cousin_arcThe girls were excited to get going this morning because we were going to spend the day touring Paris with their cousins.  We met up with them just before noon (always so crazy to see family/friends out of normal context!) and off we went - destination the Eiffel Tower.  We had to change metros at the Arc de Triomphe so instead of staying in the tunnel we got out to look at it.  The metro station right by it is great in that you emerge from underground with the amazing Arc right in front of you.  It's so huge and impressive; we saw it a few days ago but I could look at it everyday as it's impossible not to marvel at the sheer size and intricacy, while still being very simple.  Contradictory I know, but I don't know how else to describe it.

Onwards with the intention of having a picnic by the Eiffel Tower - Jeff even carried a girlish bag around all morning with a picnic blanket and frisbee inside.  We were blocks away from the tower and saw a take-out place and thought it would just be easier to eat there than to get a bunch of stuff and try and eat it on a tiny blanket.  Jennifer (my sister-in-law) and I shared a pitchet of wine but we were so distracted and rushed that we barely touched it so I improvised and poured it in an empty water bottle we had in our bag.  After wiping out two waxy paper cups (formerly holding iced tea) we put in in the bag and decided that we would drink it in view of the Eiffel Tower.  I have to say, I have seen the Tower many, many times and it never fails to impress me.  You feel small, but in a wonderous way, not an insignificant way.  We wandered under it and on to the other side of the river where we set up our blanket.  The kids ate ice cream and rode the carousel (twice!) while Jennifer and I drank the illicit wine from the water bottle while admiring the Eiffel Tower.  Nice.

It was a super hot day and so we walked the short distance over to the Trocadéro Fountains to cool off.  We intended on only putting our feet in but it wasn't long before our nieces (aged 5 and 3) stripped down to their undies and hopped in.  There were lots of people swimming and splashing and there was a general feeling of joie de vie!   Chloë was content to just soak her feet but Julia was going crazy watching all the swimming and not being able to participate.  Eventually enthusiasm overcame modesty and she too hopped in the water.  They all dried themselves off with the less-than absorbent blanket and we continued on our journey.  After a long walk along the Seine we chose to catch a metro back to our apartment to get refreshments and snacks to take to the little playground across the street.  Poor Jonah (age 1.5) had been corralled most of the day in a stroller so he was so happy to run free and he had difficulty deciding whether the toy train was more exciting than the tortilla chips.  The kids were getting fairly tired so we made a dinner decision (Hippopotamus - again!) which turned out to be the perfect choice.  Our niece Rebekah fell asleep during dinner on the bench seat yet miraculously awoke when they brought dessert!  We walked them home which was great because they are staying in a neighborhood close to us and yet we had never been there before.  It's always fun to see different rental apartments and wonder how 'real' people could live in them.  They rarely have front closets (what do you do in the winter with your coats, boots, etc?).  I know it has to be a less cluttered lifestyle so perhaps we need to move into one of these tiny IKEA inspired places just to get rid of all of our superfluous stuff.



You can buy a kid's happiness with a helium balloon...  ---->


It's a gorgeous evening and the walk home was really nice.  The cafés are absolutely hopping with happy people (friends, lovers, family) just out enjoying the evening and a nightcap.  It looks like a great place to go with a friend for a chat and a drink (and some secondhand smoke) and you understand how apartments can be so small when you would rarely be in them.  It looks like many hadn't gone home from work yet and these cafés are their living rooms.

We're all a little tired tonight - this is day 5 of sightseeing and our feet are feeling it.  It's been so nice to have an entire week here without a plan or a need to do much of anything besides absorbing the atmosphere and just existing in a place much different from what we're used to.  The language is coming a little easier and I have to give props to Chloë who orders her food with such French politeness; "Je voudrais tagliatelle avec pesto et l'eau avec sirop s'il vous plait."  All of you who speak fluent French may find slight inconsistencies with this phrase but it's pretty great for a kid who goes to Spanish school and has taught herself French from a book!  Julia usually adds on a 'Moi aussi' which is cute (as long as she wants the same thing as her sister!).

As a side note, we needed to do a small load of laundry to make sure that we arrived in Amsterdam smelling fresh and clean.  Any of you who remember our Spanish debacle 2 years ago will know that European washing machines aren't exactly my best friend.  (As a refresher - in Begur, Spain we had almost our entire wardrobe stuck inside of a washing machine the day before we were due to leave.  We basically took the thing apart with a screwdriver and still couldn't retrieve our clothes.  They even called in a specialist who spent hours trying to open it - eventually he succeeded (but looked amazed and had no idea how he did it) and we hastily hung our clothes hoping they'd dry enough for us to pack them the next morning before catching a train.  It was a little stressful and my heart always beats a little faster when I need to do a load of laundry over here.)  Okay, back to today's situation.  I put in the load and everything was going great.  I went to remove the clothes when they were done and the nasty little lock sign was lit up.  Stressful hormones flood my bloodstream but I vowed to remain calm.  All sorts of knob twisting and button pressing don't do a thing… so I walked away.  I knew the machine and I were not on the same wavelength so my only hope was Jeff could approach it with an open mind.  Thankfully he read the real instruction manual and ta-da… it opened!  But I went to pull out the clothes and they were wet - not just a little wet but actually completely sopping wet.  Now I had a conundrum… do I try and spin them more (and risk the lock situation again?) or wring out each individual piece of laundry and hope they dry by tomorrow night so that they could be packed.  Uggggh.  To make a long story short I spun them, it opened, and all was well.  Fairies flew around, rainbows appeared and there was lovely music in the air.  We will be fresh.

On another note - urine/excrement.  There is a lack of public toilets in Paris which leads to a permeating smell of urine in the streets.  There comes a point during city planning (and city culture, for that matter) when you have to weigh the cost of toilet paper and flush water against the stream of pee running down the sidewalk and the human poop in the gutter.  (No joke - one sat there for days around the corner from our apartment before finally being cleaned up).  I love Paris, but I don't love smelling pee while sitting on a park bench looking at a map.  We will not allow ourselves to leave a restaurant without every single one of us at least attempting to use the bathroom before leaving because who knows when we'll encounter one again.  Just a different culture, and I understand that… but I like our bathroom culture better!

Tomorrow is our last full day here and I'm always amazed at how a week seems so long at the beginning and then just flies at the end.  We're looking forward to our next adventure which contains a lot of family parties and hopefully a few day trips mixed in here and there as well as an opportunity to explore Amsterdam a bit more than we have in the past.  I'll dream tonight of pee and wine and crêpes and metros.  Sweet dreams...


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