ansy in the room and driving me crazy. I braved the Metro once again and went to Charles De Gaulle Etoile to see the D'Arc. I asked Sannie if I had to walk anywhere once I got off the Metro and she assured me that there was no way I could miss the Triomphe and she was right. :p

We went up the stairs and right there was the D'Arc. It was HUGE (not that I expected any less) and quite an impressive monument. I walked around the traffic circle taking pictures before I noticed the entrance to go under the street to come up in the centre of it. I thought it would be neat to see it up close so headed over. Again, not stroller friendly. You go down a flight of stairs to get to the underground walkway and IF you want to take an elevator up one floor (which is barely even a full floor) they charge you 5.50 Euro. There are no ramps for wheelchairs or strollers so I'm assuming even though it says "Wheelchair accessable" they mean "For 5.50 Euro we are wheelchair accessable" :p

So feeling more and more like a pack mule I treked up more stairs (getting pushed a couple of times by other tourists) to get inside the D'Arc. I'll admit while it was 'neat' I liked my view from across the street much better.

I left after walking around briefly (really there is not that much to see) and then walked down Champs Elysee to go to the Franklin Metro to meet Sannie for some shopping. It was a nice few hours of shopping (We only lost Natasha once, oops!) before we sat down at the cafe for a Hot Chocolate (yogurt for Natasha) before we left and I came back to the Hotel.

I did not stop in many shops as I was running a bit late to meet Sannie and knew Owen and I'd be back together on Saturday and have more time.

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The Louvre & Musee D'Orsay

Since we arrived in France I've sort of just let each day come as it may. I had a general idea before we left what I wanted to see (D'Arc, Eiffel Tower, Musee D'Orsay, Louvre, Versailles) but I really did not 'schedule' anything or say "On this day I'll do this". On Wednesday, we had to transfer hotels and when I learned the latest check out the front desk would allow was 12 noon, I figured it would be a good day to hit the 2 museums on my list as I knew for sure that the Louvre would take up a bunch of time. Owen's final seminar of the day was not completed until 4.45pm at which point we boarded a bus for the Hilton, so I had a lot of time to kill.

The day started out really dreary/rainy though and it was one of those days I just wish we could have holed up in the hotel room or just went out for a couple of hours and then came back to our room. But regardless I needed to re-pack our stuff, get it taken to the front desk for storage and be on my way. We also were going to try and get my name on the room so I could end up at the hilton but the rooms were in a block of "Total", not Owen's actual name until we got there.

I stopped at our usual cafe for a baguette and juice then took the metro to central Paris. The first day I went down it was sunny and bright and after looking at a lot of my photos of Notre Dame they were not that great, so I walked by there again and took some more (outside only) then headed down to the Louvre.

Now I have to admit, I did not love the Louvre. Sorry but I hated the crowds, the pushing, the rude people and I'd add line ups to the list, but Owen had made me up a Total Name Badge before we left which gave me free admission. Word of advice to anyone going, pre-purchase your tickets. They have I think 3 or 4 admission stands where you can buy tickets but the line up for that was just crazy!

Another thing to note is that it is not very stroller friendly. When you come in through the Pryamid if you have a stroller you are hushered to one side and told to go to the left where there is an elevator to take you down to the ground floor. That though, is the easiest elevator to find. I also discovered when I left that they are super strict that it is used for wheelchairs and strollers only. An abled bodied guy tried to get on it when I was leaving and the security guard who mans it was quick to point him towards the stairs. Note: This does not apply to the other elevators in the Museum, I got pushed/shoved around and people butted in front of me several times to get on the elevator ahead of me.

That though, is where all easy access for strollers ends. I spent the rest of my time at each section trying to find the elevator access to go up to each floor and once on that floor trying to go up the flights of stairs within that area to get to a certain exhibit. I found it super frustrating! I tried once to use the escalator and the security guy was quick to point me towards an elevator. I know I sound nuts but seriously there are no signs (that I saw) to point the way. All the elevators are down unmarked hallways, through corridors and around corners. If Owen was with me, we would have just take the stairs and he could have lifted the stroller. I considered not taking the stroller but Tash is just too young and would have been too tired to make it the day without it.

