I’ve been thinking a lot today about our family’s first and only trans-Atlantic trip to date. It’s been almost 2 years since we spent 11 days in and around Paris, visiting friends and seeing the many wonderful sights of one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Here’s a synopsis I wrote when we returned…
While our trip got off to a bumpy start, we returned home feeling that—good and bad—we would repeat the entire experience over again in a heartbeat if we had the chance.
The funky start to our trip actually began a couple of days before our departure when Boris fell off the couch and bumped is head good on our hardwood floor. The subsequent trip to the ER revealed that—while his head was fine—the rash around his mouth was in fact impetigo. We started the application of antibiotic cream and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t need to give him ingestible (potentially horrible side-effect producing) antibiotics.
Further complicating our departure—the night before we left, Chris started feeling the rumblings of the stomach flu. I sent him to bed early and hoped that he just eaten something funny. Unfortunately, in the middle of our 10 hour flight, his symptoms worsened and he spent much of the flight in the latrine. As an added bonus, just as I was drifting off to sleep, Boris (who apparently caught Chris’ stomach bug) threw up all over me, all over himself, and all over our seat. Since Chris was “in dispose” and Oscar was asleep next to me, it was a bit of a juggling act to get everything/everyone cleaned up and settled back down. Needless to say, my mommy instincts kicked in and I didn’t sleep a wink for the duration of the flight.
Once we landed in Paris (exhausted, jetlagged, and smelling of vomit), it took an additional 4-5 hours to make it through customs, retrieve our bags, trek to the train, and make it to our friends’ house in the bitterly cold Paris suburbs. So one day of our trip was lost to travel and we burned through an additional day just recovering and sleeping off the jetlag. Just as Chris and I were starting to feel ready for action, Oscar caught the stomach flu and spent a day alternating between sleep and vomit. Meanwhile—despite the application of antibiotic cream, the rash around Boris’ mouth was worsening AND he fell down the stairs at our friends’ house and bumped his head a second time.
On the fourth day of our trip, everyone finally seemed well enough to attempt the hour-long train ride back into Paris. We got a late start but enjoyed exploring the area around the Paris Opera House. We found a really cool playground at the foot of a very old and beautiful church and let the boys play and blow off some steam. Sometime during the day, we noticed that Boris’ nose had begun to run and we speculated that he picked up a cold on the flight.
Within 24 hours, Boris was wheezing and struggling to breathe. Although we had brought his inhalers, we left the nebulizer at home and had no choice but to head to the ER for some breathing treatments. Thank goodness my good friend Claire was with me throughout the ordeal to translate! While at the ER, an x-ray revealed that Boris had bronchitis and would need a full regimen of antibiotics, steroids, and breathing treatments. Sometime during his third breathing treatment, Boris decided that he had had ENOUGH and the full force of his almost two-ness was unleashed. He tantrummed like I have never seen him tantrum before. He was completely inconsolable for about 15 minutes…a pattern which we saw repeated on several occasions in the days that followed. On the bright side, the antibiotics cleared up his impetigo.
Since our ER visit nixed our planned trip to Versailles, we settled for a late afternoon walk in the forest near our friends’ house in Burs sur Yvette. Oscar and his friend, Maya had fun hiking and helping to build a lean-to with some other kids we came upon in the forest.
On the sixth day of our trip, the antibiotics had kicked in and we were guardedly optimistic that everyone was FINALLY ready for some adventures. We visited the Centre d’ Pompidou (Museum of Modern Art) and went to the circus (Cirque d’ Hiver). Both were AMAZING. This particular circus has been produced by the same family in Paris since the 1930s. It featured a lion tamer, amazing acrobats, a phenomenal tightrope act, some hilarious clowns, a live orchestra, and jugglers. The amphitheater was all red and velvet and had a romantic, old-world feel. We all had a blast! The night was topped off by a delicious pizza dinner en route back to the Metro. The next day, we made it to Notre Dame and the boys took a ride on the carousel outside the Hotel de Ville (where the mayor and city offices are housed).
Sometime during our first few days in France, Chris made contact with one of the foreign exchange students (Gaelle) that lived with his family many years ago. Gaelle and her husband, Giuaum (spelling?) live in the heart of Paris with their three-year-old daughter, Nina. As luck would have it, Gaelle is pregnant with twins and had just been placed on maternity leave (in France you get 6 weeks before your due date for each child…meaning Gaelle gets 12 weeks). Since Nina is in school during the day, Gaelle was free to hang out. She graciously invited us to stay with her for a few days so that we could be closer to the action. This was an offer we couldn’t refuse…especially since we had burned through so much of our vacation time being sick! We planned to head to her apartment on the eighth day of our vacation and spent the seventh day visiting the Eiffel Tower and having a goodbye dinner with our very gracious first hosts (Abdul, Claire, and Maya). It was so great to see them and we regretted that so much of our time was tainted by sickness. We felt especially horrible that when we left for Gaelle’s, Claire had caught Boris’ cold and Maya had a touch of the stomach flu. Oy! We are the WORST house guests ever! We hope we can make it up to them soon.
FINALLY feeling 100% ready to take full advantage of Paris, we spent the last couple days of our vacation making up for lost time. We saw the Arc de Triumphe, Hotel des Invalides/Napoleon’s Tomb, Musee Rodin, Musee d’ Orsay, the Louvre, Champs Elysees, the Conciergerie (where Marie Antoinette lived/was imprisoned before her unfortunate end), Sainte-Chapelle (an amazing church that was built in the 1200s and 1300s. It features the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen), and Musee du quai Branly (African and Asian Art). We also took a boat ride down the Seine. Highlights for Chris and I included seeing amazing art and architecture unlike anywhere else in the world. Highlights for Oscar and Boris included riding on the moving walkways in the Metro and airports and seeing the “army guys” that patrol the major monuments and Metro stops to prevent terrorist attacks. On one occasion, we even got to see them blow up a strange package! (Scary for us, thrilling for the boys.)
Shortly before departing for our trip, I came across some happiness research that indicates the happiness gained from the acquisition of things—if you’re lucky—only lasts about 9 months. The stuff gets old, you get used to having it, take it for granted, etc. In contrast, the happiness gained from experiences never wanes. Memories can always be retrieved to elicit (almost) the same joy as the original marvelous experience. Our trip to Paris did much to solidify this concept for me. Even with the hardships, I was left feeling that if I have to budget, live in a small house and drive an old car forever, I’ll do it if it means that I’ll have some expendable income to create memories like the ones we just had in Paris. Yesterday, we were at Costco and Oscar spotted a picture of the Eiffel Tower. “Look, Mama!,” he said very excitedly, “The Eiffel Tower.” “That’s right, baby,” I said. Inside, I was thinking how great it is that now, the Eiffel Tower isn’t just an iconic picture to Oscar but an experience he can retrieve and relive forever. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of turning many more of the world’s wonders into fantastic memories for my boys. Vive la France!