Archive for September, 2007

Disneyland Paris

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Simply put, Americans don’t belong at Disneyland Paris. Truth be told, Disneyland doesn’t belong here, either.

Disneyland stands for everything truly American: walking around eating giant roasted turkey legs, standing in line without cutting to the front, and getting onto and off of the rides quickly because you don’t want to hold up the line of patiently-waiting-non-cutters.

I remember when people made a big stink because Disney had to change its policy and serve beer in and wine inside the park. They said it was a culture thing. Maybe so. But there are a lot of other cultural differences that have quietly been accommodated. And they are the very things that annoyed us. A lot.

Saturday checking into our Disney hotel, everything seemed fine. All the negative reviews I’d read about customer service seemed wrong. Sure, the hotel is in desperate need of physical attention, but it isn’t dirty. It’s a little like the hotel where we stayed at Disneyland in California. And it’s definitely a far cry from our experiences at Disneyworld. Here, we stayed at the Newport Beach Club. We stayed at the “same” hotel in Florida. You’d think they’d be exactly the same, since the company probably already has warehouses of nautical Mickey Mouse junk. Nope. The one in Florida is more Mickeyed out.

Once we’d found our room at the hotel (it’s a big hotel), we walked the 15 minutes to the park where we stepped out of France and onto Main Street USA. The facade was all Disney, but the similarities beyond that were harder to come across.

Kaitlyn wanted to go on Buzz Lightyear, so we got in that line. I was relieved to see the sign saying there’s no smoking in line. I am apparently the only person in the whole place who read it. I might not have cared quite so much about the people in front and back of us smoking if they hadn’t all cut in line to get there. Then the line-jumper behind us let in another line jumper who then, along with her two daughters, proceeded to bump into us and nearly crawl up our backs at every chance. Finally I turned around and said “ce n’est pas necessaire a pousser.” (it’s not necessary to push) I’d been trying to figure out what to say and that just came out. And the pushing stopped. Bill thinks they were freaked out to discover we could speak French and probably spent the rest of the time wondering how much of what they’d said we’d understood.

While we were in that line, Kaitlyn checked out the map of Disney Studios and insisted we go next to Radiator Springs. (That’s the setting for the movie Cars) There, Lightning McQueen takes you on a tea-cup like ride, except you cannot make your car spin. They should have made it so you steer left to go right.

Across from Cars is Crush’s Coaster… featuring the seaturtles from Finding Nemo. You have to be 107 centimeters tall to ride, which I don’t think Kaitlyn is. But the guy measured her and said she was “just” tall enough. So we got in line. A second guy measured her, with the same result. I got out of line because I’m a coaster chicken. I wandered around, checked out the Monsters Inc area (they should have called this the Pixar Park), bought a coffee with whipped cream on it, ate the whipped cream and tossed out the coffee, then positioned myself where I could try to snap a picture of Bill and Kaitlyn zooming by on the ride. I waited and waited. They never went by. Then I heard Kaitlyn crying. I looked to the exit and saw Bill…. furious. The guy with the measuring stick at the end of the line had said Kaitlyn was “just” short and wouldn’t let her get on the ride.

I managed to divert Kaitlyn’s attention by taking her to the Monsters area where she could scream into a scream-meter. It took a little longer to get Bill to calm down.

We went into a show called “Animagique” for a diversion. When it started, Kaitlyn turned to me and in a very defeated sounding voice said “it’s in French.” I hadn’t thought about that. Mickey Mouse was speaking French. Luckily the star of the show is Donald Duck. And he speaks English.

Next to that is Aladdin’s carpet ride. It’s like the Dumbo ride, only the carpets don’t just go up and down they also tilt forward and backward. It’s not a ride I’d normally ever go on, but tired of missing out, I went. Bill sat in the front of the carpet and made it go up or down (mostly up). I sat in the back with Kaitlyn, who immediately put her hand on the tilt controller. I admit, she and Bill managed to freak me out a little bit. But it was fun and by the time we got off everyone was in a good mood again.