Since I was having trouble finding the elevator I explored I think Sully first, which was Midievil and Egyptian. It was nice, Natasha got out and ran around a bit. The took over an hour. I then went to the Denon Wing so I could see the Mona Lisa. It seemed silly go to the Louvre and not visit the Mona Lisa.

See is probably the wrong term to use though. By the time I located the elevator, got there, found it (although it's super close to the entrance and signs point the way) there was a swarm of about 50+ ppl around it. So more pushing ensused as I got in close enough to snap a few photos. I walked around to view some of the other paintings and then left about 30 mins later.

I did break down and spend the 6 EURO on an audio guide, which was really cool. Well worth the money IMO.

I don't want to be a downer about the Louvre, it's a gorgeous Museum, but for someone who hates the crowds, has a 2 yr old Toddler in tow with a stroller it was just not that great of an idea. I fully intend on returning to Paris again so I'll make another visit. I'd advise anyone else who has it on their list to not only pre-purchase tickets as I mentioned but show up right at 9am. Make your first stop the Denon Wing to see the Mona Lisa before it gets to crazy then get the Audio guide (if with a spouse/bf/family I'd get one and share it) and enjoy the rest of the time there.

My other recommendation is to get a Map/Plan of the Louvre so you can view it before you visit and pick the things you want to see the most. There is no way you'll see it all in one day!

After the Louvre I went to the gardens/park across the street from it and let Tash blow off more energy by running around before she decided she'd get back in the stroller. I then headed down to Musee D'Orsay, which I have to say I really enjoyed! So much less crowd, less pushy people and although not as big, just more enjoyable for me. I really loved the statues and the artwork.

It was around 2.45pm after we finished at D'Orsay so I started the 'hike' back to the Chatelet Metro and got back to part of Paris before stopping at Bercy Village for a late Lunch. I ran into B again and we had lunch together then headed back to the Hotel at 4.30pm.

Little did we know that our Husband's final seminar of the day was running late. The CEO that was doing the final seminar of the day was late, did not actually get to the hotel until 4.30! and so the class did not end until 6pm! It was fun listening to B's daughter who is 4 whine that she was tired, sweaty and boooorrreedddd and my toddler run around like a manaic bc she'd not had a nap all day so was all hung strung. heh

Anywho, they were let out at 6pm finally, we got our bags, got on the bus and got to the Hilton Hotel, which right now I hate. I've had to go to the Front Desk to have our room key 'fixed' 3xs because it stopped working in the door, there is no bellman services (I know Pullman Hotel spoiled me), we were put in a disgusting smoking room even though a non-smoking one was requested, but they ran out and our "King" bed is really just one big wooden headboard with two twin matresses pushed together. And if I want to whine even more :p The pillows are super flat and small and the 'blanket' is the thinnest duvet I've ever seen. I really miss Pullman Hotel and Resorts - Bercy. Such a nice hotel!

Breakfast with a Friend and then a visit of Cimetière Du Père Lachaise

Today for breakfast I met up with Sannie and her little girl. She was oh so nice to take the Metro (actually I think she took a cab! heh) to my hotel and then we walked to the Metro together and took that to I **think** Bastille? I know we had to do 2 changes, which is why she took a cab here first so she would avoid switching on the way here.

She and L show up about 10:15 and we headed off the closest Metro (Cour St-Emillion), did two transfers and then stopped for Breakfast at a small cafe. I have to say that I still can not get over the prices here for food! Since arriving in Paris I've pretty much been living on Baguettes, Croissants and any other type of bread since it's the cheapest thing (2-2.50 EURO). We had a nice chat, talking about her Husband's transfer next yr, her pregnancy, service in Paris Restaurants etc. She's just as sweet in person as she comes across on a parenting board we are both on.

After breakfast we took a walk and I found out that she actually lives super close to where we ate and that the Cimetière Du Père Lachaise was close by as well as L's daycare. So we walked in the direction of the Père Lachaise and also to get L some sushi for lunch before Daycare. We parted ways about 10 mins from Père Lachaise with promises to meet up later on in the week at Champs de Mars, which is near the Eiffel Tower. She has graciously offered to take some photos of Natasha and I in front of the tower so I'm pretty excited. Owen is suppose to have a free day on Saturday but I'm not banking on it. Everyone says it is not really a 'on your own' day so I decided not to schedule it for that day since chances are he won't be able to come anyway.

