Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Louvre - tips for your trip

[August 14th]

Well as if we could go to Paris without going to the Louvre! We knew this was going to be a biggie so we got up early and made it to the museum by 8.30am for the 9.00am opening. There is an entrance as you come out of the metro but if you have a pass or pre-paid tickets you can't use that entrance (learn from our mistake). We made our way to the main entrance and there was already a queue, this is where it gets confusing, as you look at the pyramid there are two lines but as you enter the square this isn't apparent. 

The closest line is for ticket/pass holders, there is another queue for those paying to go in, what we noticed was that most people were joining the ticket/pass queue and it wasn't until the doors opened and they had to show the pass that they realised they were in the wrong place and then had to queue all over again!

The other weird thing was that pass holders had their bags checked by the guard looking inside but those paying to get in had to have their bags x-rayed which makes NO sense to me! Surely if you were going to bomb the place, you would buy the ticket beforehand so you didn't have to wait so long to get in? Anyway, I just wanted to give you the heads up, let's continue...

Now we knew that everyone and their dog was going to head to the star of the show, the Mona Lisa, so we did the same thing in attempt to get it done and out of the way first. It wasn't too bad when we got there, it is quite a yomp from the main entrance!

Da Vinci should have had the forethought to paint her bigger, really, she is tiny! We got the obligatory selfie - oh we are such tourists! I posted this pic on social media and had some brainless fuckwit leave a nasty comment about not being allowed to take photos of paintings. It is fine to take photos as long as the flash isn't used, and if you do use it, expect some angry guards to give you an earful. These days, even mobile phones are able to take a decent photo in bad lighting so there really is no issue.

The we headed off to see the other two famous ladies, Venus Di Milo, who is stunning....

And the Winged Victory of Samothrace, daddy-ebi had downloaded an app for guided tours of the museum which was rather handy and filled us in with lots of facts.

 To be totally honest, I found the museum to be completely overwhelming, there is So - Much - Stuff! And it's so big, we found ourself meandering and not really taking in the art. We did play a couple of games to keep us amused as we made our way through the endless corridors... copy the statue/painting is always amusing...

And the other favourite was "What are they saying", I'm not sure I can repeat some of the suggestions for this one....

There are more ideas for making museum trip fun in my Gallery and Museum Survival Guide. I have absolutely no idea where we were when we spotted this but I took a photo because it reminded me of the Montessori materials..

I do recommend making your way to the Napoleon Rooms, they are so decadent and over the top, the chandeliers alone are amazing and I love these chairs...

Just look at the dining room, and to think how many important people have sat around this table!

We spent most of the day in there and were pooped by the end. The restaurant was pretty blah and over-priced (to be expected really) so if you can, take a snack in with you. Plan ahead and accept that you will only get to see a fraction of the place. Personally, I felt it was way to big so many of the amazing pieces of work were just lost in a sea of art and sculpture. At least I can check it off my bucket list now!

We grabbed some meats and cheese and had a simple dinner at home. I managed to stay awake long enough to see the Eiffel tower search light, you could just about see the top of the tower from our apartment...

The street we were on wasn't very exciting by day but looked quite pretty by night. I turned in early because we had another big day coming up!

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Notre Dame here we come...

[13th August]
***This is a long post but the video at the end makes it all worth while, promise!***

Daddy Ebi flew in today. He was arriving at 7am and getting a taxi to the apartment - we thought it best with his tendency to get lost! So we had just finished breakfast when he arrived. After freshening up we headed out to Notre Dame.

Apart from the first day, where  I just bought us single trip tickets, this was a day to figure out the best ticket situation. I had looked at the paris Pass which gives you travel on buses and the trains plus entrance to 60 museums but when I sat down and did the math, you would have to squeeze in a lot of museums and be on and off the public transport all day to make it pay. We decided instead to go to the ticket office just round the counter from Pont Marie metro stop and buy the museum tickets in advance and get all day metro tickets. Much cheaper plus having an advance ticket would allow us to jump the queues at the museums.

The all day metro ticket was €7 and we got Ebi-kun the kids Viste ticket which was €5.5. The clerk at the station was super helpful and showed us how to use the ticket machine, there is an English language option and the only take cards at the ticket office but the machines take cash.

After buying the tickets we made our way to Notre Dame, picking up some sandwiches on the way. Oh the food, it was so difficult to choose, I wanted to eat everything!

