The Adventure: Part 6–Paris


Paris was so very Parisian.  Around every corner were charming sidewalk bistros, beautiful buildings, and the loveliness of seeing a person honest-to-god carrying around a HUGE baguette.  We were smitten.  (I see I failed to straighten this first photo–oops.  Just tilt your head to the side…the building isn’t leaning, I was!)






That being said, Paris wasn’t all awesomeness and good food (although HOLY CRAP THE FOOD!).  Our arrival was chaotic and our taxi driver was a stereotypical French condescentionalist who felt very snubbed that we spoke only basic French.  We were able to tell him (in French) where we were headed but nothing else.  He acted as if he didn’t speak English at all but eventually he started conversing (somewhat) with us.  Fortunately, this was one of the rare instances we encountered of the legendary French snobbery.

Also, since Paris is a decidedly OLD town, there are parts that smell…less than enticing so be forewarned about that.  Finally, the area and hotel we stayed in were not up to my (admittedly snobby) standards.  For those of you interested, we stayed in Les Halles (pronounced Lay Al).  It was SUPER-DUPER convenient and perhaps on a different street in that area, we would have been fine but there was a LOT of construction happening around our hotel and it made us feel…not unsafe…but just felt like we needed to be extra alert and cautious due to some…unsavory characters lingering about.  I’m sure this is what anyone would expect in any urban situation so definitely do not let that deter you from staying in Les Halles but if I were to choose, I would prefer a different specific area.

We navigated using the Metro–which was very easy to figure out.  I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend the app.  You can input where you want to go (attractions, etc.) and it will show you the recommended routes. I mean, most apps do that but this one does not require Wifi to work!  This is a huge deal when you don’t have an adequate international roaming plan and you realize that everyone is so internet reliant, the basic maps, etc. are no longer readily available for tourists.  But mostly, I wanted to say that of all of the public transportation we used, Paris’s was by far the best and easiest to use as a foreigner.

There was TOO MUCH to do in Paris.  It is definitely a tourist destination!  Everything is open really late and you can visit everything at pretty much all times.  Restaurants were open late and so were museums and churches!  We were there four days spent squeezing as much as possible in and we did not cover even a portion of what Paris has to offer.  We plan on going back (and, in fact, have a trip planned in the future).

I LOVED Paris but I definitely would not want to live there.  We saw very few children and it seemed to be a young-ish adult centric city.  There were a lot of tourists–even this early in the tourist season–and I can imagine that as the summer goes on, it can get downright miserable.  It was the hottest city we visited but that makes sense as it is the most southerly.  We still were comfortable in jeans and at night, we wore a light jacket.

Believe all of the awesome things you hear about Parisian food.  It IS just better.  The bread is 1000 times better and…ahhh…just everything is so delicious.  We had heard that they serve smaller portions that in America but that was NOT our experience at all.  Every restaurant we went to was out-freakin’-standing and every dish I tried was delectable–even when we ate in one of the restaurants in the Louvre.

Just note: Paris is very spendy and those delicious, delicious meals were heftily priced.

Interesting Things We Saw:

Everything in Paris is interesting.  Even the regular old buildings are full of Parisian charm.  But we specifically went to Notre Dame:



It was staggeringly gorgeous.  We were fortunate enough to attend during Mass and that was a surreal and oddly moving experience even though I didn’t understand a single word as it was (obviously) in French and Latin.  Nonetheless, it was quite an experience.  They let tourists in while services are being held and it was truly a neat experience.

We walked across the Bridge of Locks.  I’m not sure that this is THE BRIDGE since I have read that they rotate where people put the locks so as not to damage the bridges due to weight and to allow for repairs and stuff.


We went back the next day to climb the Notre Dame tower since it was too late on our first day.  Wow.  Talk about gorgeous.  Paris buildings are not skyscrapers so being even a little bit high is breathtaking and impactful.  The outside of Notre Dame is amazingly and intricately carved and I imagine one could spend decades examining it and not truly find every hidden gem.




We then visited the Arc de Triomphe and it was stunning.  The sun was setting as we got there and it just made the whole experience surreal.