When we’d checked in at the hotel, I stopped to make reservations to eat dinner with the princesses. It was in a place all decorated with scenes from Cinderella. But she wasn’t there. And that was hard to explain to Kaitlyn. Two of Cinderella’s mice friends were there. And so were Belle and Ariel, with their princes. In the amount of time it takes to eat a French meal (and this was a French restaurant complete with hoity-toity gross French food like fois gras), the mice and princesses came out to do their same little routine three times. I was impressed when Ariel made her second visit to our table and remembered Kaitlyn’s name.

As we were leaving the park at nearly 10pm, dog tired, I wondered if it might have been worth the extra 300 Euros to have stayed at the Disneyland Hotel. It’s right at the entrance. Not outside the entrance.. at it. You walk under the hotel as you go into the park. The rooms that are probably even less affordable have a view of Main Street.

Our hotel may need some paint and may not have a view of the park, but it does include breakfast. I’d read on Trip Advisor that you’re better off opting for the breakfast inside the park. So we did. We had a 9:15 “reservation,” which meant get up, get ready, get packed and get out. But we could barely get Kaitlyn up. Even the idea of still being at Mickey Mouse land couldn’t rouse our sleeping beauty. Bill finally dragged her out of bed and to the bathtub and we left the hotel at 8:30. One perk of paying the extra price to stay at a Disney hotel is you get special extended hours in the park. Today, those hours were from 8-10am. If we had realized how relatively empty it would be, we’d have bagged that stupid princess dinner and gone to bed early to get the full two extra hours in this morning.

Still, in the half hour we had before our breakfast time, we went on three rides… Pinocchio, Peter Pan and Dumbo. Kaitlyn loved them all. And we practically walked onto all of them. We really only had two long waits today… Autopia and the Rockets. Seems Tomorrowland is the land of long lines. We refused to even get into the long line for Big Thunder Mountain, for fear of a repeat of yesterday’s coaster calamity. (even though she’s been on Thunder Mountain in California). We nearly walked on Pirates of the Carribean and Haunted Mansion… two that are normally horrible long waits. We found out the Haunted Mansion here is scarier than either one in the U.S. And the little speech about the “chilling challenge to find a way out!”… it was in French. Although thanks to the ride I may finally remember how to say “come back” in French.

Even without the long lines, getting on the rides was still frustrating… thanks to some of the guests. Some people think nothing of getting their child into a teapot or rocket, then standing there to snap photos (always plural, mind you) before either getting into the ride themselves or then kissing their child goodbye as if they’ll be separated for months then going out to wait. When Kaitlyn and I were on Dumbo, the operator had to stop the ride because one of those people whom the world revolves around had not left the inside area of the ride after the strapping-in, picture taking, kissing ritual. She propped herself up against the fence to make it appear she was standing outside it… and the ride started. When one operator realized what she’d done they stopped the ride to drag her outside. I cannot be entirely sure, but I think that may be grounds for expulsion from the parks at home.

We finished the day by taking Kaitlyn shopping. We skipped Main Street and went to the string of Disney stores in the Disney Village we had to walk to on the way to our hotel to get our luggage. Apparently, everyone had the same idea; the place was packed. Kaitlyn looked and looked and looked. The only thing she wanted was a reversible Belle costume. Frustrating, given the hoops I made others go through to get a new Mulan costume here just last week.

But now she’s sleeping next to me on the train… in her new red ball gown.

Talk about standing out!

Friday, September 28th, 2007

I did it. I broke down… gave in. I am even a little ashamed.

Tonight on the way back to the hotel, I stopped at Starbucks.

The Starbucks was one of the first things I spotted when we first emerged from the Metro on Wednesday. We had no idea where our hotel was, but all would be well, there was something familiar in our midst.

Then I noticed something really peculiar. People walking down the street carrying their Starbucks cups. Especially in the park. And it looked, well, funny. Everyone at home walks around with some sort of drink, or food, or both. You never see a French person walking down the street with a drink in their hand. Never. There are times and places to savor a coffee and the sidewalk is only one of them if you are sitting at a cafe at a table on the sidewalk.