Those meringues were amazing but we only managed one between us!

We sat outside Notre Dame enjoying our butties before, yes you guessed it, joining the queue to get in...

We didn’t go up the tower, instead we had a wander around the cathedral itself. It’s pretty impressive and beautiful inside, the stained glass windows are stunning.

There is also this detailed carved scene with stories from the bible, Ebi-kun and daddy were asking what they are all about but I'm afraid my bible history is somewhat rusty!

Although it would have been nice to climb up and see the city from the top, non of use could face the queues and even those with passes were queuing so we just had a wander outside instead.

Then we headed over the bridge to the next island to have a mooch, we accidentally found the bridge of love but hadn't got a padlock with us!

And Paris wouldn't be Paris without some typically French music playing as a theme song!

There were lots of cute shops, I would have loved an afternoon there by myself but unfortunately the boys are really not into shopping, so I had to make do with a beer instead! We had intentions of trying macaroons and saw this beautiful shop but didn't go in - note to self, don't leave things until later!

After refreshments we hopped on the metro to the Luxembourg Gardens, it was a lovely day so we didn't want to be stuck indoors. The gardens a beautiful and massive!

I had read that the boating on the pond was popular and fun, I was very skepical but we rented a sailboat for €3.5 and let the fun begin. Actually it was lots of fun, Ebi-kun wanted to extend his time he was having so much fun!

You use a stick to push your boat out and hope that it makes it's way across to the other side, there rae carp and ducks in the pond plus a fountain which all play with the currents and then the odd gusts of wind can change the course of your boat. There were a few crashes and many close misses...

I have to say, if you are in Paris with kids, this is a must do! We had a wander around the park and discovered a big play area which looked great but you had to pay to go in. We were all pretty tired so we gave it a miss and headed back to grab some shopping from the supermarket and dinner.

Dinner... since finding out that we were going to paris, Ebi-kun has been harping on about trying escargot, now there is NO WAY I was going to be eating them and daddy wasn't keen to try either but Ebi-kun was determined. My brother gave him some money so he could treat himself and treat himself he did (how many other kids would spend their Euro on a plate of snails?)

I decided to record the experience, watch the video to see what happens...

Ebi-kun wanted to start his own youtube channel and this is his first video so any thumbs ups, likes, shares and general comments on the youtube video would be much appreciated!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Paris and The Eiffel Tower...

We were both pretty knackered, so I didn’t set the alarm and instead had a lazy (for us) start to the day. After breakfast we walked up to the Eiffel Tower, The guy who owned the apartment said it was a 10 minute walk but in reality it was more of a 20 minute walk!

Ebi-kun noted that there were so many beautiful buildings but also asked why people graffitied on such lovely places, I had no answer.

We arrived about 9.30am and already the queues were long. We decided to walk up to the 2nd floor and then decide if we wanted to tackle another queue to get to the top.
It took us 40 minutes to get tickets to walk up and € 5 but not too long to make it up to the first floor. Yes, that is glass on the floor and yes, they are the queues of people waiting to get in.

We had a break there and a Pain Au Chocolat to celebrate, after a wee break we continued to the 2nd floor. Our first French pastry, up the Eiffel tower, we know how to roll!

The views are pretty impressive but I felt Paris was much smaller compared to London and Tokyo. Luckily it was a beautiful day so we could get a great view.

But the queues... we could only make it around 2 sides of the tower because of the queues for the lift to go to the top. We had a chat and Ebi-kun really didn’t want to stand in a line for an hour plus, so we had another half lap of the second floor then headed back down.

Ebi-kun treated himself to a pack of Top Trumps and got a mini tower for daddy and we headed out. By this time we were getting hungry so we had a delicious crepe in the park just the other side of the river Seine, took in the views and watched the tourists milling around. Then we headed up to the Musee De Art Moderne, it was actually really hot in the afternoon so we just wanted to shelter from the heat.

The museum was free and not busy at all, we had a good wander and got to see some great pieces of work. As it was still too hot for us feeble English tourists so we nursed a drink in the cafe and played Top Trumps until we could face heading outside again.

Eventually we made a move and wandered back over the Seine and through the gardens to make our way back to the apartment. We could have jumped on the metro but you miss so much when you are underground. To be honest, I really have to start doing Tokyo above ground because I rely on the trains and miss much of it!