Before we parted, Sannie graciously loaned me her Maclaren stroller (I left the Frog at the hotel bc I could not bear to use it on the Metro again). :0) She said she had another one at home, plus one other stroller and that I was free to use it for the week since it easily fits through the turn styles in the metro and is super light for lifting up stairs. I was pretty happy she was willing to loan it to me! It will make the rest of the week so much easier while travelling the Metro which I was starting to feel down about.

As Sannie said, the Cimetière Du Père Lachaise was just a quick 10 minute walk down the street. Not the best attraction for an umbrella stroller, as it has very stoney and rickety pathways, but after about 5 mins there Natasha decided she was 'rested' enough to walk. Mind you not beside me, mostly running in front of me. The Cementary was empty enough though that I did not mind, as long as she stayed within view.

I was actually more impressed with the Cementary then I was with Notre Dame. The Monuments are HUGE and a lot of the Crypts are very beautiful. Some though had been vandalized which made me sad. The place at the front entrance that sold maps did not open until 2pm but my guide book Paris Day by Day had a map, not that I really used it. It was just so nice to walk around aimlessly enjoying the soft breeze. Plus, there are a lot of trees in the cementary and it was a bit like home (NB not AB) to see all the diff. coloured leaves.

When I started to notice Natasha was getting tired (and NOT wanting to ride in the stroller) I decided to pull out the map so I could at least visit Jim Morrison's grave (to say I'd been there) before I left. I imagined everyone that heard I had been there would ask if I went to his grave since the Cementary is known as his resting place.

My guide book told me to 'follow the crowds and you'd find his grave'. hah! I must have gotten there early (I don't have a watch so while I'm out I rely on the numerous big clocks on towers/buildings to figure out the time) because the cementary was practically empty and there were no crowds leading the way. :p What I found instead was a lot of ppl asking me where his grave was. :P I checked with my map several times and I got roughly in the area but still had trouble locating it. I kept looking for a crowd around a particular tombstone but never found any.

I guess as well I was 'assuming' his grave would be a bit more elaborate (bigger?), so it would really stand out. I eventually found it and as it turns out, it's quite small and not really as nice as the others in the cementary. It's also in off the pathway a bit and the only grave that has fence in front of it.

There were some flowers thrown in front of his headstone, the busk of his head apparently was stolen years ago by "fans" and it was not as 'dirty' (cigarette butts and the like, again from "fans") as the book mentioned it would be. It's probably vandalized a lot less now as I noticed there is a security guard that watches when the crowd around it gets too big. As I was leaving it did start to get crowd.

After a young boy finished video taping it for a few minutes and stepped away, I moved up, zoomed in on his headstone so I got a shot of the name/inscription, zoomed out and snapped a few more pictures and then started my way back to the entrance after prying Natasha off the fence as she wanted to climb over. :p

She had her first Tantrum of the day on the way out. There were several Crows on the ground which she decided she wanted to chase. Ever since we arrived in Europe she has taken great joy at chasing ANY bird that is on the ground and because the birds are some what immune to humans she can get pretty close before her shrill squeals scare them off. The Crows though were not going in the direction I was going in though, so there were much tears when I finally picked her up. She lost it when I put her in the stroller and strapped her in. It's amazing how well her screeches carried through the 'hollow-ness' of the Cementary. :P But like any other time she gets upset (at home or while on vacation) I just keep moving. It's a mom skill that you learn early on. It's the same with the looks of judgement as well as the looks of "I've been there and I feel your pain" you just take them all in stride and carry on your way.

I made it out of the cementary and as we walk toward the metro she slowly to calms down. I got a bit nervous when I followed the map and did not see it, (Paris does not believe in giving you any 'extra' warning through signage about where something is. You are pretty much right on top of it before you see the sign stating HEY! Here it is!) but found it once I crossed the street. My map led me to believe it was on the corner, it was not, the entrance was in the middle of the street. :p

With Sannie's awesome directions about what Lines to take (2, 6, 14) and knowing where I was going (always helpful to know the metro name you want to end up at :p) I found my way back to the hotel without a problem. The Umbrella stroller (Maclaren) was also much much easier to get through Metro instead of my Frog. It fits through the gates/turnstyles and is a lot easlier to get up the stairs. Although on my way to the Cementary I did stop at a fruit market and get some more fruit for Tash so I could not really fold it up to go up the stairs. As before though, many nice Parisans offered assistance. :0)

I'm not sure what I'm going to do tomorrow. I was thinking I might try the Musee D'Orsay again and maybe the Louvre, but I think I might be pushing it by trying to fit both museums in. Today we got back to the room around 3.30ish and as mentioned, near the end of it, Tash was beat. I would like to go back down though. And of course I still want to see the Eiffel Tower and D'Arc but Owen keeps telling me our next Hotel, Paris Hilton De La Defense is a lot closer to both those Monuments then where we are now.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Paris - Day 1.