But tonight, I became one of those people… one of those cup-toting Americans.

Riding on the Metro

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Earlier today when I was hopping Metro trains like I knew the route out of habit, I wondered if anyone would mistake me for a Parisian. I was by myself, so one one heard me speak English. I had tucked my camera away in my purse, which I’d bought in France, so I didn’t look too touristy. I thought. Till I looked down and saw my white sneakers. Oh, well, maybe someday I’ll figure out what shoes you wear to walk hundreds of kilometers other than sneakers. French women don’t wear tennis shoes. Unless they are playing tennis.

Then tonight on the Metro, I discovered the need to learn some key French phrases. All five us us were getting off the train.. or trying to. A group of young women were busy talking and blocking the door on the train; they didn’t budge. As I was worming my way through that blockade, I was met with a woman storming her way onto the train even though no one had managed to get off it yet. I only had a split second to decide what to do to make sure Kaitlyn and I got off that train. So I pushed my shoulder right into her… sending her back onto the platform. She made some snippy comment to me in French; Bill called her a f-ing idiot. He says both words are the same in both languages. Note to self: ask at next lesson for some handy rude phrases to use (depending on the teacher).

While I was busy thinking about my rudimentary rude French, I was reminded that my loudspeaker French is also sorely lacking.

We were on our next train when the conductor (do you conduct a Metro?) announced I have no idea what. It was as clear as the drive through at Taco Bell. In another language. About 90 percent of the people on the train got off the train. So we got off. Then there was another announcement on the platform, and everyone got back on the train. So we got on the train. Then there was another announcement in the train and everyone got back off the train. Almost everyone. We stood in the doorway looking positively befuddled. It is safe to say, we were not blending in. A French woman explained what was going on and luckily Bill understood what she was saying. So we got off. Finally, the conductor got the final stragglers to get out and he left… going back the way he came. In other words, the wrong way.

How many times can you visit Paris?

Friday, September 28th, 2007

I admit, when Debbie said she wanted us to join her and Don in Paris, my first thought was “not Paris again!” Not because I feel like I have exhausted one of the world’s greatest cities. Quite the contrary. I feel like every time I go, I go to the same things. Honestly, it’s getting dull. How many times can a person ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower? (Not counting the elevator operators who do nothing but ride up and down inside the monument, 35 hours a week, minus 5 weeks a year vacation.)

This time was different. I saw all sorts of things in the last 2 days I’ve never seen before.

Just like yesterday morning, we had some time to ourselves before lunch. (Debbie has taken to sleeping in. She doesn’t care for Bill’s “what time should I set the alarm” approach to vacationing.) Yesterday we went to places I wanted to visit. Today, we went to the one place Bill has been talking about wanting to see: St Chappelle. I only went because Bill wanted to and I figured I could keep Kaitlyn busy while he looked around. It was spectacular. It would really be amazing to see it on a sunny day. The chapel has soaring stained glass windows that must be 5 stories high. It is not stunning for its size, like so many other places we’ve seen… but for its art. Even Kaitlyn thought the windows were pretty.

To whittle away more time waiting for Debbie and Don to catch up with us, we went next door to the Conceirgerie. It’s the prison where Marie Antoinette was held. The building itself is hardly stunning, by any stretch. But the history that took place within its walls is.

The only thing Debbie and Don wanted to do today was the Eiffel Tower. And I decided to hold true to the promise I made myself last time I rode the elevator in that pile of steel: not again. Ok, maybe to eat dinner, but otherwise, no. To me, the elevators are scary. I avoid elevators in much shorter structures, so one going that high, at an angle, that you can see through… that’s just unnecessary.

So I visited Napoleon’s Tomb in the Hopital des Invalides. It’s still a hospital for soldiers.

