How to Shop in Paris Department Stores

This post is brought to you by Galeries Lafayette.

Freedom and Independence

The white t-shirt with the breezy blue script reading “j’♥ Paris” was a staple in my wardrobe for many years, a souvenir of my very first trip abroad, the first time I tasted freedom and independence from my parents. (Ironically aided by the bit of spending money my parents gave me for souvenirs and gifts, but still.) I had bought it in a Paris department store – no street vendors for me. I wanted to shop like a grown-up French woman!

France taught the United States everything we needed to know about freedom and independence back in the 1700s, and I felt it on that trip.

For me, as a teenager, that meant shopping.

As an adult, I know that it’s more than a little crass to liken consumer choice to the essential liberties for which our forebears fought, but bear with me.

Americans in Paris

Today, shopping in Paris means many different things, from combing the flea markets at St. Ouen, to pampering in the ultra-luxury shops in the Place Vendôme. But nothing compares to the experience of shopping in the grand department stores of Paris.

This month, one of the largest of those, Galeries Lafayette, is offering American shoppers special deals in their flagship store in Paris to celebrate the American Independence Day.

Galeries Lafayette has been home to Paris fashion since 1912, when its soaring art deco cupola first sheltered the 45,000 square meters of retail floor space below. Now encompassing more than 75,000 square meters, the Galeries Lafayette Hausmann offers shoppers thousands of choices, all arranged with a certain Parisian style.

Galeries Lafayette remains home to cutting edge fashion for both men and women, with fashion shows every Friday. Personal stylists are available, as are VIP lounges. The men’s store at Galeries Lafayette is among the largest dedicated menswear spaces in the city.

The store has always been a home to gourmet food and wine. Today you can choose from more than 20 restaurants within the store, from caviar and macarons to dim sum and, yes, hamburgers. Lest you think that is too American, the Bordeauxthèque will bring you back to France with a collection of historic vintages next to affordable current offerings.

You can’t get much more French than this: in 1951 Edith Piaf performed a concert in front of the store.

The rooftop terrace at Galeries Lafayette, from which visitors can view the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre, is a cherry on top for visitors. Or is it a strawberry? Also on the rooftop: a strawberry garden, because why not?

Celebrate American Independence in French Style

For the Fourth of July, and all throughout the month, Galeries Lafayette offers a curated selection of patriotic gifts for Americans in Paris. Their shop windows feature animations that all visitors will want to see.
Right now, American citizens who visit the store receive a 10% discount just for showing their passport at the Concierge Desk.

In addition, with certain minimum spending, American shoppers not only gain access to the Express Tax Refund Desk and Lounge Area, but also a cruise on the Seine River!

Wherever you do your shopping, if you live outside of Europe, be sure to stop by the tax refund counter in the store to receive a refund of the 12% VAT that is charged on purchases. You will need to show your passport and your receipts, and there is usually a minimum purchase amount, but you may be able to receive the refund on the day of your purchase in the store. If not, you may receive it at the airport, before you go through security.

This post is brought to you by Galeries Lafayette, 40, boulevard Haussman, 9e arrondissement.

Stylish Small Hotels in Paris

Stylish Small Hotels in Paris

Stylish Small Hotels in Paris

This post is brought to you by XL Airways.

Do your summer plans include a trip to Paris? I wish mine did. If you’re going to the most stylish city in the world (according to an unscientific survey of just me), don’t just stay in a boring old hotel room. Stay in a hotel as stylish as the city itself. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:

High style hotel near the Picasso Museum

Hotel du Petit Moulin

This super-stylish hotel at the site of the oldest bakery in Paris – where Victor Hugo bought his baguettes! – in the Marais was designed by Christian Lacroix and features his trademark mixture of patterns and shapes. Guests rave about the superb service, the playful décor, the great location near the Picasso Museum.

Rooms €185 – 355 per night.

Small stylish hotel in Paris - Hotel du Petit Moulin

Hotel du Petit Moulin
29/31 rue de Poitou, 75003 Paris
+33 1 42 74 10 10

Good hotel for runners and swimmers in Paris

Hotel Molitor

If you’re a runner or a swimmer visiting Paris, you need to give Hotel Molitor a try. Built in 1929 and set around an iconic courtyard pool, the Molitor was recently rejuvenated by Accor hotels as part of their MGallery Collection of luxury properties. In addition to the heated outdoor pool, there is an indoor pool and spa. For runners, the nearby Bois de Boulougne provides miles of running routes through shaded woods. The hotel is not far from Roland Garros Stadium, for fans of tennis. Guests love the wonderful concierge, terrific service, tasty breakfast, and modern rooms. The location is somewhat far from central Paris, and the closest Metro stop is a bit of a walk, but the experience is unique in Paris.

Rooms from €260.

Stylish Hotel in Paris - Hotel MolitorHotel Molitor
13 rue Nungesser et Coli, 75016 Paris
+33 1 56 07 08 50

Design hostel with easy airport access

Generator Hostel

This chain of design hostels has outposts across Europe, with a focus on contemporary design. The clientele naturally skews younger – it is a hostel, after all – but there are some private rooms available, and many guests says it feels more like a hotel than a hostel, with bathrooms inside the rooms (even the shared rooms). There is a lively bar in the basement, so families might want to look for an upper level room. Don’t miss the Moroccan “chill-out” room and rooftop bar overlooking Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. The location near Gare du Nord makes it easily accessible from the airport, though it is not really close to most tourist destinations.

