Friday, March 23, 2018

France, Day 8

Today was a debacle. Everything went wrong, but we ended up salvaging it with a great dinner and a great dessert. Some days, you just need a crepe.

This morning, we thought we would head to Versailles. The town was great, and we stopped at a great kebab place for a quick lunch. Then we walked to the castle. It was cold. And wet. And windy. We arrived to the largest line ever (really, really long), and it was outside. In the cold, wet, wind. And even though we had travelled all the way out there, we had to call it. 

So back in the car... And into horrendous traffic. And then we couldn't find our new hotel. Even after several tries, our navigation skills had met their match. We finally prevailed, checked in early and took a nap. 

So the evening needed redemption, and there is no better redemption than great food! So we trekked bank to Senlis (my favorite) to a Michlin star restaurant with a great view. And after dinner, we walked the narrow cart-path streets to find a place for crepes and ice cream. All was not lost, and our great dinner was a great way to close out our time in France.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

France, Day 7

Today, we headed to Montmartre, which was one of our favorite parts of Paris. Perhaps it was Sacre Coeur looming high on the hill, the wide streets or the transformation from red light district to what it is today... truly and uniquely Paris.

Or, it might have been that Grant and Grace had birthday experiences there that they will always remember.

Bret dropped Grace and me off on the north side of the arrondissement two hours before our appointment while he and the boys went off for their own adventure. Grace and I shopped and ate before landing at our macaroon baking class. Anyone who knows Grace knows that she is French cookie obsessed, and I looked all over Paris for a baking class in English that would allow her to join.

Thankfully, I found a spot willing to overlook her age, and I am so glad I did because she had the time of her life. The instructor, Chef Sarah, was raised in the States but had moved to Paris fifteen years ago to study French pastries. There was only one other student in the class, so it was basically a private tutorial. We made three types of cookies, three fillings, and walked away with almost 90 macaroons. It was madness... but in the best way. It was so fun, and I would suggest anyone visiting Paris consider some sort of cooking class. When we were done, we hiked up and over Montmartre to find the boys.

The boys had been busy riding a carousel and visiting Sacre Coeur. But their final stop was a Secret Food tour for Grant's birthday, and my boys did me proud. They walked from chocolate shop, to pastry shop, to cheese shop, sampling and trying everything. The tour guide was incredibly informative, and Grant soaked it up, relating to me historical and cultural facts upon reuniting.

Once done walking around the district, the boys returned to a cellar to eat. They tried mild cheeses, blue cheeses and even a "weapon of mass destruction" cheese which Bret said was so strong he could hardly put it on his plate. But my two other boys gobbled up the cheese covered in mold. Next up, Goose and pate and something in pig's intestine. Check. Downed by all my boys, putting those other Americans to shame. The guide said he had never seen anything quite like it. When Bret left the cellar to send me a text, Grant and Trent were both fighting over who got the rest of the intestine. Proud mama, I think.

Tomorrow is our last day, and we are torn on what to do. I just know it will involve eating 20 macaroons each.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

France, Day 6

Much like last spring break, our kids' birthday presents are tied up in experiences over here. Trent's day was today, and this little boy had a great day, declaring over dinner that "this day couldn't get any better."

We started at the Parc des Felines, which has the largest collection of wild cats on the planet (who knew?). Trent, who is still into all things animal and actually (like for reals) thinks he is related to the Black Panther, was in love. We saw various species of lions, cheetahs and tigers. We saw a few smaller cats too, but we finally had to call the day as the park was massive. So we hopped on the train around the park and then headed to the gift shop.

We had some great Indian food for lunch before heading back to the condo to watch a movie and go for a long swim.

We headed out for a late dinner in Chantilly. The palace in Chantilly is jaw dropping as is the cathedral in its neighboring town Senlis, so much so that you could convince me to spend my vacation an hour north of Paris next time.

Dinner was at a small, local Italian restaurant. The owner was quite enamored with Trent, and the free goodies and extra attention started to flow. I think it was the tiger mask Trent insisted on wearing for most of the meal.

