My 12- year-old niece, Megan, and I are spending about two weeks in Paris.
I’ve been fortunate enough to take each of my nieces and nephews on a special trip around the time of their 12th birthday. This year … Megan and I will become temporary Parisiennes. We’ve rented an apartment in Le Marais and plan to shop, visit museums, eat, shop, visit museums, shop, visit … well, you get the picture.
In Which We Prepare to Leave
May 14, 2003
For a number of years, it has been my plan to take each of my five nieces and nephews on a special trip around the time of their 12th birthdays.
In 1998, Alyssa and I visited friends in San Francisco. Her trip came when she was only nine, but this was chance for her to gain great friends in Becky and Tim. She had a wonderful time with them at their church day camp all week. One very special moment for me was when I took Alyssa to an ocean beach for the first time in her life. I’ll never forget the way she danced across the sand.
In 1999, Greg and I visited Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. We stayed a few nights in a fancy hotel in downtown Vancouver, took the lift up Grouse Mountain, visited every tourist site we could find, tooled around Victoria and had a most memorable crossing on the ferry back from Vancouver Island (I still feel seasick just to think of it).
Next year, Nicholas and I hope to visit London and Bath in England. High on our list of important things to do is see Roman ruins, the Tower of London, Big Ben, Stonehenge, and a tour of a sports car manufacturer.
Hilary and I have started to think of visiting Maui in a few years. We want to learn how to do the hula, go to a luau, visit some gorgeous beaches and bicycle down a volcano.
But this is the travelogue for my trip with Megan. To Paris. The first time for both of us!
Rather than stay in a hotel, we’ve rented a tiny apartment in the 4th Arrondisement (Le Marais) — just a couple of blocks from the River Seine and perhaps within the sound of the bells of Notre-Dame Cathedral. We’ll have a little more space than in a hotel room, be able to prepare some of our own meals (getting to know the neighbourhood shopkeepers in the process, we hope), and feel like real Parisiennes.
Some of the special things we’re going to do during our visit are: take in a fashion show, go to a dinner theatre on a boat featuring a magic show, spend a day at Parc Astérix (a theme park), visit the Louvre, go down to the Catacombs, bike to Versailles and — of course — go up both the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe! At the end of our time in Paris, we’re also going to spend three days in Normandy where we’ll visit le Mont-Saint-Michel, the Bayeux Tapestry and the D-Day beaches. Oh, yes, we’re also going to practice our French!
So … we leave in one week, three hours & 24 minutes! We’re packing. We’re excited. What more can we say?
My Paris Fantasy all started about two days before Aunt Janice asked me where I wanted to go on my trip for my 12th birthday. I was watching “Passport to Paris” at my friend’s house and thought it looked awesome. A few days after, I was at my aunt’s house and she asked me where I wanted to go. I immediately said Paris, France and she said yes, so now my dreams are coming true and I am going to Paris on May 21st.
We are going to spend 15 days there and during that time we are going to have a lot of fun. We are going to the Catacombs, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and tons of museums.
I’m so excited that I could eat a horse and cow. I’ve been talking to everyone about it and can’t stop thinking about it. I CAN’T WAIT!!!!
In Which We Arrive
May 22, 2003
Today was fun but tiring. We sat on a plane for a long time. I bought a souvenir for my sister! We went to two museums. One was about the history of Paris and one was about dolls.
I think Paris is a lot more than I thought it would be. There are so many different patterns with the roads and everything is old and deteriorating. Our apartment has a steep narrow stairway, but it’s worth it because there’s a beautiful jacuzzi tub!
I can’t wait for what tomorrow will bring … like going up the Eiffel Tower!!!
Megan has said it all and I’m too tired to fight with this French keyboard to say more! A jacuzzi sounds just about right!
May 24, 2003
Yesterday we went on a bike tour. It was a lot of fun. The person that guided us was really funny. There were a lot of people and we learned a lot of stuff — like how many chops it took to take off the head of Louis the Sixteenth when they executed him. For lunch we went to a French cafe and I had this weird kind of crepe-ish pancake with sausages that I think were supposed to be hot dogs. It started at 11 and ended at 3 pm, so we were exhausted at the end. But, still, we went up the Eiffel Tower. The top of the Eiffel Tower was really fun, and the bottom was really boring because it wasn’t really high. But, it was okay because there was a cafe that we DIDN’T eat at and there a show about how the Eiffel Tower started. When we got home it was about 9:45 at night and I went in the bakery and bought a baguette by myself. I said, “Bonjour. Une baguette, s’il vous plait. Merci, madam.”