Quad room (bunk beds!) perfect for families from €109.

Twin Terrace Room at Generator Hostel Paris

Generator Hostel
9-11 Place du Colonel Fabien, 75010 Paris
+33 1 70 98 84 00

Central stylish hotel in Paris

Hotel Crayon

For style close to the center of Paris, you can do no better than Hotel Crayon. The rooms, though smallish, are exquisitely decorated with bright colors and artwork. Guests love the location close to the Louvre and Metro stations to connect to all parts of the city. Families can reserve adjacent rooms, and breakfast is free for kids under 16.

Rooms from €144

Small stylish hotel in central Paris, Hotel Crayon

Hotel Crayon
25, rue du Bouloi, 75001 Paris
+33 1 42 36 54 19

New flights from LAX to Paris

On June first, XL Airways is launching a new flight from LAX to Paris three times per week. Never heard of XL Airways? They’ve been providing long-haul flights from France for 20 years, and they are now serving to the US market. Their affordable fares include meals and baggage in the ticket price.

This post was brought to you by XL Airways.

Want to remember these for later? Pin this to your Pinterest board for vacation ideas!

Stylish Small Hotels in Paris

Should we travel now?

Should we travel now?

After the horrific events in Paris, where people going about their daily lives – eating in cafés, going to soccer games, attending concerts with friends – were targets of terrorist violence, we’ve been squeezing our loved ones tight, trying to make sense of senseless acts.

We have not been thinking about going to Paris.

We have been thinking of past trips to Paris, when we fell in love with its grand boulevards and tiny cheese shops, its art everywhere, its delicious broad vistas, its history, even its notoriously snooty people. We have family stories from our trip there – giving out pennies to trick-or-treaters at our Airbnb apartment, because we had no idea there would be any; taking an ill-advised family bike ride down the Champs Elysée dodging darting French drivers; and the magical hours spent at Shakespeare & Co. bookstore while a stranger played Cole Porter on the second floor piano.

Since we are travel planners, people have asked us, “Should we travel now?”

And this is where we’ve been stuck, trying to figure out what our answer should be. And what the answer would be for ourselves.

We have certainly been to places where there were security risks, even with our families. We always check the U.S. State Department security warnings, and we remain aware of our surroundings at all times. Well… most times. Sometimes we just like to be caught up in the joy of the moment and we forget about the risks around us.

Because:

We refuse to live our lives in fear.

But.

Sometimes we are afraid.

And sometimes that fear turns into anxiety. And if the thought of taking a family vacation – the whole point of which is to build happy family memories – induces anxiety, well, it might not be worth it. If I had planned a trip to Paris for the near future, and if my kids were afraid because of all they see on the internet and in the media, I would consider canceling it. Not out of fear of terrorist activity (no, we won’t let the terrorists win) but out of fear of a bad vacation.

So maybe we wouldn’t go to Paris or Brussels right now, but we might instead go to Mexico City or Montreal, or Asheville or Austin. There are a lot of places to go that are not at war.

And you don’t have to go anywhere.

But keep in mind that no one can guarantee your safety anywhere, anytime. We risk dying every day we are alive. We’re not even safe in our own homes! This year we’ve seen a car go through someone’s living room wall, a tree fall on someone’s bedroom, and an electrical fire destroy someone’s kitchen. Thanksgiving, the joyous American family celebration, is the day the most house fires occur, by the way.

We can’t keep ourselves perfectly safe, no matter where we are. So with the U.S. State Department issuing a worldwide travel warning, are we going to stop traveling?

What we love about travel, particularly about traveling with kids, is the way that it opens our minds to other cultures and other ways of living. It forces us to challenge our assumptions about how we live. And in this time of global tensions, we think one of the clearest paths to peace is through understanding the differences and, more importantly, the similarities among cultures worldwide.

So we are not going to stop traveling. And when we do go, we are going with eyes and minds and hearts wide open to whatever we encounter.

Le Boat Houseboat Rentals in Europe

Le Boat Houseboat Rentals in Europe

Our guest author, Martha Hepler, took over our Instagram feed during her family’s recent boat trip on the Canal du Midi. We are happy to include her story and photos here as we participate in Instagram Travel Thursday.

Le Boat in the Canal du Midi

It was a fine early May day in the south of France as a new captain and his crew of three set off from the Le Boat station at Trebes. They were nervous, as they weren’t overly familiar with the ways of the water, and the party consisted of my husband, myself, our five-year-old, and our two-year-old. It felt daring and vaguely hair-brained, since we’re generally overwhelmed by our kids on land. But it also felt like a once-in-a-lifetime chance.  The Canal du Midi seemed like a civilized sort of waterway, a staff member had given us a good lesson, and our Royal Mystique could only go but so fast–plus it conveniently had bouncy rubber things all around it for playing bumper boats!