I was glad I went and even more glad I went alone; I don’t think anyone else would have been as fascinated. I could listen to the audio guide and look at everything… I also went into the war museum there. I went right for the World War Two area; I am fascinated by France in World War Two. The exhibit sort of glossed over that whole giving into the Germans part and focused on the resistance and made the United States out as the big heroes.

I think I need to start visiting the museums around Grenoble… by myself. I could learn a lot. And I think I’ll really enjoy it.

The Great MiMi Tragedy

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

This trip may spell the end of the mimi. (Kaitlyn’s giant pacifier)

Last night, we nearly had to go cold turkey when Bill realized none of us had it. We were in the Louvre at the time. We re-traced our steps and, amazingly, found it under the bench where we’d stopped to rest near the Mona Lisa.

Today outside l’opera, Bill pulled the mimi out of his pocket and discovered it now has a rip. We realized later that it tore when we used it as a bath stopper this morning for Kaitlyn’s bath.

They don’t make those things anymore. Hopefully, it will survive.


The mimi made it through the entire trip. I need to rip the house apart to try to find any other surviving ones, but there may not be any. I’m not rested enough yet to feel like doing that.

Luxembourg Gardens

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Our hotel is only about a block away from Luxembourg Gardens… but I nearly missed seeing it.

After un-successfully resting in the hotel room (unsuccessful because Kaitlyn didn’t seem any less grumpy), Bill sent me to check out the park and to find the playground that is supposed to be so spectacular. You have to pay to get into it, it’s got to be good.

I walked in and immediately found a map. I’m thinking “how could it be that Bill… Mr Directions… came here and couldn’t find the playground?” I actually thought I could just look at that map and walk right to it. Not a chance. I wandered all around and all I found was another exit and another map. Looking at it this time I realized I had the entire park flipped around in my mind.. and I needed to be on the opposite side.

The park is beautiful, which made the walk through it not so bad. It was especially pretty with the leaves changing colors.

The playground didn’t seem to have lived up to its billing. I took some pictures to show Bill and Kaitlyn.. as many as I thought I could before someone would think I was a pedophile staking out the place.

If it doesn’t rain maybe we can come back. If it does… I don’t think Kaitlyn is missing out on something so spectacular. But I’m glad I made it.

Good Guide

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

We have spent the day in Paris and so far I’ve gone only to places I haven’t made it to on previous trips. Thank goodness, since this is the 4th trip here in a year.

We started at the Opera House. I’d have never even thought of going there except it’s written up in a “Paris with Kids” guidebook Debbie gave me for my birthday.

I confess, I had no idea that the “Phantom of the Opera” is an old legend about this place… complete with the lake underneath the building and the massive chandelier that actually fell on the audience during a performance.

The building is amazing. Unbelievably ornate, oozing with marble, gilding and excess.

A rehearsal was going on which meant the auditorium was closed. We could wander around the lobby and the library; that took more than an hour. The only way to see the lake under the opera where the phantom hung out is with a guided tour. None today. Or tomorrow. Bill wants to go back. He wants to see that lake. I want to see a show there.

The same guidebook then led us to an English bookstore down the street. Don’t tell Bill, but I do have a few books at home I’m already reading or plan to read. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to get more. I bought two books written by an ex-pat living in France. Oddly, that is my new favorite topic. I also bought a flip book with a new word for every day of the year. It’s intended for someone between 5 and 7 years old. I hope it isn’t too hard for me. Kaitlyn was excited by the idea of books in English, but the kids section was small and she didn’t see anything she really wanted. Bill bought her a box of like a thousand stickers. He picked out a photography magazine for himself. I almost added a Martha Stewart Living to our stack, but couldn’t bring myself to pay 7 Euros for it.

Since the guidebook hadn’t steered us wrong yet, we followed it yet again.

It says to be sure to visit the “grands magasins” (big department stores) near l’opera. I have never been in a store so big. It’s worth visiting just to see the stained-glass dome in the center… 6 stories up. I went with Kaitlyn while Bill waited for Debbie and Don. I thought I was taking her to the children’s clothing department. Turns out, I was taking her to the TOY department… which is bigger than the entire King Jouet toy store in Grenoble. Seems everything in Paris really is better. Kaitlyn carefully wandered the aisles and examined a lot of Barbie and Polly Pocket options, but kept returning to the same item… a mini-Barbie thingie. Naturally, we gave in and bought it.