We also went to a museum and most of the paintings were painted by Monet. By the time we got back it was so late we just ate and went to bed.
This morning my aunt woke me up at 8:00 am and I was so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Then we went to the subway and I forgot my camera at the apartment. Ha! Ha! Then we went to a flea market and I bought a painting. It has two trees on it.
We were out of coloured toilet paper, so we to get more.
That’s all for today. Paris rocks!
Here we are! We had a very, very full day yesterday! Early in the morning, we had a quick breakfast at our apartment and then took our first trip on Paris’ subway system, the Métro. Success! It really is very easy to use. The stations are much smaller than Toronto’s stations, but there are a whole lot more of them! At the stations where there are connecting lines, it can be a complete warren of tunnels. You really need to know where you’re going but, with map in hand, we can go anywhere!
Our first stop was rue Cler, the area we had originally planned to stay in. The neighbourhood is newer and more high class than ours in the Marais. We walked up the street and stopped at a bakery for a couple of croissants. Then we headed over to the Eiffel Tower. Wow, it really is huge! We wandered about and sat under the tower for a while. The gardens around the tower are filled with gorgeous roses. They’re just beautiful, but they’re also usually fenced off.
We were at the Tower because it is the meeting place for Mike’s Bike Tours. Sure enough, they turned up and we joined about a dozen other tourists for this nifty tour. After a brief introduction at the bottom of the tower, the guide took us back to their office, a few blocks away, and we picked out our bicycles.
Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve ridden a bicycle over cobblestones!
Our tour guide, Brian, a wild and crazy Texan, took us along quiet streets, a few wild intersections, and through a number of parks. We saw things like Les Invalides, the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, and the Tuileries Gardens. We stopped at a beautiful outdoor cafe in the Tuileries for lunch. Megan and I both had galettes — that’s wholewheat pancakes with stuff in them (cheese, sausages, mushrooms, a fried egg). There was an 11-year-old boy from India on the tour; he and Megan stayed at the front of the tour with the guide the whole trip. His mother and I referred to them as his body guards. I usually brought up the rear!
Megan enjoyed this tour so much, she’s talked me into taking the night tour. We’ve paid in advance, so I think we’re committed! Now, we just have to wait until we regain our strength for this activity.
After our bike tour, Megan and I headed to Musée Marmottan where there’s a special collection of Claude Monet’s paintings. After a few false starts (I’d lost my map book), we finally found the museum. It really was just wonderful. Megan and I both enjoyed the water lilies. It was amazing to see the paintings Monet continued to make, even though he was almost blind later in his life. At this museum, they even have the painting that created the name of this kind of art … Impressionism.
After this great museum, we headed back to the Eiffel Tower and actually went up this time. All the way to the top. What views! Megan really enjoyed seeing from the air all the sights we’d biked by earlier in the day. By the time we came back to earth, it was about 8:00 pm. Where did the day go?! We headed home and had a very, very late supper of take home pizza, had baths in our pool-sized bathtub and hit the hay.
This morning, in a light rain, we headed for the subway again — like experts. We went to the south of Paris and walked through an amazing flea market, full of collectibles and lesser antiques. It was great fun, but the prices were, I felt, unreasonably high. Nevertheless, Megan found her heart’s desire … a painting. It was marked at 13E, but the vendor took one look at her and said, “10 Euros.”
After we finish this travelogue, we head out to take a tour of Chateau Malmaison, the country home of Napoleon & Josephine.
Tomorrow we head out to the theme park, Parc Astérix.
An Interview with Megan
May 26, 2003
Janice: Well, Megan, how are you enjoying Paris?
Megan: I’m enjoying it a lot and it is wicked.
J: What’s different about Paris?
M: Everything. The traffic is much busier than Toronto. The buildings are older. The food is tastier. My favourite would have to be goat cheese [big smile].
J: On Saturday, after making our last travelogue entry, we took the Metro and a bus outside Paris to visit the Chateau Malmaison, the country home of Josephine and Napoleon. What did you think of it?
M: I thought it was very interesting with a huge garden with some inappropriate [naked] statues. It had tons of flowers that you [Janice] couldn’t get away from! The rooms were big and there were tons of them, almost too much. I wouldn’t want to live there because I could get lost.
J: Yesterday, we went to Parc Asterix. How did you enjoy that?
M: That was alot of fun. I went on all the roller coasters. One of them had 15 loops. One other was a HUGE version of the Great Canadian Mine Buster. It went 80 km an hour over a 1 kilometer track. The other one was actually like a tube and Aunt Janice was totally scared [the only one I went on! J], but I had fun. The others were small. I also went on a tube ride. I had cotton candy. HUGE – almost a meter tall. They call it Barbe à Papa — Daddy’s Beard.