We all ducked to clear the first bridge with minimal bumping and no head injuries. That stone arch glided over us like a harbinger of success. 

Canal du Midi

The first lock was what really intimidated us, but after reading our instruction book over and over, tethering the two-year-old to the deck next to my husband, and receiving help from a neighboring boat that had experienced crew to spare, it went perfectly and we relaxed a bit. The second lock was a three-stepper: no worse because of that, and photogenic to boot. 

A lock on the Canal du Midi

We settled into a rhythm of relaxed cruising interspersed with focused lock maneuvers. By the time we reached our goal port of Carcassonne that night, we were feeling downright casual about the whole thing—with a side of accomplished self-satisfaction, of course. We spent two nights there, giving us time to visit the castle and the Tuesday morning market.

Carcassonne

By then, we were all itching to cast off again.

Little captains on a Le Boat adventure

Our days thereafter were filled with floating downstream (and learning lock maneuvers in that direction), waving at other boaters, breaking for lunch in the sweet canalside silence and riding bikes through the countryside, spotting wildlife in the water and the air overhead, strolling through sleepy towns in the cool evening, and obsessively cataloguing every adorable lock house. We even found the occasional playground. Our nights were filled with sleeping really, really heavily wherever we happened to moor. 

Canal du Midi from Le Boat

According to Instagram, the kids played nary a video game and watched not a single movie, so that must surely be the truth. In fact, we spent all our free time in educational pursuits.

Games on board Le Boat

The two-year-old insisted then and still does now that his favorite part of the trip was standing on the sun deck and staring at the bikes strapped at on the stern—he will forever call it “da boat wiff ow bice’cles on da back”. 

Bicycles on Le Boat

My husband was spared his usual case of the Vacation Ants in the Pants because he always had piloting to do. Eventually I was enticed to put my camera down long enough to learn how to drive the boat myself. It was easier than it looked. 

The author as captain of Le Boat

Our turnaround point and accommodation for night number six was Le Somail, a town with no shortage of charm. After a delicious dinner out, we cuddled on the top deck under a blanket and watched the sun set as we read bedtime stories. 

Exploring on land and returning to Le Boat

The final cruising day was hot and sunny as we turned back upstream. With snowy Pyrenees to our left, exotic birds flitting through plane trees to our right, and vineyards all around, we soaked in every precious moment.

A girl in a hat in France, on a boat

Too soon, we glided into port and stretched our legs before one last night in our bunks. 

Disembarking Le Boat at Homps

It almost feels like a joke with no punchline: two rookies, a flighty five-year-old, and a burly toddler set off on a boat…and no one and nothing fell in, no crashes happened, the boat didn’t get hung up on the side of a lock, we didn’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no drinking water or run out of clean clothes or suffer from a stinky boat bathroom…in fact none of my fears came true! And I’m perfectly fine with not having or being a punchline; we are already dreaming about our next canal cruise. 

Two kids in the Canal du Midi on a Le Boat trip

 

Le Boat has been offering European canal boating trips for over 40 years. They have rentals available in France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. There are routes for all types: from completely suitable for beginners to those requiring knowledge of river navigation. There are also boats for all budgets (as low as $500, though keep in mind that there are other costs–clearly spelled out on the Le Boat website) and all group sizes, from 4 people up to 10. You can make anything from a three-night reservation up to 14 nights. You can do a one-way or a return trip. I think my point has been made: Le Boat offers an option to meet anybody’s needs. The staff is very helpful and makes sure that you know just how to contact them in case of any need for assistance.

 

Disclosure: We were guests of Le Boat, which offers houseboat rentals in Europe.  They provided us with a complimentary week on one of their boats. All opinions are emphatically my own.

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A Family Eurail Pass Takes Us All Across Europe

A Family Eurail Pass Takes Us All Across Europe

Every other train we’d taken that week we’d had to run for. This time, we pulled up to the station with 10 minutes to spare.

“Do you want me to come in and help you figure out the track and all that?” asked our host, helpfully.

“Oh no,” I said, “If we can’t figure that out on our own then we have no business traveling via Eurail.” There were four witnesses to this statement.

15 minutes later, still staring at the departure board, I was convinced that our train was 20 minutes late. “Are you sure, Mom?” asked Magno. “Don’t you think you should ask someone?”

Finally the track number was posted for “our” train, and we made our way there with our backpacks and suitcases.  But why did the board say “Berlin” when we were heading to Vienna?

I went back to the main hall to check the departure board. Huh. Right. I was looking at the arrivals, not the departures. “Our” train to Vienna had left on time; the train FROM Vienna TO Berlin was late, and was arriving at the track where my family stood waiting to board.  Doh!

This could have been a serious blow to my travel cred, except that I had downloaded the Deutsche Bahn (DB) train schedule app on my phone and was able to reroute us on a train leaving in 10 minutes that would get us in only an hour later than “our” train. It did require 2 changes, and the first train didn’t have a first class compartment (horrors!) but it would be just fine. No one was mad at me. Except me

The third month of our round-the-world trip is known as “Our Eurail Adventure.” Thanks to the folks at Eurail.com, who had asked me to write some articles about traveling with children by rail, we were in possession of four Global Flex passes with which we could have 15 days of train travel to go anywhere in the Eurail network.

