Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Notre voyage en Normandie et à Paris - Days 4 & 5

Today we went to the Louvre Museum, which is one of the largest museums in the world. It was originally a fortress and then a palace. I planned ahead, and downloaded a Rick Steves audio tour of the museum, so we listened to it and hit all the highlights of the museum in about 2 hours. 

We saw the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, the Venus de Milo sculpture, another sculpture called Winged Victory and even some by Michelangelo.
Carter & Mona
Cara trying to stand like Michelangelo's Slave sculpture

After all that walking, we picked up sandwiches and had a picnic lunch along the Seine. There was a small group filming some sort of medieval piece with sword and shield just down the river from us!
Love locks cover a bridge over the Seine
Next we headed to Notre Dame, which is celebrating their 850th Anniversary! They were in the process of replacing 8 huge bells in one of their towers and had the old ones all down the center aisle of the cathedral. The rose window (a huge circular stained glass window) and other stained glass was beautiful but it was awfully crowded, so our visit was a short one. 
Rose window in Notre Dame
We also wanted to go up on the tower of Notre Dame, but after waiting 30 or more minutes in the line and not moving much, we decided to try the next day.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a few shops and pick up items for an "al fresco" dinner, but ate it in our hotel. We had fresh strawberries, cheese from Normandy, assorted salamis and prosciutto, a fresh baguette, etc.

Dinner al fresco basically means a baguette, meats and cheeses on the floor of your hotel room (that’s what I think it means anyway). It was pretty good actually, though I didn’t have any of the meat because I don’t like it as much. The cheese that we had was called camembert and it was very good. Mom and Dad had some French beer and wine and Cara and I had pineapple juice boxes and we watched some TV. That was one of the best dinners I had in France!
Internet picture - it was night time when we went
After dinner, I really wanted to get a close up look of the Statue of Liberty which is a replica of the one in the USA. It's a lot smaller, but is neat because it faces the one in the US! It was dark, so we didn't get a good photo of it, but we found a patisserie on the way to the metro that had some excellent desserts (made it worth the walk!!)

Day 5 - 
Pielow family on Notre Dame Tower

In the morning before we left France, we took the metro to Notre Dame. The line was about the same as the day before, but we waited in line and actually got in, maybe because we had the patience. We had to go up what seemed like a million steps. When we finally got to the top, the view was pretty cool, you could see along the river for a long way! 

Then we went all the way to the top and as we were climbing the stairs to the top, there was a family with a little boy climbing behind us. It was pretty crowded in the stairs, so we kept on stopping. The little boy asked his dad “Why are we stopping?” The dad answered “Because it’s crowded.” Then we started moving again, but soon, we stopped again. The little boy asked his dad “Why are we stopped again?” The dad looked really frustrated, but everyone else that could hear it laughed. The view from the top was pretty cool; I would go if I were you!

Getting to see the architecture and especially the gargoyles on the outside of the cathedral was amazing.
Gargoyle about to attack the monuments in Paris!!!
Our metro guide taking us back to our hotel
Before leaving Paris, we had to stop one last time for a scrumptious treat, so Cara found a beautiful raspberry macaron, while Carter & I had nutella and banana crepes. Carter didn't think these were quite as good as the one he had our first night in Paris, and he also issued me a challenge to see if I could make one that good - I'll do my best!!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Notre voyage en Normandie et à Paris - Day 3

On Friday, we started the day at the Eiffel Tower. You can choose to either climb the steps to the 1st and 2nd level OR you can take the elevator.  There were 328 steps to the 1st level and a total of 674 to the 2nd level. 

