Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Paris. Wow. Honestly, I started today with something of a “cheese-eating surrender monkey” opinion of the French, but I was totally impressed with Paris. When I drive down Provo Canyon, I often think to myself, if this canyon were anywhere in the country outside of the Mountain West it would be a National Park. Walking around Paris I thought the same thing about the buildings, in a city full of beautiful buildings, only the best make the tourist books.
We took a shuttle from our campground (no leering this morning, whew) to the metro where we figured out how to buy a ticket from the machine on only the third attempt and took it to the Louvre station. The building is immense and beautiful…except the modern art the Europeans feel they need to add to old things…not a fan of I.M. Pei’s pyramid, but they probably made him do it. We didn’t actually go in, parents with 2 and 6 year olds don’t get much out of huge, expensive museums. It’s going on the list of places to save for later.
From there we walked along the Seine to Notre Dame which has an average exterior, but the interior is probably the most impressive I have seen. I’m not sure exactly what it was, that made it so great, but I think it’s a combination of the scale (one of the largest and tallest), the interior design and the sun streaming through the stained glass windows. We sat in the chairs for 15 minutes (Lizzy had to go inspect a “Jesus” picture). Henry like the statue of St Denis on the outside holding his severed head in his hands.
After Notre Dame we walked to Luxembourg Gardens which were just beautiful and had the best kids playground I have ever seen. The zip-line, climbing ropes and sandbox were awesome along with sundry other playsets. Must not have the same type of lawyers in Europe as America. The kids didn’t want to leave after almost 1.5 hours, but we had enjoyed our time and had more to see.
I hadn’t realized the scale of things on the maps we’d looked at before. Most of the other towns we’d visited were pretty easy to walk 5-10 minutes between the sights, but Paris was much bigger. Even the normal buildings between the famous ones were well designed and decorated. Every street we walked on was pleasant. But we had walked enough at this point and hopped on the metro to Montmartre and the Sacre Cour basilica.
Luckily we chose to get off at a different station than the one Rick Steves recommended and thus unknowingly avoided surfacing from the Metro in the red light district. The basilica is on a steep hill just North of the river and there are a few hundred steps leading up which were a tough climb…Lizzy is big on doing steps all by herself right now and did almost two thirds of them before letting me carry her. Henry on the other hand took most of them at a run. At the top there was a mini concert on the steps and a bunch of Bangladeshi cheap souvenir vendors that would scatter when their lookout spotted the police almost like it was a game put on for the tourists.
After the cathedral we grabbed a ham and cheese crepe (cheapest calories in town, we’ve kind of given up enjoying sit down meals with the kids, rarely turns out well) which we enjoyed in front of a very talented bass playing street performer.
We wandered down the back side of the hill and took the Metro to the Arc de Triumph where we watched another street performer whose best trick was hopping on one hand in step with his music.
We then walked down the Champ de Elysses/ rue de diane to the Eifel tower. Lizzy had fallen asleep on the way and not wanting to repeat the previous night where she napped too late as we drove I rested in the park with her while Henry and Anna climbed the stairs to the second terrace or the Eifel Tower. Henry was a trooper and climbed up and down in record time. Much of the climb conversation consisted of how many scoops of ice cream such a feat deserved so once back on solid ground we quickly found an ice cream vendor and purchase 3 scoops—one for mom, two for Henry. Pistachio, Lemon, Chocolate.
Pretty much tucker-less at this point we headed back to the Blois de Bologne, picked up the car and headed Northwest towards the Normandy beaches. Driving to our campsite about 15 Km off the freeway we went for about a mile on this one lane road that was so completely tunneled in by trees I had to turn on the lights to see. We arrived to camp at the Chateau de Brevedent after sunset, the reception worker noticed me knocking at the office door and came out from the bar in the chateau to greet us. I started with my two-weeks worth of French, but his English was perfect, more than perfect actually, it was the kind of accent that make women swoon. Anna stayed in the car : ) , and we got camp set up in the chilly night.
Monday, May 30, 2011
We slept in. On the way to Ghent I had gotten so tired we had to pull over in a little town and Anna took the kids for a walk so I could nap for 20 minutes. (Anna--the walk was wonderful. We saw horses, chickens, and just wandered little streets.) We got in and got the tent set up around 1030pm and to sleep around 11pm. Anna and I woke up around 6 but went back to sleep. Wefinally rolled out of our bags around 1040 in the morning, showered (and left behind my razor), packed and headed for Brugges, Belgium (point B) by noon.
We both really liked Brugges. The city had been the prosperous center of power in Belgium during up to the late 18th century when the Belgian king and his Hapsburg wife dying in rapid succession thus giving power over to the Austrian empire. To add injury to insult, the port silted up over the next hundred years economically isolating the city which led to it’s preservation while other cities modernized during this century.