I had used a Eurail pass when I was in college, and it was a great way to see broad swaths of the European continent on a budget.  I really wanted to show my girls how much fun it was. We had rented a car to explore Spain, which was fun, and it did get us to places we might not have been able to reach by train, but it was just not the same as a family Eurail experience would be. There is nothing like leaving one country on the train, riding through amazing scenery for a couple of hours, and then arriving right in the center of a new city, in a new country, often using a new language, and not having to worry about parking tickets.

We started off with a bang, with an overnight trip from Paris to Berlin, which you can read about here. The Eurail pass includes different perks in every country, and here it covered our fares on the S-Bahn, the Berlin city train. We found the S-Bahn one of the most difficult city trains to navigate – the trains were not well marked, the maps had the tiniest fonts I’ve ever seen, and different train lines ran on the same tracks, but there were no indications next to the tracks as to which train would be arriving and in which direction – for that you needed to go upstairs to view the boards.  And the people we asked for help were not at all helpful. So we’d give the S-Bahn an F for failing to be tourist-friendly, and give Eurail an A for offering perks above and beyond the virtually limitless train travel.

We rented bikes and rode around the wide boulevards, by the river, and through the Brandenburg Gate, ending up at a Superdry store – a Japanese brand that was all the rage in the UK, and with which Calla had become quite enamored. She decided to spend some of her travel money on a Superdry sweatshirt, which it turned out she would be happy to have in the coming weeks of chilly weather.  Across the street, we spied what looked like a tiny streetside sausage stand, but on closer inspection it was a massive modern beer hall. We went with it, and found Berlin’s famous currywurst to be not our favorite thing. The sausage was good, but currywurst is all about the sauce, which is a sweet curry ketchup, and just not as good as a spicy mustard, in our opinion.

John and the girls on their Fat Tire bikes heading for the Brandenburg Gate.

So Berlin didn’t really deliver for us, but then again, we were only there for 24 hours or so. We’ll give it another chance someday, but on this trip it was a not-particularly-memorable stopover on our way to the Czech Republic where we would stay with our old friends, Beth and Martin.

The train from Berlin to Decin follows a path along the Elbe River that is listed on the Eurail map as a “Scenic Route” and it certainly delivered. The fall colors shone on the hills next to the river, and the train hugged the shoreline for about an hour. We were almost alone in the First Class car (thanks again, Eurail!) and it was a nice relaxing trip.

Visiting the Tonders in Decin

We spent a wonderful week with Beth and Martin and their kids. Adina had baked an apple cake for our arrival, and we stayed up way too late and drank way too much wine as we caught up on our first night. The next days were filled with hikes in the woods, several trips to Prague, and many board games with Oliver, whose mastery of Monopoly was truly impressive. He has learned well from his realtor father. The girls went to school with Oliver one day, and accompanied Beth to the high school English class she teaches one day.

Visiting a classroom in the Czech Republic

On our last day with the Tonders, it was Martin’s name day, and we went to  Novy Bor, a town known for its glass and crystal factories. We went to Ajeto, a restaurant inside of one of the glass factories, which had a glass observation wall so we could watch the glass artisans at work while we ate.  Not only was it a great activity to watch, the food was some of the best we’d had anywhere. I had a dish called St. Martin’s goose, which was caramelized and served with the great big bready Czech dumplings and red cabbage and fried onions on top. It was fantastic. And went very well with the nice Czech beer.

St. Martin's Goose

After the slight glitch described in my intro above, we arrived in Vienna, which I had for many years declared my favorite city in Europe. It is a very elegant city, but this time around seemed stuffy and snobbish and boring.  Even the wacky Hundertwasser Haus, that had once seemed so radical and rebellious and organic to me, now seemed just childish after we’d seen the majestic and meticulous Gaudí buildings in Barcelona. We did have some nice cakes in a lovely (but stuffy and snobbish) (and smoky! why do they have the smoking section right at the bottom of the stairway to the non-smoking section? and why do they have a smoking section at all?) Viennese tearoom.

Coffee and Cakes in Vienna

In every city, we watch the locals to see how they approach crosswalks and traffic. In the US, the zebra striped pedestrian crossing zones don’t mean much, but in much of Europe they indicate that cars should stop if a pedestrian is in the crosswalk. And at traffic lights, we’re never sure if it’s ok to cross if the light is red for pedestrians but there’s no traffic – generally we follow the natives. In Vienna, we approached a crosswalk at a busy intersection. The light was red for pedestrians. The light was also red for cars. No one moved. After 15 seconds or so, a young woman crossed the street. “HALT!” came a booming voice from next to me. “Do you think you’re God or something?” The man was sort of laughing, but still everyone waited. Eventually, a young man shouted to a nearby police officer to ask if it was ok to cross Just then the light turned green, but this whole incident had involved a full 40 seconds, and a single lane of traffic to cross. We were clearly in a very different culture than where we come from.