We had to make a stop at the park for a play, it had great equipment, all the play parks we saw looked fun. I did think to myself that it looked like a fashion shoot come to life, all the kids were so well dressed!

When I was researching Paris I came across THIS SITE which is great, he is an American living in paris and gives you the low down but not in a boring tourist website way. One of the things he mentioned was the pixel graffiti art and so this became the challenge for the week. I will do a round up of them all at the end but this is the first one we found. They are little mosaic on random buildings.

We made it back to our end of town without too much trouble and tried out one of the little cafes on our street. Food was great, waiters were rude, I would expect nothing less. For an idea of prices, my salad was €13 and Ebi-kuns €14.

Then it was back home and collapsing into bed! Tomorrow, Daddy arrives!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Remembering the not so great trip to Paris...

[11th august]

We left Brighton bright and early, luckily there was a direct train to St Pancreas which is where we were catching the Euro Star. This was a first time for me although I have been to Paris before, which ended in disaster, maybe I should tell the story...

Many moons ago, when I was a college student my mate Sam and I decided to go inter-railing for the summer, for those that don't know, you could buy a 4 week rail pass which allowed you to travel all over Europe.

The start of the trip should have been an indicator of what was going to happen, I met Sam in Birmingham, where she discovered she had left her passport on her bed in Liverpool! We ended up staying over and my Nana's house and her mom posted the passport down. It was this trip that we heard the story of my granddad walking 15 miles to see a dead donkey! He also tried to get Sam (a vegetarian) to eat a ham sandwich, insisting that the pig had been a veggie too!

Eventually we managed to leave the country and we spend the first week city hopping, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin then we found ourselves locked out of a youth hostel at 10pm in a small town in Germany. We walked back to the train station, the choice was a night train to paris or sleep at the station.

We decided on the night train. We pull into Paris first thing in the morning, both of us feeling awful, I felt like I had a migraine and hangover rolled into one. We get off the train and decide we need to change some money - this was pre-Euro days, and then we discover we have been robbed!

No money other than some loose change in various currencies, no passports, we had our rail tickets and I had a credit card. We eventually found the police station to report the crime, it was horrid, the police were horrible, but they said it was a common thing and that we felt awful because the robbers used gas canisters to knock the passengers out before robbing them.

The very unhelpful police told us we needed to go to the British Embassy since we had no passports. We managed to call Sam's mom, who in return called my mom, who promptly cancelled the credit card! Although we didn't know this at the time.

We walked for miles to find the embassy, when we got to 119 on the street that the police had given us, we found ourselves outside a closed Italian restaurant!

We sat on the pavement and just laughed, it would have been that or cried! Luckily 2 lads were walking by and asked if we were ok, we told them our tale and the said they would take us to the embassy but we were in the wrong side of town so it would mean a ride on the metro. We didn't have money for the metro but the lads showed us how to jump the barriers so we didn't have to pay!

We finally made it to the embassy and we said our thank you's and goodbyes to the lads that had helped us. Then we were greeting by a f'ing twonk of all twonks, we had obviously interrupted his Sunday tennis game. You would have though that two 19 year old girls who were stuck with no money and no passport would have gotten some help. The embassy chap was rude and not helpful at all, wouldn't even allow us to use the phone so we could let our parents know we were OK. He gave us an 'official' bit of paper to act as a temporary passport and sent us on our way.

We managed to make our way to Calais, by this time we had eaten or drunk anything since dinner time in Germany 24 hours before. We went to buy ferry tickets with the credit card and that is when we discovered that the card had been cancelled. I managed to call my mom in a panic because at this point we were totally stuck. Luckily between my mom, the ticket lady and the bank, they managed to sort the transaction out but I wasn't able to use the card for anything else. We still had very little money. 

We pooled together what we had got and we had enough to buy a cheap bottle of wine or a sandwich each. We went for the wine! Just as you though the tale was coming to a close, the ferries were stopped because of bad weather. We ended up spending the night at the ferry station. All was not lost, we met a group of lads who took pity on us and fed us lots of beer and kept us amused with their daft antics.

We eventually got on the ferry and we went to the cafe to see if we could buy some food with the bit of change we had left, the waitress felt sorry for us after hearing our tale and gave us both a free meal. Thank you ferry waitress lady, your kindness has never been forgotten!

