One day in Paris, France

Tuesday was our day to tour Paris, but the wife and I couldn’t agree on how exactly we wanted to do that. As I have stated before- do as I say, not as I do. Don’t ever wait until the last minute to book a tour in a major city. However, I had been to Paris twice before and my wife once before. We had been planning out this entire trip almost a year before it happened. So in those months leading up to the trip, I just forgot to book a tour.

If I did not make it clear in my last post, the Eurostar train dropped us directly in front of the gates to Disneyland Paris. Our hotel was a short walk to the train station, but we decided to take a taxi into Paris. It was a lot more expensive, but we felt it was a better option in our case. We didn’t feel comfortable with two kids and having to change multiple trains to get into Paris. The night before, we booked a tuk-tuk tour, and we scheduled to meet around 10 am a couple of blocks from the Eiffel Tower. (See my wife’s pictures of the tuk-tuk below). The tuk-tuk is an open-aired three-wheeled vehicle with a driver who was also our tour guide. It was bizarre at first, but afterward, we all agreed it was one of the best tours we’ve ever done in any city. We booked this tour through the Paris City Guides App on my iPhone. It was ridiculously easy, and the best part is I booked the trip the night before! Yes, our family does fly by the seat of our pants. As I mentioned previously, it was idiotic to wait until the very last minute to book a tour, but it turned out to be a fantastic mistake.

We had a wonderful breakfast again at the buffet in the hotel and then promptly caught our taxi. It was roughly an hour or so drive to our destination in Paris. We wound up getting there 25 minutes early, so we decided to call our contact for the tour to just let him know we were there waiting. I didn’t expect him to rush to meet us, but he was there 10 minutes later. I think the kids were a little baffled when the tuk-tuk pulled up to the curb. “Are we going on this?” I believe was blurted out. I have to laugh now because everyone in this country drives in humongous vehicles and Europe it’s precisely the opposite for obvious reasons. I have to admit I was a little uncomfortable at first riding in the vehicle, but I adjusted to it after a while. I’m not sure how my wife felt at first, but I know what the kids were thinking. We took this trip in August, so it was warm, but not hot outside. Paris had been going through an extreme heatwave earlier that summer, but by this time, it had cooled to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime. So being in an open-aired vehicle was perfect. I think we all appreciated that you could feel so connected to the city.

We were able to tell the driver, Mike, to take us wherever we wanted to go, and first up was to take us to the best bakery he could find. We settled on one not too far away, but it was the best one in the area. I apologize I don’t remember the name of it. I’ve looked through all my receipts and even my credit card statements and couldn’t find the name of it anywhere. We bought some bread that came in handy for lunch later, and several other goodies. Unfortunately, my son, who is allergic to lots of different foods, cannot ever eat at a bakery. There’s too much exposure to nuts. We resumed our tour of the different arrondissements or districts of Paris. We booked Mike for four hours, and he took us everywhere!

Of course, we stopped at the obligatory Eiffel Tower stop, the Louvre, and the Arc De Triomphe on the Champs Elysee. When we stopped at the Arc, we saw an older man running across the circle, which you’re not supposed to do, just before a stream of oncoming cars almost mowed him down. Some people are stupid beyond all reason. We were all starving for lunch, so we stopped for ice cream. Yes, you read that right- ice cream. It was the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten. The name of the place is called Amorino. I don’t know how, but we spent $44 on ice cream. My wife bought macarons to eat and also for gifts. That had to be it. We’ve bought macarons in South Florida (delicious believe it not), New Jersey, and now Paris. These macarons were unbelievably delicious, as they should be, but I also remember the macarons in South Florida were made by a Frenchman as well.

We also stopped in an arts district, Montmarte, on the hill overlooking the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It was right next to Basilique Sacre-Coeur de Montmarte. Since we did not plan this trip ahead of time, there was no way to get into the basilica. We took a break at the basilica, found a restroom, and browsed some street art. I was very tempted to buy a few items. I prefer to support independent artists than larger commercial artists. But I didn’t see anything that really caught my eye. I remember, at this point in the tour, we were starting to get hot. We didn’t make any more stops that I remember, and we drove through a half a dozen districts in Paris- it was all kind of a blur, but I tried to savor every minute of it. I look back now and realize that we both showed our kids as much of Paris as we possibly could in one day.