From Vienna, we took a quick train to Bratislava to spend the day on the way to Budapest. I was last in Bratislava in 1990, as an idealistic college kid ready to spread democracy by teaching English after the Velvet Revolution as part of Students for Czechoslovakia. Bratislava in 1990 was just emerging from under the heavy mantle of communism, and things were pretty grim. I remember we had a tough time finding food to eat once the university cafeteria closed for the summer just a week after our arrival. Stores just didn’t have much of anything in them, and the only restaurants we knew of were a hot dog cart on the street near our dorm, and the fancy restaurant in the big hotel downtown that had catered to communist party officials. My how things have changed. Today, Bratislava has a thriving tourist center filled with bars, restaurants and shopping, and some of the nicest cafes we’ve seen anywhere in Europe.

I was hoping we’d find that hot dog cart, though, because it had a technique I haven’t seen anywhere else. There was a slim rod in the cart whose sole purpose was to impale the fresh hot dog bun at the precise width of a hot dog, so the fried dog could slide right into the bun from the short end.  Sadly, all the hot dog vendors seemed to have abandoned this practice and just had the boring old steamed dogs in packaged buns.  Oh well. It’ll live in my memory, anyway.

After picking up our luggage from the bag storage in the train station, we hopped on a train to Budapest. I don’t remember much about Budapest from the trips of my youth, but this time around I really loved it. Loved it so much that we extended our two nights there to four! We met up with Kristyn, a neighbor from home who had moved here with her family about a year ago, who took us on a whirlwind tour of the city. It was great to have our own tour guide, and we really did see a lot.

Szechenyi Baths
On our first extra day, we went to the Szechenyi Baths, where thermal waters heat indoor and outdoor pools in a 19th century complex. It was a great way to spend a chilly, cloudy day. We topped off the day with a great Hungarian dinner at a small neighborhood joint – the kind of place you’d love to just stumble across in your travels but you never do, except we did! And it was pretty inexpensive to boot, just adding to our love of the city.

The next day we went in search of some of the city’s “ruin pubs” which are bars created in some of the run-down buildlings in the city. They reminded me of Amsterdam’s squatter bars. We learned that many of them were in the area where we had stayed our first two nights, and that many are only open in summer, when the lack of roof or heat is not such an issue. We did find one, a small indoor version of a summer pub, that was homey and warm and playing a great selection of soul music, and we just enjoyed sitting and chatting with each other for a while.

On Sunday, we set out for Zagreb, Croatia. We had made reservations for this trip, since it would be a longish one and we wanted to be sure to sit together. Of course, we got on the train, and there were only two people seated in our car – and they were in our seats. The only ones in the whole car that were reserved. It was kind of funny.

When we arrived in Zagreb, we realized quickly that things might be a little different here. As soon as the train pulled into the station, people started disembarking and stepping right over the tracks instead of making their way down the platforms. After  we walked the length of the platform, down some stairs and back up again, which is always fun with luggage, we realized that they had been right. Always follow the locals.

We had chosen Zagreb mainly because we found a nice-looking apartment there where we could cook Thanksgiving dinner. Not all rentals have ovens, and we wanted to be sure we could roast a turkey.  We managed to find all the ingredients we needed at the main market in town, and had a pretty close facsimile to our traditional Thanksgiving, but we really missed our family back home. Skyping helps, but sometimes makes us miss home all the more.

Thanksgiving in Zagreb

We spent a quiet week in Zagreb, with Calla and I both feeling a little ill. We ventured out for a few city tours and a great trip across the river to the stunning Modern Art Museum, which the girls loved, if only because part of its architecture includes a three story slide for visitors to get from the top floor down. Zagreb is also home to the Museum of Broken Relationships, which shows relics of broken relationships (mix tapes, teddy bears, love notes) along with their stories. It was odd, but sweet in a melancholy way. It fit with our impression of the city as one that values tradition, modernity, and nostalgia equally.

Three-story slides at the Museum of Modern Art in Zagreb, Croatia

 

Our Second Month on the Road

Our Second Month on the Road

Here’s a recap of our second month on the road from twelve-year-old Calla. See how she feels about our family RTW trip.

 

Our second month in our year-long trip around the world, started with us leaving Barcelona and going to England, Cambridge to be specific. We arrived at the airport in the morning and got on the train to Cambridge. We got to Cambridge after about an hour on the train. We started walking to Burt’s apartment. When we got there we waited for about 15 minutes for Burt’s neighbor to bring us the keys. We got the keys and started walking up the steep stairs with all of our heavy luggage. Burt’s apartment was really cool! He had lots of books all over the house, I think in every room! Once we got settled, we went to walk around Cambridge. We walked to one little square with a cool little market! We got some mini savory pies known as pasties and walked around a bit more. When we got home mom cooked the pies and we had dinner. We all slept very well and very late the next morning. The next few days were mostly exploring Cambridge, having tea at Fitzbillies, and looking in small little shops. We went to the Fitzwilliam museum which was interesting, it had paintings from France, Spain, England, and a lot of other countries, it also had a lot of old sculptures and Japanese/Chinese artworks. We took a really creepy ghost tour which gave me nightmares… like the one when we went in an ally and the guide said “if you hear breathing behind you or warm breath on your hand, don’t turn around because it could be the ghost dog and if you look into his eyes, a family member will die.” It was scary! I had my first real fish ‘n’ chips and it was delicious!! We saw 2 boys choirs which were cool and they were very good singers. We rented bikes for a day and explored more of Cambridge; we went along the river and behind Kings College and through traffic which was scary for me! There were big cars and trucks right next to me! We went to the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology which was not so interesting for me, more for my mom.