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Obviously that last picture is us on top of the Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower in the background.  Again, it was beautiful!

We also went to the catacombs.  It was neat but not something I care to do again…once is enough.  It should be on “the list of things to do” for sure just to see the staggering amount of bones.


After that, we visited The Louvre.  This, in and of itself, could easily take up many, many hours of multiple days.  There is just so much to see but while Bryan would LIVE in places like The Louvre, the rest of us limited him to about 8 hours.  (So…tired…of walking.)


DSC_3751Obligatory Mona Lisa picture.

Here are a few of my favorites:


It was definitely a highlight of the trip and if you’re actually INTO art, I bet it would be even better!

We also managed (over two days) to see and climb the tower of Sacre Coeur in Montmarte.  Lovely.


DSC_4245DSC_4230FINALLY, FINALLY, we did the Eiffel Tower.  We had prepurchased tickets for a “behind the scenes” tour since all of the regular tickets were booked online months prior to our trip.  It was definitely worth it since the lines are atrociously long and the pick-pockets are really bad at the Eiffel Tower.  That was the only time we had an active attempt at a pick and it was unsuccessful.  The good thing is that a little bit of awareness goes a LONG way to prevent losing wallets, money, etc. and we had done our homework.  Of course, the Eiffel Tower needs to introduction or commentary, really.

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Your tickets get you to the second floor.  From there, you have to buy another ticket to go all the way to the top.  You ride somewhat diagonally up the side of the tower.  The Eiffel Tower is, by no means, exceptionally tall by today’s standards, however it is very tall relative to the rest of Paris so you FEEL like you’re a mile high in the sky.  You’re actually only (ha!) about 81 stories high.  BUT you ride to the top in a glass elevator (Gag!) and I’m just saying that I could have easily peed my pants just a bit from that alone.  Once I got to the top, where it was INSANELY WINDY, I was fine because the metal makes you feel like you’re on something solid and it doesn’t sway in the wind.  If it had, I would have gotten into a prone position and stayed there until Bryan dragged me back to the elevator.  (The same elevators that have been in service since it was built in 1889–gag, again.)  There is no option to take the stairs to the very top of the tower and I cannot imagine why anyone would want to.  You can, however, take a bajillion stairs to the second level (actually 600, I think).

On our last afternoon in Paris, we decided to take a break from all of the adult-oriented stuff we were doing (history, old buildings, savoring long meals, walking around soaking up ambiance, art!) and take the kids to Disneyland Paris.  WE HAD A BLAST!  I found a great deal online and it is SO MUCH less expensive than DisneyWorld.  It is also a wee little park and we were able to do everything in the Magic Kingdom in half a day–easily.  The trade-off to the cheap tickets was that a few rides were closed for maintenance but we had a good time anyway.

The castle is beautiful but it is not very big.  It’s only 160 feet tall and is styled after Sleeping Beauty’s castle with its very own sleeping dragon in the dungeon.  You can visit her.  She snores–the dragon, that is.IMG_5651

What we were most surprised about is the fact that Main Street is in ENGLISH!  It felt so good to know what everything meant!  That’s silly, I know, but we noticed it and felt comforted.

Also, we got a kick out of the rides being named differently:



We really had the best time at Disneyland Paris and when we go back, we are definitely going to visit both of the parks and hope that all of the rides are open.  That was most laid-back, least crowded, easy, fun experience we have ever had at a Disney park!IMG_5728