We arrived in Paris yesterday afternoon. Doodlebug fell asleep in the cab ride to the hotel so we stayed in for a few hours for her to get some much needed rest before we headed out for a look around the hotel. It was a beautiful evening to just walk around.

We wandered through a side street where a festival of some sort was going on. There were tons of people and games for everyone to take part in for free - connect four, a ring toss, a wooden 3D-ish puzzle and a ton more. The real treat however was the small cafe where we got to (well I got to, Owen has been here before :P) have my first taste of Paris Bread. Everyone had told me how yummy it was, but I was not expecting it to tast soooo Fresh and delicious! I don't think I'll ever be able to eat bread not from France the same way again!

After a quick snack, we wandered around for a bit more before we came back to the hotel and visited with a friend that is attending the same Conference as Owen.

Today was my first day on my own since we arrived in Europe. I was super nervous about getting lost and trying to find my way around the Metro and I had good reason! The Metro in Paris is crazy compared to any other metro I've been on before. They have a TON of different lines, not to forget there is also there is the RER, another line for longer commutes. Everyone I talked to about the Metro were all like "OMG the metro in Paris is AMAZING!" umm yeah amazingly confusing. Each metro line is like it's own little community underground!

I had a metro map and while it was super easy to get to the metro from our current hotel (Pullam) and then take that to Chatelet which dropped me off super close to central/downtown Paris (close to shops, Notre Dame, Musee D'Orsay, the Louvre), it was the getting home part that confused me. But I'll get to that part.

After Owen showed me where the Metro was (yes I made him before his conference started for the day) we came back to the hotel, met up with S and then I left and Natasha and I had a baguette for breakfast. I then decided that it was now or never and time to brave the Metro and find my way downtown so that I could go see some attractions/monuments. I also wanted to prove to my husband that I was not going to spend the whole time holed up in the hotel room bc I did not want to go out on my own with Natasha.

So I headed to the Metro, which was easy enough. I even had zero issue with Tash's stroller. There was an escalator going down as well as stairs. I bought my Orange Ticket (one week pass) and learned that I needed a "special" ID card as well as a photo on that. She told me they are for residents of Paris normally. blah So after I got that, I found a booth that does passport photos, ID photos and the like for 4 EURO, so had those done before I headed off for my train. Again, this was the EASIEST part of the whole metro experience. I had no idea how BIG the metro system was as it was so easy to get to the train. It was really the only line out that I could see.

The trains are a bit roomier then our Transit ones, come a lot more frequently and are a lot faster. (Or so it seems) The doors also do not have that reflex action where if you are half way through they will re-open. Once they start to close you need to have all limbs out of the car or risk having them permanently stuck in there when the train departs. Seriously, they do not pop open when they meet resistance, like your body or a stroller.

I arrived in downtown Paris w/o a hitch, but had issues getting above ground. I have NO idea why they call the metro wheelchair friendly as I could not find an elevator in sight and there was no escalators at all leading upwards. Some nice Parisans helped me get my stroller up the set of stairs.

So I made it out, got my bearings and the first thing I see is GAP and Baby GAP ha! which I avoided. I checked my map, trying to not look too tourist-y and set out to find Notre Dame since it was the closest of all the things I wanted to see. After some brief confusion, and then finally figuring out the map I found it.

I have to say I agree with Owen, while impressive, and definitely quite massive, I was not quite taken with Notre Dame. It has made me realize though, that I should have brought my kit lens (18-55m) for some of the momuments. While my 28-105 was great, I really needed something that would allow me to get the full building in the frame without having to step back 5 miles to get it!

Anywho, I took some photos, but again I was not overly 'thrilled' or as excited to see Notre Dame as I thought I'd be. I don't know, it just does not seem as impressive in person as I pictured it to be. I actually almost left when I realized that perhaps I should go inside. ha!