Bike tour of Cambridge

We did get to go to London for about a day and a half. We went on the train and got to London. First we checked into our hostel and then walked all around the shopping streets which was really fun for me and Magnolia. Then we walked back to our hostel and went to bed. We had breakfast and then went to the more touristy part of London. We went to Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and we even went on the London Eye! It took a long time to get on the London Eye because the line was soooooooooo long! We started walking towards a museum that my mom wanted to see called the Tate Modern when we saw a Malaysia festival going on. We stopped to look around and it was so cool! We had some spring rolls which are so good! We learned about Malaysia and now I’m excited for that! We went to the museum which was more for my mom. But there was this weird thing going on there and there was a group of people who were walking really slowly and they stopped and talked to random people about random things going on in their life which was really creepy to me. But it was a performance/flash mob, but it was an interesting one though!  After the museum we went to the train station and went back to Cambridge. I think the next day we left to go to the train station to go to Edinburgh! The train ride took about 5 hours. But I was just really excited to go so I didn’t mind how long it took.

In front of Buckingham Palace

When we got to Edinburgh, we took a cab to our apartment. The apartment was really cool!! We were kind of tired so that evening all we did was do some homework and watch some tv which had my all time favorite shows: Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. The next day we walked around and found some cool Halloween stores and joke shops that we took a peek in. We walked a bit longer and found Greyfriars Cemetery where we saw Greyfriars Bobby’s grave. Greyfriars Bobby was a dog who, after his owner died, sat by his grave every day. After we walked through there, we went to the Elephant House Café which was where J.K. Rowling wrote some Harry Potter books or at least some ideas for it. The café had really good hot cocoa and cookies! The bathroom walls were all covered with Harry Potter quotes and messages to J.K. Rowling which I thought was very cool! We looked in some shops and some vintage shops because my mom was looking for some charms for her friend.

Harry Potter graffiti in Edinburgh

 

We went to the Camera Obscura museum which I thought was awesome! It had lots of optical illusions and this cool computer thing that makes you look like a baby, chimp, or a manga character! It’s really cool! We took the bus for 45 minutes and arrived at my mom’s friend Rahki’s house for lunch, where she cooked us a delicious vegetarian Indian lunch. After lunch, we went on a walk around the neighborhood with Rahki and her husband. Afterwards, they drove us back to our apartment.

The fabulouth Firth of Forth

The next day, we went on a ghost tour that was mostly funny not so much scary. It involved a ghost tour guide who looked like a vampire, a money collector, Agnes who threw her “waste” at us (don’t worry it was just water), a zombie monk, and a pregnant skeleton dancing to Gangnam Style! It was so funny, I loved it! The next day we went to the Edinburgh Dungeons. It is this underground place that is like a big haunted house. It was really scary but really fun! We went on a really dark boat ride and at the end we went on the Drop of Doom which was so scary!!! Then we went to get hot cocoa at a good café called Porto and Fi.

Cadies and Witchery Tour in Edinburgh

The next day my dad came back from Eindhoven after 6 weeks! We had lunch at an okay Mexican restaurant called Illegal Jack’s. We showed my dad around Edinburgh and went to a museum and then we went back to our apartment so my dad could get settled. The next day my parents friend Brian came to give us a driving tour of Edinburgh. Brian was very nice and told us a lot about the city. We had lunch at a place called Howie’s. This place had very good food. My first course was traditional Scottish haggis served with mashed potatoes and turnips. I thought it was pretty good until my parents told me what it was, which is basically sheep liver, heart, and lungs, baked inside of the sheep’s stomach! Crazy!  My second course was risotto but I didn’t care for it so I traded with my mom for her venison with a nice sauce on top. We paid and split up.

Calla's first taste of haggis.

The next day Brian picked us up and said we were going to the beach and we needed to pick up his friend Roland on the way. We picked up Roland and his dog and went on our way to Tyninghame beach. It was a short but muddy walk to the beach and it wasn’t so much beach as it was rock, but it was very pretty! We walked up the beach a bit and then climbed a big grassy hill. We walked along the muddy hill and I should’ve mentioned this before but I was wearing Uggs not realizing that it would be rocky and muddy so I guess I should’ve thought about that because halfway on the hill I slipped and fell! I got my North Face and jacket and jeans all muddy! But luckily it wasn’t that visible. We finished up our beach walk and went back to the car. We had lunch and said goodbye and went to take a tour of the underground caves. It was pretty cool! I think I might’ve felt the presence of a ghost… BOO!

