Saturday, May 23, 2015

When in Brussels

We spent some time in Brussels and really weren't sure what to do.  The parks are excellent, so that of course filled lots of time.  Somewhere, we stumbled upon information about this Chocolate workshop at Zaabar.  We figured, well, if you are in Belgium, you have to do something with chocolate.

It was a good time.  We used toppings, fillings and spices to create decadent truffles, mendiants, and chocolate bars.  We were thrilled that the only offer was of dark chocolate.  As Butterfly Twirl said "Who can even eat milk or white chocolate?" 

The highlight probably was when our chocolate bars were done and we packaged them up just like real bars (see the pic.)  If you are in Brussels, definitely one of the better activities to fill the days. And as a bonus, ZaaBar isn't too far from the shopping.  I am sure I need some new shoes...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Paradise of Pastries

When you go to get your pastry in the morning, there are so many choices to make.  First, you can decide DocRunning, Rock Monkey, and I all prefer flaky pastries.  You have to search to find the right shop.  The second consideration is to choose the right pastry.  There are so many kinds of pastries, and they sometimes are different at each pastry.  I like a plain croissant.  DocRunning prefers a Pain au Chocolat.  Rock Monkey likes a variety of pastries. 

We've moved around a lot, so we had to find the right place.  Here's a list of some of our favorite places (by city):

Paris - Eric Kayser
Chartres - La Fournee
Brussels - Charli

We've shown some of our favorite places, tell us your favorite places for pastries in the comments.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Parks and Playgrounds are Paradise

Maze outside Chartres' Cathedral, France
Traveling with kids means not just monuments and museums but a considerable amount of playtime. As Climber Girl noted, it's tiring being on high alert all the time. High alert means watching for cars, navigating through crowds, standing in lines, worrying about what you can and can't touch, etc.  So play time is important - pretty much every day.

For playtime, playgrounds certainly are nice (you may have ready read our impressions of the Jardin du Luxembourg where we spent more days than I can count), but playgrounds aren't necessary. A few hours on an open grassy field yields, a pile of imaginative games, learning to make Daisy chains, and insightful observations can easily provide a much needed break from sightseeing.  Parks also present an unique opportunity to interact with other cultures.  We have all met interesting people and learned about other cultures as well as gotten some recommendations for our own travels (The Canadian tourism office doesn't need to worry, the many Canadians we have met have promoted the country well!)

Seeing less and enjoying our travels is definitely better than being turbo tourists. Besides, skipping things just gives us an excuse to come back. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Chickens in the Park

At the park in Chartres where we were expecting to play, we found...


Sunday, May 3, 2015

My Favorite Places in Paris

A water lily in musee de l'orangerie
I like many places in Paris, but some places i like better than others.  Here's a list of some my favorite places in Paris:
Sacre Coeur
  • Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) a beautiful white church
  • Jardin de Luxembourg a delightful playground 
  • Tour de Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) take the stairs to the second floor saves money
  • Musee de l'orangerie a small place with big Monet water lilys
  • Jardin des Tuilleries a lovely garden with a nice playground 
Now that I have shown you some of my favorite places, try adding a list of places on the comments (below) from a city that you think is cool.

The Musee du Orangerie (In the rain)

We have learned that spring weather in Paris is very unpredictable. the forecast said that there was a 30% chance of rain  at 9:30, and at 9:30 it was pouring down rain. At 9:30 we were standing in line for the Musee du Orangerie. It was not fun. However, once we got inside it was quite fun. We saw the water lilies, and they were huge.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Quest for the Perfect Croissant

Photo Courtesy of
Perfection is of course subjective. We all have our own idea about what makes the perfect croissant. For us it's light, flaky and not overcooked. Paris croissants tend towards the slightly burnt, or so we were told before arriving. In this way, they are completely cooked but to our tastes seem a little burnt.

We stayed in apartments (definitely the way to go for families) while in Paris, and usually started with recommendations from our host. In the 8th arondissemnt, our host recommended Les Caprice des Charlottes, which was just around the corner. Location- ideal. We were encouraged by the number of locals that frequented this patisserie. The croissants were solid and consistent. The pain au chocolat tended to be a bit overdone but the plié was tasty, very sweet though. I liked the espresso here more than other places we visited.