We walked up the first two levels & enjoyed the views from each one. We decided to take the elevator to the very top, and were really glad we did. Even Cara, who is a little scared of heights liked it:I wasn’t even scared of going all the way up to the 3rd level!! We walked up the stairs, but I forgot how many there were. I also followed a Gus quiz on the first level to learn all about the creation of the Eiffel Tower. I thought it was neat that the Eiffel tower was supposed to be destroyed after 20 years, but they changed their minds.
following the Gus quiz

on the 2nd level
View of Les Invalides
View of Jardins du Trocadero from the top
View of the Seine River
After lunch at the Eiffel Tower, we decided our legs weren’t tired enough and climbed another 200+ stairs to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc was built to honor military victories. There is a flame and tomb of the unknown soldier. There is also a video camera built into the ceiling of the arc so that you can look down on the crowd below from inside.
Stairs taking us up the Arc de Triomphe
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
View of the Sacre Couer Basilica
view of city buildings from atop the Arc de Triomphe
One of Cara's Top Ten checked off the list!
The Pielows at the Arc de Triomphe
After a rest in our hotel, we had dinner at a corner bistro/café. The kids weren’t too excited about this because there wasn’t any kids’ menu. 

They ended up sharing a plate of marinated chicken skewers with a béarnaise sauce and a side of beans and tomatoes (which they really enjoyed). Carter even said, “I didn’t know fancy food could taste so good?!” Jim had a plate of duck, while I had salmon in dill and olive oil with salad. It was all divine! After dinner, we found a gelateria around the corner and each enjoyed a small serving (Stacy – coffee, Cara – lemon, Carter – chocolate, and Jim – caramel). The neat thing about the place, beside the flavors being amazing, was that they made the ice cream served in cones look like a rose with petals!
Carter's chocolate ice cream rose
We finished our day with a Bateaux Parisiens evening boat cruise.
The Seine cruise was fun. It departed at 7:45 pm and went east along the river for almost an hour. The water was SO high, some of the stairs and walkways were flooded, and I got my leg splashed near the end of the ride because we were sitting on the outside deck. I liked waving at people along the edge of the river as we rode by – I even got some to wave back. I would definitely recommend it, especially the daytime one if you’ve got time.

view from boat cruise

Notre voyage en Normandie et à Paris - Day 1 & 2

We got up at 4:45 to begin our trip to France.  As we entered the parking lot at the Edinburgh airport, we noticed that snow was beginning to fall.  We walked out to our Ryanair plane while the snow was still falling and we had to wait while the air crew de-iced/de-snowed the plane.  The forecast for Dunfermline was for snow during most of the day and it looked like they got off to a good start.

We picked up our car at the airport and I had to adjust to driving on the right side of the road again.  The strangest part was turning counterclockwise on the roundabouts.  Along the way we stopped in a small town to get Euros and a couple very fresh ham and cheese sandwiches on baguettes at a boulangerie (bakery).  

We drove to Bayeux and tried to check into our hotel, but it was only staffed at certain times of the day, so we decided to explore the town.  Our next stop was to go to the D-Day Museum in Bayeux, but upon arrival we discovered that it was closed for maintenance.  So then we drove over to Colleville which overlooks Omaha Beach and it is the location of the American Cemetery.  There are over 9000 US servicemen from WWII buried here and each one is represented with a cross or a star. 

It was almost surreal to look at rows upon rows of crosses, and realize that these men died to protect the USA and the rest of the world.  The highlight (and the most moving part) of the visit for me was when Taps started playing and the US flag was lowered for the day.  I had tears in my eyes as it was played and I was extremely proud of my heritage at that moment.  The history buff in me could have stayed for hours in the cemetery and its museum but it was time to move on.  As we left, we did take a quick visit down to the actual beach and looking back I was amazed at the openness of the beach and the height of the hills/dunes that were just inland.   The difficulties that the Allies had at Omaha Beach make a lot more sense and I am amazed that they managed to pull it off successfully.

Day 2 - We got breakfast at a local boulangerie with Carter and Stacy each getting a pain au chocolate, Cara getting an apple pastry, and two croissants for me.  Our next stop was a section on the ocean near Utah beach.  I don’t think we were exactly on the beach where our troops landed, but I think we were pretty close.  There were large amounts of shells right up against the seawall and we were amazed at the numbers of whole ones.  We also saw three different horses pulling people in carts up and down the beach.

In preparation for our Normandy visit, we checked out the movie “The Longest Day” so the kids would have some understanding of the events that took place on June 6th 1944.  The small French village of Sainte Mere-Eglise was prominent in the movie so we went there to see the history. Here is Cara’s version of our visit – In World War 2, there was a man that jumped from a plane and he landed on a church spire.  There is only a model there today.  We went to an airborne museum too.  It was interesting, but I didn’t see what was so exciting about it.