So Tash and I went in (Notre Dame is stroller friendly!) and looked around. I took some photos but again, the inside did not strike me as anything 'marvelous'. Perhaps my expectations for Notre Dame were just too high? I don't know. /shrug There was actually a service going on way in the front of the church and I felt bad for the priests (?) that were attending and had to listen to ppl tromping in and out and flashing going off every 30 seconds. I guess they are probably use to it.

After leaving Notre Dame (Tash played in the park in the back for a bit to burn off some steam) I headed off to Musee D'Orsay. I really really should have double checked my book Paris Day to Day because after a 15-ish minute walk all the way down to the Musee, I discovered that it is closed on Mondays. :p I was not alone though, several people walked up to the doors, read that it was closed and walked away.

At this point it was around 12.30ish and I was debating going to the Louvre. I realized though that I had left my ID badge back at the hotel (Total employees get in for free) and it was close to Natasha's nap, so I was risking parental suicide by trying to take in the Louvre and actually enjoy it. She was due for a nap and I doubted there was any chance I'd really enjoy the Louvre with a cranky kid. So instead, since I pretty much had to walk by it, I walked back up La Seine and just peeked at the outside area of the Louvre.

I think because of the book/movie, The DaVinci Code, I was expecting the Pryamid to be a bit larger, but it was pretty cool all the same. The entire museum has a HUGE courtyard out front as well as gardens (which I did not see). I snapped a few photos (which I have to say my photos are not as great as I had hoped (just looking at them through the camera as it's not easy to take a photo while making sure your 2 yr old does not run off. She's getting braver and braver all the time in how far she will run from me) but they are memories all the same and I am far from being a Pro. :0)

As Tash was prepared for a meltdown (tired, hot, hungry) I gave her the extra baguette from this morning (still fresh!) and that subdued the pending tantrum as well as an Eiffel Tower Keychain I bought for 1 EURO, and we headed back to Chatelet metro. Again, no problem whatsoever finding the metro (I had picked a massive fountain as my landmark to get back to). It was first getting down there (again, not stroller friendly! I was told it would not be, but there is no way Tash could walk all day w/o getting tired!).

First I get down there and suddenly instead of just a walk to the Train like I was expecting (from my previous experience at the first station this morning) there were tunnels everywhere. I could not find information, so while Parisans rushed around me I wandered down one tunnel and the next trying to either a) a spot that looked familar or b) information and praying they spoke a teeny bit of english bc we all know mine sucks.

Luckily, following the exit signs I found information, however, upon walking up to the info desk I realized I had not carefully memorized exactly what station I had come from. oops! I looked at the metro map and all I could remember was that it had been 4 stops from my station. Not very helpful. So I guessed the station, she told me what line I needed (4, which was totally wrong! I should have taken #14. Ahh good ole hindsight!) and I headed that way. More lugging of the stroller down the stairs ensued, I think Natasha had a tantrum in there somewhere because she wanted to push it, before I found the #4 line. I get on and watch at each stop and realize this is not the correct train. heh

But, being the person I am, I count out the 4 stops, get off and then make my way to above ground to give in and find a taxi. That was pretty easy, except he spoke very little english. I told him "Pullman Hotel" and he was like umm...huh? Finally after some hand singles from both of us and me then asking for un stylo et Papier, I write down "Pullman Hotel" and he goes Ahhh Pullman hotel! Obviously my accent has much to be desired. :p

So 9.70 EURO later, we arrive at the correct hotel, I give him a nice tip, come up to my room, put Natasha down for her nap and make mental note that tomorrow I'll remember what station I started at. :p We move to the Hilton on Wednesday which is a LOT closer to the Eiffel Tower and D'Arc so I'm sort of saving to see those once we switch Hotels. It's quite a walk from Chatelet Station and the metro is confusing me enough as it is without trying to take it right to the Tower. On Friday Owen's co-worker's wife is going to Versailles, so I'm hoping to go with them. They are coming to Paris on Wed. but are spending a night in Brussels first. I'd like to see Cimetiere Du Pere Lachaise as well, so perhaps they are making a visit to that too?

Apparently Versailles is super easy to get to on the RER (30-40 min train ride) but I'm a bit nervous to go that far on my own! I think tomorrow I'll give Sannie a call and see if she wants to meet up somewhere to shop or what not.