Once we got to Dover, we had to yomp from the ferry station over to the train station, I don't remember how far it is now but I know it felt like forever! Finally we made it into London and on to trains to take us back home. 

So, that was my previous experience of Paris, not exactly a bundle of fun! So it was with nervous in-trepidation that I headed over there this year. 

Our journey went without any issues. I had booked an apartment with AirBnB so we made our way to the apartment OK, of course, when you arrive in a new country it's always a bit of a challenge to get your head around the transport system. I asked a local or two for help and they were both very kind and obliging, not the rude French stereotype.

We were met at the apartment and shown around, rather a quirky place and at the 5th floor, which to be honest was a bit of a killer! By this time it was late afternoon, so we just had a wander around the neighbourhood, getting the lay of the land as it were and picked up some food for dinner and breakfast. We both collapsed into bed pretty early.

Tomorrow we go adventuring....

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Playdate with MY cousins

10th August]

Monday morning the boys were dead to the world, Di and I packed up the rest of the tent and yet they slept on. Finally we had to tip them out of their sleeping bags (sweet revenge) so we could actually pack up the tent!

After getting back, unpacking, all taking a bath and getting sorted my uncle (who is just 4 years older than me) and his kids (my cousins) came round for a playdate. Obviously my uncle thinks he is 6 years old and is rocking a jesus look with the beard and the sandals!

Serious game of footie going on in the garden there....

It was lovely to see them if only briefly, once they said their good-byes it was time to welcome Rob back home, who had been in China for a week and to get our backs backed, ready for the next adventure...Paris!

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Forgotten Fields and The Levellers

[9th August]

Followed by another early morning. Thankfully the whingy kids family were packing up, along with a lot of other families. The festival finished late Sunday but I expect many people had work Monday morning so a lot left Sunday.

We were blessed with beautiful weather all weekend, Di can't remember going to such a mud free festival, I can't remember ever going to one with crappy weather! maybe I'm the festival good weather fairy or something!

The toilets had also been cleaned and they organizers had come to their senses and let people into the arena a bit earlier so Sunday was a lot more chilled. There was a lot more circus tent fun and a bit of drama where Ry, who had taken his shoes off, managed to lose a shoe. Of course we hunted everywhere and couldn’t find it. We got Marcus the circus master to do an announcement and had all the staff keeping an eye out but it was no where to be seen! A couple of hours later... Ry came back with a grin on his face, apparently some dad had handed the missing shoe in! *phew*

We spent most of the day just chilling, we had no net access which was great - a forced digi detox. 

Di caved into Ghandi’s flip flops and had a veggie curry with a plate full of pickles and side bits and a plate full of popodoms. Ebi-kun has never tried Indian curry before so he had a sample of all Di’s dishes and then decided he wanted the kids curry. I wasn’t sure if he would like it so asked for a wee taste, the staff were great and gave him a ladle full to try. He polished that off with Di’s left over rice and then had a bacon buttie!

Late afternoon was time for the balloon disco in the Big Top, they started off with tiny ones then kept adding bigger and bigger ones, the kids were running round like loonies, and some of the adults too - lots of fun!

The boys both wanted exotic burgers again for dinner, everyone opted for the same as the day before, although Ebi-kun was interested in trying zebra, he changed his mind at the last minute.

Then what you need after a big fat burger is to go on a swing ride, first time either of them had been on one, they loved it!

All to do now was to wait for the bands to come on, there were smaller bands playing through the day but we didn't really make the effort to watch any of them. Waiting time meant Top Trumps time, I lost count of the times we played over the weekend!

I love this photo of Ebi-kun as the sun was setting, it sums up the whole festival feeling for me.

Finally the headlining band, The Levellers, an old favourite of mine and so Ebi-kun knows a lot of their songs too, he got so excited when they came on. Putting him on my shoulders wasn't such a good idea, he is way too heavy these days. We did however manage to get right to the front, which reminded me of when I took my little brother to see them at the NEC (enormous arena) when he was 13, I lost him as he tried to get to the front, thankfully I found him later on but missed most of the gig as I was trying to find him!

They played lots of the old stuff and because a lot of people had gone home we had a good dance right near the stage.

Ebi-kun loved it, he was buzzing all the way back to the tent! It was the perfect way to finish the weekend really.

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