Tyninghame beach, Scotland

The next day we went to the Museum of Childhood which was basically a museum with lots of toys and games. It was pretty rainy so we went to the Scottish History Museum. We went to get some wine because that night we were going over to Brian’s house for dinner. We got there at about 6:30 and the kids weren’t home yet, Brian said it was because they do all of the things that we Americans do on the weekends, like sports games and piano practice and things like that, after school, so he said that they usually come home 6:00 – 8:00. They got home at about 7:00. The kid’s names were Noah 12, Naomi 10, Archie 11 and Jasper 15. They had a baby named Cosmo who we met briefly when we got there. But he was already in bed. We talked for a while before dinner; then us kids went downstairs to play ping-pong and pool. Then it was time for dinner. After dinner we played ping-pong again and then they went to bed and so after the parents finished talking we went back to our apartment. The next day was Friday so we checked out of our apartment and brought our luggage to Brian’s house. Magnolia, my dad, and I went to an art museum and my dad got a little housewarming gift for when we would go to Brian and his family’s country beach house in Elie. While we were doing that my mom was meeting with some people from Eurail and by the end of the meeting, we had 2 month Eurail passes! Soon we met my mom at the Royal Yacht Britannia which was the Queen’s yacht that they used for family outings and stuff like that. After that we went to Brian’s house and had dinner and got set up for the night. When we woke up, we had breakfast and the kids’ babysitter for the night had made some tea. We got dressed and then I was playing with Cosmo for a bit and then Magnolia and Archie and I took their dog Winston for a walk in the park. When we got back, we watched television for a bit and then Brian and Amy got back from the wedding they went to. After about half an hour we were packed up and ready to go to Elie!

Aboard the Royal Yacht Brittania

The drive to Elie took about 45 minutes, but after about 10 minutes we went to the grocery store and got some Monster Munch which Brian said we had to try. I have to admit, they were delicious! We got to Elie, got settled, and me Magnolia and Naomi and my dad went on a walk on the beach. Later we had dinner and then played rummy, a card game. And after, us kids went to play monopoly. After about the first 10 minutes the game ended with Noah underneath the beanbag and Archie jumping on top of him and someone else  flipping the board. The next day we went on a walk on the rocks. It was really fun! And it was really funny because Naomi saw a big shell that she wanted in the water so Brian told Noah to go in and get it, but it was chilly outside and the water was freezing but Noah said yes and took off his jeans shoes and socks and went waist deep into the freezing cold water. He was screaming like a little girl! He picked up the shell and threw it, thinking Brian would catch it but he didn’t so Noah had to go in again and get the other shell. He got out and gave it to Naomi and 2 minutes later she threw back in the water screaming “THERE’S A CRAB!!!” It was all really funny to watch. We finished our walk at the beach and met Cosmo and Amy there. Then we went back home.

Magno being sassy on the beach in Elie, Scotland

The next day we went on the chain walk. The chain walk is a long hike that you can only hike when it is low tide because you are hiking by the water on big huge rocks! So basically we started walking on the beach and then we got to the rocky part. to climb up the rocky part there is a chain which you cant let go of or else you would fall off the cliff. One time I almost did! Some parts were easy to climb and some parts like when I was climbing straight down was scary! During our hike we found a big quartz rock, we all tried to get a piece of it. There was one part where we were right next to the water and if you moved over you would fall into the water! After we climbed up that we were on a trail down, so it wasn’t hard then. When we got back, Magnolia, Naomi and I played with Cosmo on the trampoline and then we helped him with his bath. The next day we rode our bikes to a nice little breakfast place and then went back home and a few hours later, Amy and Jasper came. It got sunny so we went to the smokehouse and got smoked cheese, smoked salmon, smoked langoustines which are like mini lobsters. We also got these marshmallow cookies and ate them on the rooftop. Then we went to a little bar and the parents got beers and the kids got little mussels in a jar. When we finished we went to play bulldogs which is basically like tag but with 3 bases.

On the chain walk in Elie, Scotland

The next day we went with my parents, Brian, and the kids into St. Andrews We walked around a bit and then went to dinner which was burgers and chips (fries) there was lots of board games and Connect 4, so we played those while we were waiting for our food. After dinner we walked to the movie theater and we went to go see The Perks of Being a Wallflower which I think everyone liked. Then everyone was very tired so we drove home and went to bed. The next day we kids went on a really long walk with Winston. Then when we got back everyone said that they wanted to go to Dundee pool so Brian said if we all made a piece of artwork we could go. So we did. After we made our artworks, we went to Dundee Swimming Pool, which is a indoor water park. It was really fun!! There were 3 water slides and wave pool and a lazy river. The blue and green slides were fun but the yellow one was my favorite – it was like a 3 meter drop! It was so fun! When we got back in the car we heard Naomi’s “Payphone” rap which was actually really good! We got home, then had some dinner and watched a movie. Then it got to be late so we went to bed.

Time for art in Elie

The next day we Totaros packed up because we were leaving for Paris. But before we left, Brian judged our artwork and we each got a pack of Rolos. We said our sad goodbyes and Brian drove us to the airport. We said goodbye and checked in for our flight. It was really sad to leave Scotland because I had sooo much fun there! And before we left, Brian gave us some Monster Munch for the plane ride and I got some Irn Bru which is a Scottish soda which is delicious! Then we flew to Paris.