Amsterdam - Day 2

Today we decided to be more organized then the day before. While it was fun to just get "lost" in Amsterdam, I still really wanted to see the Anne Frank House and also the Rijksmuseum. Madame Tussard's Wax Museum was also on my list, but Owen has something against Wax Museums. Whenever we've been somewhere that there has been a Wax Museum, Owen has always balked at going in. I'm not sure if they freak him out or he just finds the whole thing silly. Either way, I've yet to get him to go in one with me.

Due to the HUGE line up to get into The Anne Frank House the day before, we decided to set the alarm for 7.30, eat a quick breakfast, and get there before it opened at 9am. Other ppl obviously had the same idea, so when we arrived at about 8.45am, there was a line up, but only about 20ish ppl, not 100+ that there was the day before. So we decided to stand in line and see just how long it would take.

Not long after it opened (5 mins?) we got in. The line actually moved really quickly! Unfortunately, Natasha decided to be the devil child, so neither of us got much out of the whole museum bc she was running around room to room screeching and laughing. I've spoke to people that have been there before and they say how emotional the museum makes them feel, but for us, nada. You really need to be able to listen to the video at the start and read the notes about each item on the wall and in display cases. It was a bit disappointing to spend €7.50 each on tickets to see something that you get rushed through and do not have any opportunity to enjoy and take in.

After we leave we decide to forge ahead and visit the Rijkmuseum, even though we could have a repeat. It's funny she has never acted like that before so I'm not sure what got into her.

After a very long walk to the Rijkmuseum (€10 each, kids under 3 free), we went in, expecting it to be a disaster but overall, Natasha was really good. A small difference at this museum was I was able to take my stroller all the way through, so she was in that for the most part. I really enjoyed the Museum. I'm going to sound like a real dork, but it's the first "real" museum I've ever been in. It's pretty amazing to see Rembrant's and the like up close.

After the Rijkmuseum I would have loved to have taken a Canel tour, but they did not look very stroller friendly and we figured once we were on the boat, Natasha would want to run around, so instead we walked around to another part of Amsterdam we had not visited the previous day before finding a place to eat.

While I enjoyed Amsterdam (Loved the streets, how close everything is, the architecture), I hated the number of smokers and there lack of concern about where they smoked. We could be at an outdoor cafe eating and someone would stop right at our table, light up, and smoke right in our faces until they were done and move on. Even more disgusting is that they do not have public ashtrays, they just toss the butts on the ground, so the sidewalks are littered with butts. Another couple at the B&B we are staying in laughed about it as well, saying that they have one in their mouth and another up their nose ready to light up with the other one is done.

They had just come from Nice and the guy said he was afraid to sit on the beaches for fear of getting butts in his swim trunks. :P

Amsterdam - Day 1, Bike Capital of the World

After a bit of a restless night (I woke up at 3am and could not get back to sleep for 3 hrs, Natasha woke up around 4.30am screeching - I think she was disoriented and confused) we had a late breakfast and decided to explore Amsterdam.

My first impressions of Amsterdam yesterday as we walked through the streets were just how many bicycles there were! It's crazy! I would guess that bicycles outnumber cars almost. They certainly run the roads here, unlike back in Calgary where a driver would sooner hit a cyclist then let them take up space on the roadway. The "bike way" is even wider then some of the sidewalks we walked on.

The other thing that strikes me about Amsterdam is the cobblestone streets and the canel. It's so different to be walking down a paved street with a canel(s) running beside it or in some cases a street, canel and another street. It all seems so peaceful and serene in some places.

Even though The Anne Frank House and Rikjsmuseum were both recommended to us, we decided to spend our first day in Amsterdam 'getting lost'. So after breakfast, we headed out without any particular destination in mind. Natasha seemed content to sit while we pushed her in her stroller (which I have to mention it was definitely worth bringing the Bugaboo vs the small maclaren which would not have manuevered well at all on the cobblestone) while I took photos of the canel and various buildings.

We did end up walking by The Anne Frank House, however, the line up to get it was down the street and around the block. I'd estimate about 100+ ppl. We both decided it was not worth the wait and that we'd get up early the next day to beat the line up.