J: And what about today?
M: Today I was totally exhausted, my feet were aching, but anyways we went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa. We got lost about 8 times in the museum. We also went to a smaller museum that was way easier to follow because there were directions and they had numbers on the rooms to show where to go next [Museum of Medieval History – Cluny]. The most interesting thing at this museum was the bottom part where it was all built and sort of looked like a dungeon. It was called the frigidarium and the Romans built it.
Tonight we going on the night bike tour with Mike’s Bike Tours. It includes a dessert stop and a boat tour.
Tomorrow, we’re expecting a city strike so we’re going to have a picnic by the river and I’m going to sketch in the sketch book I bought today at the Louvre.
We’re having a wonderful time. We’ll report again soon.
Of Bike Tours and Shopping
May 28, 2003
We went on a really wicked bike tour and had so much fun. Our guide, Toby, was really cool and I was his official assistant guide. First we went down to the river and saw Notre Dame. We had some ice cream … it was SO good; Mine tasted like fruit punch. Then we all took a boat tour on the river . It was so cold but fun at the same time. Then we biked back and a really nice man named Ken walked us home cause it was dark and it was 1 am.
Yesterday we had a picnic on the grass by the Eiffel Tower. Then we climbed 280 stairs up the Arc de Triomphe. Aunt Janice was exhausted when we came up top but I was really hyped and could walk even more. It was a really nice view.
Once we got down we walked the Champs Elysees all the way to the Louvre — a VERY long way … miles! But along the way we stopped at some souvenir shops and a special perfum shop that was as big as a small mall. I bought wicked perfum!
And that was the end of the day. We were so tired we couldn’t feel our feet. Today the catacombs.
Our Last Days in Paris
May 30, 2003
Well, the last few days have been very busy!
One evening we went to a dinner theatre. When we were planning our trip, Megan had asked if we could go to a show. She thought she’d like to see one of the shows that had the ladies with feathers. I explained that the problem was the ladies didn’t wear much else other than the feathers! But, I began looking for some other show that wouldn’t be too difficult for us to see in French. I finally found a magic show/dinner theatre; Métamorphosis is held on a refurbished barge moored on the Seine near Notre Dame.
We dressed up for our dinner at the theatre and felt very elegant as we walked along the old streets, across the bridges over the Seine and by the huge medieval cathedral of Notre Dame. The dinner we had was very pleasant and the staff went out of their way to serve us. The only problem I saw was that, every time a boat went by us, the barge rocked in the wash – and I’m extremely susceptible to motion sickness. There were a few moments there …
The magic show was fun. It was all in French, but we were able to follow the basics. It was a great evening.
One day we spent mostly underground! We started off with a visit to the catacombs and this turned out to be one of the trip highlights for Megan. The catacombs are the remains of mining galleries hundreds of years old. Apparently there are miles and miles of tunnels. They have been used for partying for generations and were hiding places for the resistance during World War 2. However, the main feature is the bones. Beginning a couple of hundred years ago, the city began clearing out their graveyards for sanitation reasons. They have re-interred bones from city graveyards in the tunnels and this is now a tourist site. It sounds macabre, but was actually fascinating. The bones are piled on either side of the tunnels, leaving a three- to five-foot walkway down the centre. The bones are neatly, even artistically, stacked in groups according to which cemetery they came from. Most of the stacks are about five feet high and some go back into the darkness for many feet. I don’t know how far we walked along these tunnels, but it seemed a very long way. Finally, we came to end of the tourist section and climbed back up into the daylight and walked on, leaving footsteps outlined with catacomb dust.
Our next stop, on this very hot day was Napoleon’s tomb. It is located in the fabulous domed building known as Les Invalides. Once inside, you slowly make your way to the lower level and walk around his exposed casket (actually it’s a casket inside several other containers – nothing particularly macabre here).
Then we headed for a tour of the sewer system. Paris has a very old and extensive sewer system (think Les Miserables). This not-too-long tour gave us a chance to see some of the more modern sewer tunnels and the machines that have been designed to clean them out. It was a tad stinky.
The next day we took a train to see the Palace of Versailles, the last home of Louis and Marie-Antoinette before they were arrested and lost their heads. It is a spectacular place, but completely lacks the charm and intimacy of Malmaison. We enjoyed Malmaison much more. When we arrived in the town of Versailles (after Megan left her new hat on the train, but that’s another story!), we walked to the palace and could see that the tour busses had already arrived in full force. First we toured the palace itself, but found it cold and impersonal. And crowded. Then we headed for the park area (huge park!) and watched the spectacular fountains do their thing. We had lunch at a patio restaurant by the man-made lake and then rented bikes to explore the rest of the park. The bikes weren’t nearly as good as the ones we rode on our earlier bike tours, but they did the trick. Megan took the lead and we cruised all around the grounds. The day was so hot, it was hard to enjoy everything as much as we wanted. But, it was a good day.