The real reason we’d even gone into the massive department store was because the guidebook said to eat at the rooftop restaurant.

It mentioned something about how it is a good option if the weather is nice. I thought it meant if it isn’t rainy or foggy, because that would block the view of the city. No, it meant because the restaurant is on the roof… outside… covered only with a tent. So the view was great but the wind was cold. I was a little worried, too, because the menu was quite small, only in French, and I could not translate all of any single dish. Everyone else seemed ok with it and I feel like yesterday I stepped on some toes, so I just kept my mouth shut. Thank goodness. The food was excellent. I had mushroom soup which was really good. Kaitlyn took one bite of her meal and said “My chicken is really good.” Then she ate a chicken leg, two servings of broccoli (Bill put his on her plate) and her potatoes. She tried but didn’t like the spinach. All of us nearly licked our plates clean.

So far, this guidebook is a real winner.

what to wear… what to wear…

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

It is impossible to dress properly for fall in Paris.

Outside it is chilly with a bitter wind.

Inside, it is approximately 100 degrees… Celsius.

In museums, tourist sites and stores you get to peel off at least one layer then lug that extra garment around (which makes your arm hot). And if you take the Metro… it’s like spending some time in a moving underground sauna. With your clothes on. By the time you get back up to the sidewalk, you are covered in sweat. Mixed with the cool air, that’s got to be a recipe for getting sick.

Maybe this is why French women all wear scarves. Easy on, easy off.

hitting the museums in Paris

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

The thing you have to remember about walking anywhere with Kaitlyn is to double… or triple… the amount of time you think it will take to reach your destination.

After checking into the hotel, we decided to walk to the Musee d’Orsay. It was the first stop on the itinerary we’d laid out a couple of nights ago.

We are staying in the Latin Quarter, next to the Odeon Theater. It’s probably a little over a kilometer to the museum. Debbie looked at a map and figured it was a 15 minute walk… no reason to take the metro. And, besides, you can’t see the city from the metro. So we walked.

On the way it started to rain. Don didn’t pack a jacket, but he hasn’t complained once.

Then Kaitlyn saw a crepe carte and announced she was hungry. So we stopped. She insisted on her usual… ice cream. We tried to talk her out of it, since it was cold and rainy, but she had her mind made up. I introduced Don and Debbie to the joys of Nutella.

By the time we got to the museum , it was 4:30 or so. Only an hour till they start to clear the galleries. We were probably silly to even attempt to rush through, but we did. That followed some drama about the purchase of the museum pass. I apparently steamrollered the decision to buy 2 day passes, which I said only because I thought that the passes are a waste, that they aren’t’ so very useful when it isn’t peak tourist season so there aren’t as many lines to try to skip, oh and because we’d decided it the other night when we mapped out our Paris plan. I was just trying to keep things moving forward.

I took Kaitlyn and let everyone else go off on their own. Partially because I was mad about the stupid pass thing. And partially because I’ve been to this museum and that makes it easier to see the exhibits at Kaitlyn’s pace. She buzzes past the things that are generally worth seeing (like the Monet paintings) but then stops and asks a zillion questions about a display showing how many steps it takes to make a sculpture. At least I think that’s what the display was; it was all in French.

When we basically got kicked out of there, we went to the Louvre. It’s pretty much across the street (and river), so we walked. But in the cold, pouring rain we should have taken the metro the one stop over. Kaitlyn looked like she’d just gotten out of the bath when we got there. Then I carried our dripping wet coats all around the museum. The only one of us who appeared to have the water beading off was Don.