It turned out to be a beautiful day, so we spent most of it walking around after we had a bite to eat. We headed back to the B&B for Tash's nap (surprisingly even with the time change she's still crabby and in need of a nap at 1pm Amsterdam time, which is early morning back home). All of ended up napping before we left again.

Our first stop was food. Unlike Owen who fills up on breakfast, I require my 3 meals a day when travelling. The prices here are a bit steep (exchange at the bank when we left was 1.4856) - €12.50 for a cheeseburger/fries, €9.95 for tortellini in red sauce, €2 for a soda, €2.25 for a glass of wine. Some seem on par while others, like the fries and burger are crazy.

After having supper we went to the red light district. You can't really come to Amsterdam without going there or visiting a cafe. Since I can't visit the cafes, we only had the choice of the Red Light District. I had envisioned something a lot louder and rowdier but it was actually fairly quiet. Our sweet daughter waved to all the "ladies" as we walked down the street. :p They all waved back and smiled which made me laugh.

We spent the rest of the night just walking around. It's actually really nice there. It feels like late summer. When we left home it was starting to get cold. I hope the weather holds up in Paris as well.

Oh What a Journey!

For months leading up to our trip to Amsterdam and Paris, the common question I was asked most frequently was "So what are you doing with Natasha while you're gone?" I guess friends and family felt we were being overly ambitious to take a toddler on a 20 hr flight (including layovers/wait times) and then spend another day travelling by train to Amsterdam. They were not the only ones. My husband also was much opposed to the idea, but I was determined to see the Eiffel Tower and visit Paris, so I ignored everyone else and figured "How bad an it be??" My other thought was "What? Are we going to wait until she's 15 yrs old before we ever travel again?" Whenever anyone ever asks me if I regret anything, my answer is always "I wish we would have had the money to travel more before we had Natasha. So now that we do have the ability to travel I'm not going to prevent myself from visiting cool parts of the world just because I have a 2 yr old.

The first leg of the journey was well timed. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and after a 20 mins wait to get through customs (and Owen's carry on being swabbed. No idea what was up with that?) We made it to our gate where Natasha spent the rest of the 2hr wait playing with a play structure. As luck would have it, our flight to Montreal departed at 12:40 and while I was holding Natasha for take off, she fell asleep for about 1.5 hrs. The rest of the flight was uneventful as she watched "The Backyardigans" on the tv. I was also happy, that even though Owen missed out on First/Executive class for bringing along his spouse, Total did pre-pay for our meal. I know, it's a small thing but it made me happy.

We made it into Montreal with 15 mins to spare to get to our Gate. Now if any part of the journey was going to be difficult, I figured this would be it. The flight was 6hrs, and even though it was overnight, I did not 'assume' like Owen did that she'd sleep most of it. Naptimes she is great. You put her in her crib at 1pm, she's asleep in 10 mins. For bedtime she lays up there and talks/babbles for 20-30 mins. Luckily she did not fuss much and eventually did fall asleep on Owen. Of course it was at this time that the guy in the window seat decided he had to go to the bathroom(he requested to move to free up the seat for us but the plane was 100% full). She had just fallen asleep so was not sleeping too deeply, but we somehow managed to get up without waking her and let him out. He was nice enough to spend some time at the back of the plane before returning to his seat. It was a only a brief sleep, but she was still tantrum free when she woke up for the rest of the flight to Paris.

We arrived in Paris around 8.30am the following morning, tired, but still having a day of travel left. We left the airport terminal and went down to the train terminals where we had a 3.5 hr wait for our first train to Brussels. This is where our "fun" and challenges of the trip began. By this time, I was exhausted (neither Owen nor I can sleep on planes so we'd been awake for about 24hrs by this time) and it was cold from the doors constantly opening and closing from other travellers using the trains. Well Owen was not cold but I was freezing, even with my jacket on.

We found our train/platform without any issues but 1 stop before Brussels we had to get off and change trains due to electrical problems with the one we were on. Luckily the women sitting across from me translated in English why everyone was leaving. So we disembark, walk across the platform and switch to the new train to Brussels. I'll also insert at this point that since finishing the flight portion of our trip we are now lugging around a Bugaboo Stroller (in the Bugaboo transport bag, which had wheels thank god), 1 over packed Jujube Prepared diaper bag, Owen's carry on, one HUGE ass suitcase, and then a small suitcase with Natasha's clothes. So each time we had to get on or off a train, we had to lug all this stuff with us. It's all self serve for loading/unloading.