In the 6th arrondissement, we had lots of choice. Our host recommended Boulangerie Guérineau.   The staff were very friendly, and the aroma of bread baking was overwhelming upon entering. The croissants were very doughy, not crisp and flaky. After one visit we were done.

Hands down the best croissants, as well as other tasty treats were at the many Eric Kaysers that dot the streets of Paris. The croissants and pain au chocolat were light and flaky. Too tempting for two. Limber gitliked the plié au chocolat, which is like folded croissant dough around chocolat and pastry cream. We tried the Viennoise chocolat, a bread filled with chocolat chips. Also quite good. Eric kayser quickly became our place for the perfect croissant in Paris. And certainly it was fun searching...

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A little bit of home...

While we may be adventurers and explorers, it is always easier with a little bit of home. A favorite book, a familiar journal, a special bracelet can all provide comfort when the foreigness has become a bit overwhelming. But a little piece of home when we are out and about can be fun, too.

A great comfort for us, is a bookstore with books in English. We love bookstores back home, and while we certainly love to explore the used bookstores in French, after being surrounded by French it is comforting to walk into a store where we can read everything.

It was windy and chilly today and after many wonderful adventures, it was lovely to retreat n W.h. Smith which has a fantastic book selection, particularly in children's books. We could just retreat into a story for a bit. And we discovered many new books not readily seen in American bookstores to add to our wishlist. As soon as we return, we will be popping over to the local independent bookstore with a special order.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

My Birthday

Today was my birthday, in April. It was an good day; First we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and then we went to the Jardin du Luxembourg (which has an awesome playground, by the way). It was a great birthday.

Getting Lost is Part of The Adventure

One fun thing about exploring a new city is getting lost. We were on a quest today for an obscure little shopping street that we had read about on the web.  We had already seen the creme de la creme shopping boutiques and were hoping for something a little different.

We never quite found it, but on the way to what turned out to be nowhere, we stumbled upon this view.  And when you get "lost" and accidentally stumble upon the Eiffel Tower, life is pretty good.  We also found a random ancient Egyptian statue on a main street we just happened to be walking on.

The point of it all being that while certainly it is good to go somewhere specific, there can be some pretty cool discoveries when you end up in a random place. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Unusual sights in Paris

Ram eating grass in the Jardin Du Tuilleries
Lots people come to see Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, but if you look around you  find there are a lot more interesting sights to see.  We don't just mean Sacre Coeur.  We mean like unusual sights that takes a little exploring to find.  For example:

  • A ram eating grass (giving it a trim) in the Jardin des Tuilleries
  • A French man riding an Airwheel.
  • A petting zoo next to Sacre Coeur complete with a small bull (le vau), a goat (le chevre), and a pig (un couchon).
    Largest wheel of cheese ever!
  • The largest wheels of cheese ever known to mankind!
  • An Egyptian statue in the middle of a busy Parisian street (influenced by Napoleon, we think).
Here's a tip for finding these things: walk instead of other transportation. 

Rock Monkey and Butterfly Twirl

Foodie Fun

So, even in France, it doesn't take long to get tired of going out to eat.  The brassieries all have essentially the same food.  You can find paninis everywhere.  And of course, there are the morning pastries, which we aren't giving up yet.  But we are ready to cook, again.  Fortunately, we found this amazing organic gourmet super market called La Grande Epicerie. This supermarket, WAY better than a MonoPrix, has it all - gourmet pastas and olive oils, wines, cheese, meat, breads, etc.  They even have an "American" aisle and a tex-mex shelf, both of which we avoided.  When in Rome and all that...

Food shopping is an experience in itself.  There is of course the constant converting of Euros into dollars in your head to figure out about how much something costs, and then the challenge of communicating the number of kilos of cheese and meat to the staff.  Even with my French skills, it is an adventure.  On our first go, we ended up with a block of salami (not sure why I couldn't get him to slice it) and WAY more cheddar than we can possibly eat.  Still, we didn't do too badly.  I love the produce system where you put your produce in these paper bags and take them directly to the counter where one person weighs everything and puts a sticker with a bar code on it.  At check out, the cashier just beep beeps it through and doesn't need to know any of the produce codes.  Plus, the staff was really helpful.