ZOMG!  So, so, so delicious.  Hands down the best food I have ever eaten.  Worth every single, solitary calorie.  I want to go back just to eat it all again.  There were many, many choices and menus were often in French only.  If you asked nicely in French or got a waiter who had mercy on you, they would quickly bring you a menu in English although the translations are obviously done using Google Translate so it is interesting to parse through what you’re being served.  We thought of it as an adventure and giggled over the translations.  Meals in France were often long-ish and our waiters were in no hurry to move us along.  They were kind and considerate but just not in that much of a hurry to take our order, bring food, etc.  This was just fine with us as we were truly savoring the experience but if you are on a tight schedule, keep that in mind.  It wasn’t overly long but each meal definitely took longer than an hour.  But again, that was okay because the food was worth lingering over.  As a side note, the kids were able to find food to eat at every restaurant.  And again,  I am not sure what the deal is but even the french fries tasted better in Europe and especially in France.  And a glass of wine was always readily available.

~~~Notes and Stuff~~~

Money Exchange:

The French people use the Euro.  The exchange was about 1.04 Euro to 1 USD.


Paris is 5 hours ahead of EST.


There was plenty of traffic but it is a pedestrian city so no difficulty navigating in that regard.  They drive on the right as well, so that makes it easy to cross streets appropriately.  Again, Paris is VERY EASY to navigate using the Metro system so I would not even bother to rent a car.  You can get anywhere you need to go using the trains–even getting to the airports, Disneyland, Paris, and outlying areas is a very quick ride on the train.

Fun Facts:

I got nothing.  Malyn slept all through Paris in taxis and trains.  That’s it.

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Wish We’d Seen:

The Eiffel Tower lit up at night.  It didn’t start getting dark until after 10 so we never got to see the light show!

Champs-Élysées–we just never hit it.  Sad sigh.

Versailles–We were planning on doing this but time just went by too fast.  Definitely on our next to-do list.

Seriously, this list is a mile long of things to see.  One thing we definitely want to do is get fresh bread and cheese from a market.

This was a pretty photo-heavy post (sorry for your bandwidth) but OF COURSE, there are more pictures.  You can click HERE to see a Flickr album with all of the pics!


The Adventure: Part 5–Helsinki


Of all of the places that we visited, we were the least enchanted with Helsinki.  This is probably mainly due to the fact that we had a horrible, horrible map and we wasted a lot of time squinting at road signs that had a lot of consonants.  We walked a lot for what felt like very little WOW compared to other places we visited.  It also seemed basically deserted.  Helsinki is pretty sparsely populated (as is Finland in general.  Perhaps if we had gotten out of the city and were able to see the countryside perhaps we would have loved it?  It wasn’t boring but I don’t think we’ll make any particular effort to return, which is NOT how we felt about most of the other places we visited.

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Interesting Things We Saw:

We went to the National Museum of Finland.


They had an interesting exhibit on Religion and Malyn enjoyed tying a prayer to their Tibetan prayer tree but mostly Bryan loved it and the kids and I sat around playing on our phones.  Isn’t that sad?  Oh, well.  It’s the truth.

We then visited the Rock Church which was something *I* wanted to do.


It was *meh* as well although interesting to note that it was carved from…ummm…rock.  Just *meh* but it took us FOREVER to find due to horrible map and then I didn’t even get a good picture of it–all of them were slightly blurry do to the minimal light.

We went over into the more touristy section of Helsinki and saw the Senate Square with its beautiful cathedral.

Again, it was nice and pretty but not overly impressive.

Lastly, I dragged everyone to see this church.


It’s the Uspenski Cathedral.  It’s an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral and just lovely.

The dome was gorgeous as well.


That’s about it.  Seriously.

~~~Notes and Stuff~~~

Food: We did manage to score a yummilicious dessert of chocolate cake and cheesecakes at a cafe while waiting for our bus back to the ship.  We also drank very good Finnish cider, which I needed after a somewhat disappointing day in Helsinki.



Money Exchange:


The Finnish people use the Euro.  The exchange was about 1.04 Euro to 1 USD.


Helsinki is seven hours ahead of EST.


HA!  What traffic?  There were hardly any people!  They do drive on the right hand side of the road.

Fun Facts:

Helsinki only has about 1.4 million people which is around the size of San Antonio.  I read somewhere that city center population is around 650,000.

It was INSANELY windy–like winds of 40 mph the day we visited!  The temperature was fairly moderate–in the mid 60s to 70s but it was chilly in the wind!

This was the farthest north we were on this trip.  Helsinki is about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska!

Wish We’d Seen:

Something…anything to make us fall in love with Helsinki like we did with so many of the other cities we visited.  For us, this probably means getting out into the county side (which I imagine/hope is gorgeous.)


As always, click HERE for a link to the Flickr album about Helsinki.

a little bit of everything thrown in