Both the churches we went to were beautiful. The Church of the Sacred Blood (a vial of red crusader loot is purported to be the blood of Christ) had been gutted by Napoleons “secular” troops, but had been beautifully painted in vivid colors.
The Sacred Blood was actually the lucky one, another church across the square was torn down and it’s bricks sold. It also had an earlier chapel attached with a very ancient feel due to its simplicity and dimness. The Sacred Blood was a big draw for many of the people visiting the church. A female priest who spoke English, Flemish, French, and who knows what else invited anyone who wanted to come up and pray over the relic to do so. I enjoyed watching people reverently climb the throne to have their chance to pray. We just watched and enjoyed the art. One series showed events leading to Christ’s crucificiation and burial. Henry correctly pointed out that they were missing the most important part though—Christ’s resurrection.
Henry found out how door knocker rings can be both fun and dangerous if you're not careful where you leave your fingers.
Lizzy leads the way!
We walked along the city canal (the highway for goods brought in from the sea) to the Church of our Lady which was beautiful in the traditional gothic way and had a beautiful Madonna and Child statue by Michelangelo, the only statue of his to leave Italy.
There was also a coloring table in the back corner for the kids which Henry and Lizzy sat at for about 20 minutes giving them and us a nice break.
After the church we walked to the Bejinhof, about an acre sized walled convent community in the city) which consisted of two rings of houses and chapels around a central part with daffodils and trees. All very calm and beautiful, except for Henry jumping around to catch the cottonwood fluff that was floating through the air.
An ancient nun walked by and seemed happy to smile with Henry and especially Lizzy.
Before leaving for Paris we stopped for Flemish beef stew with fries, Belgian waffles with chocolate and strawberries, and the best chocolate ice cream I have ever had.
The waffles were good, but the thing that makes them better than a normal raised Belgian waffle recipe was the real chocolate chocolate sauce. Yum.
After lunch we hopped in the car and headed toward Paris. At a gas station along the way I got to use the French I’ve been learning in the car for the last 3 weeks which was fun. It even cost less than $100 to fill up the car today…the $60 toll for the freeway from Lille to Paris was a kick in the pants though. We hit some traffic but still got to our campsite on the banks of the Seine in the Bois de Bologne well before dark. The campground is kind of loud, dingy and Anna was not happy about getting seriously leered at by backpackers on her way to the Ladies restroom. But it is close to the center of town and we’re looking forward to tomorrow if the kids ever fall asleep…the price for sleeping in.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
May 18 2011 Day 5
We woke up around 6am thanks to the jet lag to a chilly morning (50 F). When I say we, I mean Anna and I, packed up everything we could then finally had to wake the kids up. On cold nights Henry would just slide deep into his mummy bag (not sure how he kept breathing). We hadn’t gotten any Euro change yet and hadn’t realized we needed coin for the showers so we just packed up and headed north on a 3 hour drive to Holland to see the Keukenhoff Bulb Garden (point B on the map)
We saw dikes, old style windmills, and reclaimed land along the way, but as we got near the area we saw lots of green tulip fields with no blooms and started getting concerned. It was the week before the garden closed, but we saw tour busses in the parking lot and they happily took our 45e (70$) so we figured they must stagger their bulbs so they would have blooms. We were largely wrong. They had a few small beds of tulips in crates, but due to the unusually warm spring everything in the ground bloomed early (hottest in 50 years…bet that Global Warming will be the favored term instead of just Climate Change this year in Europe).
The gardens were still reasonably nice gardens and they had a great playground for the kids where Henry rode a zip line, climbed on a ropes course sort of contraption, and had a falcon zip 3 feet above his head (on my shoulders) during a Raptor show.
Lizzy liked talking to the animals at the little petting zoo and the poffertjies.
There was an indoor display area full of giant lillies from the Jurassic period (not really, just seemed dinosaur sized) that filled the air with an amazing scent.
We left feeling pretty disappointed and irked they hadn’t notified us before buying our tickets or cut the price and headed to Delft (C on the map). Delft was cute, we walked around the square and saw the two historic churches in the City (the “Old” and “New” church).
The “New” Church is where William of Orange (namesake for William and Mary college) and all his heirs were buried—so new means about 15th century here. The style said a lot about the Dutch, very simple and efficient inside with wooden crosspieces supporting a wooden ceiling that gave it a slightly Norse vibe.
We had lunch at a little café with dutch pancakes—plate sized thin pancakes (almost crepes) with butter and powdered sugar or syrup. Oh, bikes and bikes lanes everywhere, big bikers those dutch.
That evening we drove to Belgium and after we couldn’t find anyone at the nice campground we had planned to stay at we found one in Ghent (point D). We got set up there and popped out for a big bag of Fritjes (Belgians are big into ”French Fries”). The cheap and huge bag was some nice hot filling food after car snacks.