I have only been to the Louvre one other time and found it to be too immense and overwhelming. We had 4 hours before it closed and all I wanted to do was to identify our must-see items then head right for them. Instead, our first stop was to eat. To add to my frustration, we ended up in the same bad cafe as when I went with my brother and his family. Ninety percent of the menu is not available after 3:30. All I ordered was a glass of wine. I am not going to eat something I don’t even want just to eat.

Finally, we went to find some art. Bill had already made sense of the Louvre map you can pick up… which was about 3 hours faster than it took any of us to figure out that stupid map the first time I went.

We started with Venus di Milo. Not spectacular to me. (Patrick, Julie, Sarah: no need to fret over missing it) Then we went to the Mona Lisa. There the museum employees have apparently given up any hope of stopping people from taking pictures, even though there are signs all over saying no pictures.

The most interesting thing we saw was under the museum… the old palace wall where the moat used to be. The moat built to keep the king from being attacked by his own subjects, mind you. I’m most fascinated by the history of the building more than what’s inside it.

Kaitlyn did pretty well, considering a museum like the Louvre is not really geared to a 4 year old. She wanted to know about a lot of the paintings we saw, which tested my ability to make up stories. (“Mommy, what are they doing? Why are they eating?” which can only be answered by fabricating tales) When she walked through the hall of ancient Greek statues, we had her pose in the same stances as the statues so we could take pictures.

Debbie says she’s not going to join us tomorrow morning. I don’t know if we’ve worn her out, or worn her down.

nasty green liquor makin’ monks

Monday, September 24th, 2007

I cannot imagine living a life filled with silence, solitude and contemplation. Today, Debbie and I visited a place where that is exactly what fills each day… and night. And as strange as it sounds to me, it is fascinating.

I’d never go to the Grand Chartreuse Monastery by myself. Sort of funny, since solitude is so much a part of life there. I don’t know if Debbie really wanted to go, but I suggested it and she agreed.

The museum is not the actual monastery where the monks still live. You visit a building where the brothers used to live. There are brothers and fathers; I imagine there are not enough of them now to make the extra building necessary. I imagine the income generated from the curious helps, too.

The drive up to the museum took about an hour and wound through mountains and forest I’d never driven through. To say that the founder wanted a remote location is an understatement. It is amazing that they managed to find the spot and build on it 900 years ago.

The view is amazing. You can’t see the valley or the city. All you can see is more mountains and trees. You can hear the soothing ring of cow bells. The monastery is in a “silent zone.” I don’t know exactly what that means. Certainly all the cars driving up aren’t silent. And the people were respectful, but not silent. The peace and quiet there may just be the natural result of being so far away from everything else. Just being there is… contemplative.

Inside you get the smallest glimpse into life as a Carthusian monk. You see what the hallway where they live looks like… how plain and simple it is. Each door is marked simply with a letter of the alphabet and a piece of scripture starting with that letter. Like Sesame Street for the deeply religious. You see the little window through which the brothers deliver food to the fathers and the small wooden signs with which the fathers request a new loaf of wheat bread. Kaitlyn could never be a monk, she hates crusty bread. You see what each member’s “cell” looks like. A small, plain room with a simple bed, a place to pray, a table for reading, a table for eating, and a small wood burning stove for heat. You have to chop your own wood for it. They spend most of their days in their cells, praying. And in the middle of the night, they all gather in the church for between two and three and a half hours of chanting and prayers. Maybe they spend all day in their rooms praying so that if they nod off, no one will see.

The life is not one I can really understand. It sounds so very strange. Yet, there was something about it that I could appreciate. The notion of being so far removed from civilization. The idea of spending time contemplating life and nature and God. The tour included a movie with interviews of two of the monks. They said that monks feel emotions deeply and when they hear news of the suffering in the world, they feel immense pain. Debbie and I could not understand feeling that pain, praying so deeply, and yet not feeling the need to leave the solitude to go out and try to change what’s going on in the world. These men say they are called to this special life devoted to prayer and finding a deep connection with God… but these men say they learn to block out the pain of the world. I cannot help but think that God wants us to feel that pain and use it to try to help others. Not to hide from it.