To translate some, we saw the church spire where one of the US paratroopers got stuck on when he landed on D-Day.  He was stuck there for several hours and had to pretend to be dead in order to stay alive.  Today there is a model paratrooper and parachute stuck on the church spire.  

We also went to the airborne museum and saw quite a few artifacts from WW2 including a tank, Waco glider, cannons, a C-47 airplane, and loads of guns and other military equipment.  While it might not have been very interesting to a 7 year old, again, I was enthralled.

We left the museum and headed to the small market in the town square.  The kids and Stacy got fresh baguettes to eat while I got a freshly grilled sausage in a bun with grilled onions.   That really hit the spot.  After lunch came our afternoon drive into Paris.  For most of the journey, the drive was very pleasing and uneventful.  However, in what should have been our last 10 miles (and 15 minutes), we encountered traffic delays.  We do not know what caused them but the delays, along with a wrong turn or two, meant we got in a little later.  We turned in our car and made the short walk to our hotel (Best Western Montparpasse).  The room was very nice with good floor space, a king size bed for Stacy and me, and a bunk bed for the kids.  It was Cara’s turn for the top bunk so she got to have it for three nights.  We stopped at a Turkish kabob place for dinner and then Carter navigated us to the Eiffel Tower to see it all lit up with lights.

I finally got to see the Eiffel tower, it was sparkly and smaller than I thought it would be.
We walked around the Eiffel Tower and took lots of pictures.  We then stopped at a street-side vendor and got a crepe filled with bananas and Nutella.  Both Carter and Cara said it was the best crepe ever!!!  We finished our evening with a short walk along the Seine and another Carter-navigated ride on the Metro back to our hotel.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

East Lothian

This past Saturday took us to south of the Forth to the region of Scotland called East Lothian.  There were several places that we wanted to visit in that area so off we set on our day trip.  In the UK, Stacy especially has enjoyed watching the baking shows that are on the telly, some of which include Master Chef (especially the Australia version), Great British Bake Off, and Britain’s Best Bakery.  This last show was on during the month of December and one of the bakeries featured was the Dunbar Community Bakery which happens to be in East Lothian Scotland so that was our first stop of the day.  All of the items looked extremely tasty so we got a small sample of the pastries.  We got a macaroon, an éclair, a raspberry tart, small chocolate cake, and a loaf of sourdough bread. 
All of the items were delicious and we really wondered how the Dunbar Community Bakery finished second in the competition.  We certainly would go back for more if we ever find ourselves remotely near it again.  Unfortunately it is over an hour from our house.  As we were leaving Dunbar, we also noticed that Belhaven Brewery is located there and there are tours during the week so maybe we can come back for beer and dessert.

Our next stop took us to Tantallon Castle located just on the edge of the North Sea/Firth of Forth. Every week it seems that Stacy says she is all castled out, yet she seems to find another one that is extremely interesting.   The castle was amazing and I could easily see two reasons for building such a castle at this location.  It is located on a section of land that has a very limited approach from land and the views from the castle looking out onto land or sea were outstanding.  There is an outer wall with some defensive works but the main part of Tantallon Castle is the wall that rises at 5 stories plus towers. 
The wall was the main part of the castle as well as its primary form of defense.  Much of the castle is in ruins, but we were still able to climb up to the upper ramparts and see some gorgeous views of Bass Island and the surrounding countryside. 

Our final stop of the day was the Scottish Seabird Centre in the town of North Berwick.  At the centre, were at least 6 stations that we could use to remotely control a camera that was placed on uninhabited islands out in the middle of the Firth of Forth.  While we were a bit early in the season to see a lot of birds nesting, we did see a few.  Carter found a seal taking a nap on a rocky beach and Cara found a bunny rabbit hopping around.   The kids also enjoyed using the one camera that was located just outside the Seabird Centre to spy on people walking around as well as zooming in on each other.  We finished our visit watching the sea critters in a tank get fed which was actually quite interesting since the food brought out some creatures that we did not realize were even in the tank.