Anyway, we arrive in Brussels, learn the first train to Amsterdam leaves in 30 mins and think "Great!". On the 2nd train to Brussels, Natasha did fall asleep on me. Owen and I were able to get my Beco carrier on me, and her in it (chest carry) without waking her, so now I'm lugging a 26lb toddler on me as well as 2 suitcases while Owen handled the carry ons and the stroller bag.

The train station in Brussels is like nothing I've seen before. There are 10 platforms, each of which, require you take the stairs up to them (or in our case an elevator) and each one has 2 different trains with 2 different destinations on either side of the platform. The trains themselves reminded me for some reason of Stephen King's Dark Tower series (Wastelands). They are super old looking and 90% of them are covered with Graffeti. Not only are the trains taking you, the tourist to Brussels and Amsterdam, they are also commuter trains for the general public. I just found it weird how "quickly" one could leave Paris and arrive in Amsterdam. I'd seen movies where ppl in England hop the train to spend the weekend in Paris, but the idea itself seemed completely out of the norm to me. Sure I can hop in my car and drive to the moutains, but this is just so different!

Now, it's in Brussels that everything falls apart. As we are waiting on the platform, exhuasted but happy that soon we will be on the last leg of our journey when an annoucement comes on, which we learn that our train will be 20 mins late due to "engine" trouble. While disappointing, we are still in good spirits, thinking, well that's fine, Natasha is still sleeping on me in the Beco, so she's good, even though we are practically falling asleep on our feet.

For those keeping wondering, we all got up at 7am on the 8th (wed.) and it's now 3.15pm on Thursday, so approximately 8am for our internal clocks. Natasha at this point has had approximately 3hrs of non-consecutive sleep when the norm for her is 3 hr naps daily plus 12hrs of sleep at night. So we pretty much knew if the train for Amsterdam did not show up before she woke up, we were in trouble for that leg of the journey. Oh fun!

After 20 mins another announcement was made that our train was still having "problems" and would be another 9 mins. I actually turned to Owen and that point and said "At this rate we are going to end up on the 4.15 Train". I was ready to burst so I went in search of a bathroom (I never did find one) and when I came back, the platform was empty. I asked Owen what had happened and he had no clue. :p In Paris, everything was announced in French, then English. In Brussels, they would announce in their official language, sometimes also french and occassionally English, but never all 3 with any consistency. French we could decipher, their language, not so much. :P

Anyway, Owen went and checked the times (tvs were in the long hallway that had exits to all the platforms) while I stayed with our baggage and came running up saying the next train (the 4.15) was on platform #20. We then proceeded to race to that platform and just made our train.

We became well loved a passengers during the 3 hr journey. /end sarcasm This train made 6 stops and really was more of a commuter train then one for travelling so there was no storage for our bags, which we crammed in to our seat area, taking up twice as much room. The other thing that endeared us to everyone was Natasha. In 3 hrs she had 5 tantrums. And not just your everyday lasts a few minutes tantrums. Full on red faced screeching at the top of her lungs for 10+ min tantrums. Fun eh? Poor little girl had had enough. She needed sleep (as did we all) and it was really tough to console her. Needless to say Owen and I got a few looks of judgement from other passengers. The thing is, we both knew she was over tired. No amount of holding, consoling was going to help. Not even her precious Cheddar Bunnies made her feel better. We just had to ride it out. So while we were so tired we pretty much blocked her out as she wailed, other ppl were not happy. :P Oh well. We would not have had to deal with such a full train or as many commuters had our 3.15 not had engine issues.

Thankfully, we arrived in Amsterdam at 7.30pm (1hr later then expected) and our B&B was a quick 10 min walk away. Well as quick as 10 mins can be when you are lugging a crap load of luggage. :p The only thing that really hit me while we were walking to our B&B was the amount of bike traffic! No wonder Morgan loves amsterdam, everyone cycles everywhere! Owen later on told me that everything is crammed in so close it much more efficient to cycle then take a car.

We found the B&B without issue, were greeted by the owners and made our way up narrow winding stairs (factoid: because of the crazy taxes, ppl build UP, creatig narrow apts/homes to avoid huge taxes, this results in super super narrow hallways and stairs) and I think all of us were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

Next: Amsterdam - The Bike mecca of the world :p