Our last full day in Paris was devoted to sites on the Ile-de-la-Cité, considered the centre point of Paris. We started with a climb up the Notre Dame towers. (Puff, puff.) The top of the towers give you a view of the gargoyles that is up close and personal. Although they’re very creative, I found them a tad macabre.
We followed this up with a visit to the underground ruins of ancient Paris – ancient as in Roman and early medieval. These ruins have been excavated in the area directly in front of Notre Dame.
We also took time to visit the nearby church of Sainte-Chapelle. I’d heard that this church was a must-see but, I must admit, I had no idea how glorious it really was. The entrance is through the basement and gift shop, giving no hint of the chapel area. After spending all your souvenir money, you go up some winding stairs in the corner and emerge into brightly coloured light. I literally gasped. The stained glass makes up the walls and in the morning light it was just unbelievable. If you have a chance to see this place, go!
Our last sightseeing stop of the day was La Conciergerie, an ancient palace cum prison. Significant prisoners were held here before losing their heads … like Marie Antoinette. It’s rather barren inside, but very massive and impressive.
By the end of the day we were feeling rather worn out from sightseeing and looking forward to renting our car and heading out of town for a few days in Normandy.
So You Want to Rent a Car?
Jun 04, 2003
I’m writing this travelogue long after the fact and I’m still depressed.
On May 31, Megan and took ourselves and our luggage by cab to the car rental place. We’d planned to go by the Metro, but were very tired because we’d both been sick with a cold. Megan was pretty much over hers, but mine was really gearing up. It had also been difficult to sleep the last few nights because of the heat; it was more like July than May.
We finally found the car rental office (deep underground in a parking garage) and began the check-in procedure. The clerk asked to see my driver’s license and my heart just stopped.
I had forgotten my driver’s license in Canada! I just about cried then and there. There was no way they would give us a car without a driver’s license.
We were devastated, but had to make alternate plans quickly. My decision was to book the next three nights at the airport hotel where we were booked for our last night in France (the fourth night). This was not the most elegant solution, but probably the most convenient. Because I was becoming progressively sicker by the minute, the thought of running around town, looking for a better location just wasn’t an option. As well, the airport hotel would allow us easy access to the train and subway transportation systems and we wouldn’t have to shift locations again before leaving.
What would we do during those remaining days? Well, go to Disneyland, of course! Silly question! For two days we took the train to Disneyland, spending Sunday at Disneyland itself and Monday at the Disney Studios.
Here’s Megan’s report:
Forgetting a Driver’s License at Home!
Today we went to go get our car at the car rental. We were right on task but Aunt Janice forgot her driver’s license at home, so we did something else instead. First we went to the hotel at the airport. This meant we wouldn’t have to move our luggage around any more. And we could also get to the trains and metro easily. So the first day there we just hung out because Aunt Janice and I were sick. On the second day we went to Disneyland Park for a day. The third day we went to Disney studios. Tomorrow we’re doing nothing because there’s a strike going on .But that’s ok because it’s our last day anyway.
The End. By: Megan Beurling
Megan was right. On our last day in Paris, everything (airport staff, train staff, subway staff, all public works staff – everyone – went on strike. Even if we’d been able to rent a car, we would have been returning it that day and might have had real trouble getting from the car rental out to the airport hotel. The Lord may have been protecting us through this whole (mis)adventure.
Even the next day, until our plane actually left the ground, I was very worried because there were still rotating strikes going on at the airport. It wouldn’t have surprised me a bit if our plane had left the terminal and then returned again because of the strike.
But we did leave successfully. I told Megan that, because we missed our visit to Normandy, we just might have to make another trip one day!
Overall, Megan and I had a wonderful, wonderful time. I recently visited the Royal Ontario Museum with her and it prompted us to reminisce about many aspects of our museum visits in Paris. At one point in the Toronto subway system we heard musicians playing their music in the corridors; we turned and grinned at each other, remembering gypsy musicians in Paris’ Metro.
If you’ve enjoyed reading our adventures in this travelogue, you may be interested in reading my other travelogues, including my adventures with 12-year-old Nick in England (May 2004). His travelogue begins with some advice Megan wrote for him.
Many more photos … click for a slide show.