Prior to our trip over here, I was worried about the rumored French distaste for Americans and tourists. Nothing could be more removed from our experience. Every single encounter we have had ( has been with French people who are warm, welcoming, and unbelievably gracious to work with us as we attempt to understand or translate.

Plates of pasta and the world's best tiramisu later, and we about to crash for the night as we prep for Grant and Grace to experience their presents tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

France, Day 5

After a lazy morning around the condo, we ended up in the Latin Quarter for lunch. These foodie kids of mine amaze me! Foie gras, check! Bone marrow, check! They will try anything, and we picked a great lunch spot near the Sorbonne.

After fortification, we walked around the Quarter, chasing pigeons and window shopping (and macaroon shopping in Grace's case). We ended up in a small, quirky museum all about language. All of the exhibits were hands on, and the kids had a great time in the small space testing their listening skills, playing scrabble, learning about insults in other languages and trying out Morse code.

From there, we walked to the Seine where we caught a late afternoon cruise. The kids ooh-ed at the Eiffel tower, and we all loved learning about the many bridges and their histories.

We crashed in the car on the way to a mall in hopes of Bret finding some sunglasses (he did not) before crashing for the night.

Monday, March 19, 2018

France, Day 4

We headed to the heart of champagne country today. It was cold but beautiful. We had booked a tour at a small champagne house in hopes that the tour would be more manageable for the kids. We arrived to a century old winery, with a tour guide being none other than the owner, the fourth generation champagne grower... and we were his only guests!

It was a very informative tour, and the passion that our guide had for grapes, the region, and his family's legacy was contagious.

After the tour, we are some fabulous sushi in Reims. We also invaded a patisserie like wolves all before heading to the cathedral in Reims, which was simply spectacular. 

Finally, we landed back at the condo for swimming and dinner. More adventures to come...

Sunday, March 18, 2018

France, Day 3

This morning, we woke up to a blanket of snow which created a shift in plans. We loaded up the car and headed about an hour south to the Chateau de Fountainebleu, the country estate for royalty for centuries. 

Before landing at the castle, we stumbled upon a Sunday street market, which is one of our favorite foreign city traditions. We shopped among locals, zig-zagging in and out of food stalls, cheese stands and fish mongers. We settled on some French soap and a couple of stinky French cheeses. We played at a local playground before heading to the palace.

In the castle, the boys' attentions waned shortly after leaving the Napoleon apartments, which was the last place the famous monarch lived before exile. The palace was enormous and opulent, and the kids did great moving between all the rooms. Aside from an almost mishap where Trent tried to ascend the throne (literally), we had a great morning.

After the tour, we headed to lunch, which much to Grant's delight was quintessentially French, complete with escargot. Everyone liked the escargot, save me (erin). I didn't hate it...but I was good at one!

We drove around the French countryside a bit, including an old medieval town before heading back to watch the Purdue/Butler game (yes, we travel with our Roku).

After the game, we headed out for a late dinner. We went to a French chain which was, like most chains, passable but not special.

Tomorrow, we head to champagne country!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

France, Day 2

After twelve uninterrupted hours of sleep (Day 1 plan worked like gangbusters), we headed into Paris. Some people wait with the rest of humanity to see the Mona Lisa, but the Hawkins fam waits 15 minutes with twelve Frenchmen to head to the Musee des Arts Forains... Or the Museum of Fairgrounds Arts. 

It was the prefect morning, the perfect museum. It was a truly French little experience (the tour was in French), and it wasn't too big or too overwhelming for three kids. It was beautiful... in a way we have never seen. The pictures won't do it justice... but imagine, eighteenth and nineteenth century carnival games housed in centuries old winery, and you can start to get it. The kids rode several antique carousels, played antique carnival games, and watched and listened to some antique carnival entertainment

After a fabulous morning, we headed out for a very late lunch. The Belgian cafe was known for its mussels, so the kids were thrilled! Pounds of mussels later, it was time for dessert... Belgian waffles with homemade chocolate and pistachios. Grant declared it the best restaurant in the world. 

Finally, we headed back for an evening swim and some pizza. A Perfect start... And one that I would take over the Mona Lisa any day.