The highlight of this grocery visit quite possibly was the giant side of beef hanging in the refrigerator.  We wondered if you could buy the whole thing.  As vegetarians, we were pretty fascinated by the prevalence of meat everywhere.  I think if you do eat meat, you would be in heaven.  I have never seen such variety.  WOW! 

We also noticed that some products were particularly difficult to find, such as milk.  The milk section was very small.  The choice was between organic milk and not organic milk.  We went organic, but for all we know it is whole milk!  We did discover fromage blanc, which is similar to yogurt but a little less sour.  Climber girl likes it quite a bit with cherry tomatoes or blackberries mixed in.  All in all a fantastic experience.  We are stocked up for the moment, but am sure we will be heading back soon.

Blog post by DocRunning

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Because It's the Eiffel Tower

You really can't go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower.  I've been there on several visits before, but there is something unique about going with someone who is seeing it for the first time.

We walked a long way to get there (about 8,000 steps according to someone's fit bit).  The cool thing about walking there is that you get to see glimpses of it along the way, and then it disappears before it is suddenly looming large above you.  The scale of it requires getting up close to really appreciate it, particularly if you think of the technology of the time period.  As Butterfly Girl observed, the interlocking triangles make the structure strong, because triangles are the strongest shape.  It's hard to believe when you stand by it that some thought it was ugly when it was first built.

When we arrived, the long lines were at first discouraging.  But upon careful observation, we discovered that if you wanted (or were willing to) walk up, the line was quite short.  Surprising?!  We planned on walking anyways, so yeah for us.  The 37 flights didn't seem too bad, and all of us made it no problem.  The view of Sacre Coeur was of particular interest to everyone as it is one of our favorite places in Paris.  Just being up on the structure was super fun, and better than the Empire State building and the Rockefeller Center, agreed everyone.  There is a different perspective on a city when you are up high that can't be matched in other ways.  We walked down, also fun, and headed to the Arc de Triomphe, which was extra cool since we had seen it from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

If you go: go early.  The lines for all the areas were pretty long as we were leaving.  The website is confusing.  It's hard to tell that you can walk up and then buy tickets on the 2er stage to get all the way to the top, but you can.  It is 37 flights, so come prepared.

By DocRunning

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Paris: The City of Steps

When you think of Paris, you might think of the Eiffel Tower or romance or fashion or art, but I don't.  I think of many, many steps.  Every place you go in Paris seems to be not just about the place you arrived but about going up high.  Sacre Coeur has 384 steps to the dome (not to mention the many, many steps to get up to the beautiful cathedral).

There are over 37 flights to get to the 2er etage of the Eiffel Tower, and then you can take the elevator to the top.  You can go up to the top of the Arc De Triomphe and up the tower of Notre Dame.  And, we went up!

The views were well worth it, and of course, now we can eat as many pastries as we want.  Still, amongst the many wonderful memories we will keep from our adventures in Paris will definitely be the many, many steps!

By DocRunning

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Playgrounds and Pastries

Upon our arrival in Paris, there were two high priorities: pastries and playgrounds.  So, that's how we spent our first afternoon.  After a looooonnnnggggg   plane ride and unusual car ride, we finally arrived in our lovely apartment in Paris (thank you, Daniel, for a lovely place to stay and some delicious wine).   No one had slept more than 2 hours, but we decided to just go big (25,000 steps big according to my phone counter.)

We ducked out of the apartment for croissants.  They were good, although we would have better when we got more acclimated.  Still, when you are hungry and craving your first french pastry, you can't complain.

From there we trekked across to the Jardin du Luxembourg, the ultimate playground in Paris (the picture doesn't do it justice).  They do charge, but it is worth it.  There are TONS of climbing areas, a fun sand pit and this indescribable standing rope zipline.  It was a big hit. Rock Monkey also figured out how to be a "helper" without even speaking French.  I was super impressed with how both Rock Monkey and Butterfly Twirl played with a bunch of kids without relying on verbal communication.  It was a great start to what is likely to be an amazing adventure.

By DocRunning