Monster Munch

We got to the airport in the evening about 5pm and we got a taxi to our apartment. We brought all of our luggage up the 4 flights of stairs and settled in. the apartment was very small! Much different than Brian’s house in Elie! There were 2 rooms: one was for me and magnolia and the other was the kitchen and my parent’s room. After we unpacked and relaxed for a bit, we got on the metro and went to the Eiffel tower. We sat down on a ledge and ate baguettes while watching the Eiffel tower. All of the sudden, the Eiffel tower started flashing with strobe lights! It was so cool!!

Our first night in Paris

The next day we went to the Centre Pompidou which was like a big modern art museum and since I don’t like museums very much I actually liked this one, so that’s good! We had lunch on a bench, again having baguettes. We walked across the river and went to an English bookstore called Shakespeare and Company. I thought it was really cool! Most of the books were in English so we stayed there for a few hours, just reading. It was very comfortable and for a while there was someone playing the piano softly and nicely. After we finished looking there, we walked around the corner to a crepes place. It looked pretty good so we went in. I had a crepe with ham, cheese, and egg, it was really good! And for dessert we all split one crepe with butter and caramel and whipped cream. I have to say that the restaurant was delicious!

Outside the Centre Pompidou

The next day we took the metro and walked a little to the flea market. In the beginning it was all furniture, modern, old, and new. After a bit we got to the clothes and shoes and accessories part, but it wasn’t really my style. So we walked back to the furniture part. And it kind of reminded me of the movie ‘Midnight In Paris’. After a bit more walking around, we started walking towards somewhere to eat. We walked to the neighborhood called Montmartre and got some coffee and hot cocoa and saw the famous cathedral called Sacre Coeur. We walked up the hill a little more and found a little brass band which was really good!

Clignancourt market

After a while we walked to a neighborhood called Belleville and visited my parents friend James and his family. We walked around the neighborhood and got some bread and had a really good view of the Eiffel tower. He recommended some restaurants for dinner. When we were walking home, someone snapped a rubber band on my backside!

The next day we went to a museum called L’Orangerie which used to be a greenhouse and you can tell that because of the glass roof. There was an exhibit by Soutine which I did not like very much but there was still a few that were a bit interesting. After we finished looking there, we ate lunch outside in a park. We sat in comfortable chairs and again, ate baguettes (this was what we had for lunch almost every day). We walked over and saw the Louvre but we didn’t go in because me and Magnolia didn’t want to 😉  We walked to one of the bridges and it was COVERED with love locks! Then we went to see Notre Dame. We got in a big line and went inside. It was GIGANTIC!! And the stained glass was really pretty. Then we walked to a neighborhood and went to an Israeli restaurant called Pitzman. We had a few latkes and then went on our way. We walked down a shopping street and peeked in a few stores.

Love locks on a bridge in Paris

The next day Magnolia, my dad and I rented Velib bikes and for a while we rode along the Saint Martin canal, and then we started riding towards the Arc de Triomphe. It was a looong ride with lots of traffic and being really close to the buses because it was a bus/bike lane. But soon it became crowded with people so we walked our bikes to the nearest Velib station which was a long way away, but right next to where my mom was getting us some French macarons which are French cookies, which have all different colors and flavors. They are delicious! The flavors were rose, bubblegum, violet, chocolate, salted caramel, and pistachio.Velib bikes in Paris

 

Since we were close, we walked to the Eiffel tower. It was really pretty! We got there and there was a huge line to go to the top so we got in the shorter line to just climb up the steps to the second floor. We got our tickets and started climbing up. The stairs were really steep! I was really tired by the time we got up. We were only on the second floor but we were so high up! I’m glad we didn’t go to the top; I would’ve fainted and fallen off! It was really scary climbing up and down because we were climbing in all the steel and wires that make up the Eiffel tower! When we got down, I looked up to the 2nd floor and it didn’t look very high.  But I was glad to be down, though the view was great! Afterwards, we looked at these exhibits about the United Buddy Bears. Buddy Bears are sculptures of bears that every country decorates to represent their country. It was really cool especially the one covered in calla lilies. After, we took the metro back to our apartment. I was exhausted! So we had dinner and went straight to bed.  The next day we went to the Musee d’Orsay and spent a lot of the day there, and then we had lunch in Jardin Katherine Labouret. After lunch, we went to a big shopping street where we went into the Conran Shop and Le Bon Marche. After a while we went back to our apartment by subway.

At the Eiffel Tower

The next day was Halloween so we decided to go to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, which had a lot of famous people buried there and a lot of war memorials. We walked around the cemetery for a bit and then went to a French restaurant for lunch called, Le Bouchoir. They had really good food! I had goat cheese wrapped in crispy bread. Then we took the subway to the train station to get overnight train tickets to Berlin. We then went back to our apartment but not before we got some candy from the grocery store J. When we got to our apartment I started working on my costume (a mouse) by drawing a nose and whiskers on my face and putting on red lipstick. Finally to finish it off, I made some mouse ears out of paper. Then we ate candy! We actually got some trick-or-treaters, but me and Magno didn’t want to give up our candy so we gave them key-chains leftover from the Malaysia fair in London. But at least they seemed happy with them!  October was really fun for me!

Halloween costumes on the fly