Paris is to this date my favorite city I’ve ever visited with Vancouver coming in a very close second. I’ve been lucky enough to go there for my third time, two times with my wife, and the first time was another time in 1995. There’s something magical at night that happens in the old district. All of the buildings are in a glow of streetlights, and the city is most spectacular at night. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen pictures of Singapore at night, but for me, nothing compares to Paris. The architecture is captivating and made more magical by the lights at night. The myriad of people, there’s no better place to people watch.
I could go on about Paris, but I think I need to wrap this post up.
If you’ve never been to Paris, but have always wanted to go, please do so and make sure you stay centrally located. I have the name of a centrally located hotel in the 1st district, that has a bakery right down the street and that is very cozy. (Cozy in Paris means small). My wife and I stayed there in 2004- Duminy Vendome located not too far away from the Louvre. Please, please leave any comments or thoughts on your favorite city and why. I love hearing about other people’s travels.

Disneyland Paris

The second part of our European trip was a lot of shuffling between trains and automobiles.” We disembarked the Disney Magic in Dover, England. We weren’t 100% sure how we were getting to Disneyland Paris. We knew we were taking the Eurostar train from Ashford train station to Disneyland Paris, but not sure how we were getting to Ashford. We had the option of taking a train or taking a taxi. My wife opted for a taxi, but when we told him where we needed to go he told us the highway to Ashford was being re-paved and was really not an option. So be it, we took the 10-minute taxi drive to the local train station in Dover, England, and promptly boarded the next train to Ashford.  

In a previous post, I wrote the best way to travel is to pack light. I also said do as I say, not as I do. We had four of us with four large suitcases all on wheels that swivel. They are easy to maneuver, but for my 12-year old daughter, she struggled a little, especially over gaps and bumps. The train to Ashford from Dover was especially cramped with four large suitcases. There were luggage racks at the end of the coaches and were very small- not built for full-size bags. So we kept the bags with us, and they wound up sticking out in the aisle.  

Between getting off the ship very early Sunday morning, then taking a speedy train into Ashford, we arrived at the security gate before the security checkpoint was open. We waited maybe 15 minutes and then was able to proceed through. It was not as strict as airline security; however, the bags were sent through an x-ray, and we went through a metal detector, which, if memory serves me correct, we didn’t have to go through in 2005 when we were last on this train. The security personnel was amicable and talkative. In the lounge area was plenty of seating, a children’s play area, and two places to get food and coffee. Of course, I got coffee, and the interesting part was they served it in a real coffee mug, not a disposable cup. On a side note, I kept noticing printed on the tickets; the train ride was a three-hour ride, thinking that was a little long. I opted for the upgraded seats on the Eurostar train that comes with a meal. The seats were comfy, and there was plenty of room to stretch out my legs. When I booked the tickets online, there was an option to put special meal requests, and I put in my son had peanut allergies. However, when the server came around to deliver food, they only had special diet options for Kosher and vegetarian. Fortunately, we always pack snacks, so my son, Austin, had enough to eat on the way. Two hours into the ride, the train started slowing down, and I noticed there was another hour to go but suddenly realized we were pulling into Chessy- Marne station at Disneyland Paris. It finally dawned on me that we had crossed time zones. On an airplane, they always announce the local time. On this train, there was no announcement at all.  

Once we got off the train, we had no idea how to get to our hotel. We could see it, but couldn’t figure out how to get to it, which I know sounds silly. We walked around a little with suitcases in tow until we finally decided the only possible way was through the main entrance into Disneyland past security. When we asked security how do we get to the Disneyland Hotel, it took three of them to figure out what we were asking. It was an obvious language problem. Once they understood, they radioed to the hotel to make sure we were guests there. We sent our bags through the x-ray machine, which just barely fit, and we were through security on our way to our hotel……finally.  

The Disneyland Hotel is the most elegant hotel on the property. The outside is themed like a castle as well as the inside. The most amazing feature is that when you walk outside the hotel it is directly in front of the gates to Disneyland. Of course, you get access to the park an hour earlier than general admission. Which was a huge advantage on Monday when we went to the park. Anyway, when we first get there we met a fantastic employee at the concierge desk. He was able to answer all of our many questions and finally directed us to the main ticket booth in Disneyland. My wife wound up saving us over $300 by buying an annual pass for herself and then purchasing single-day tickets for the rest of us for each day. It worked for us. I cannot recommend this for everyone; however, if you’re planning a trip to Disneyland Paris, I would look into it, it may save you hundreds. By the time we finished at the ticket counter, we still had part of the afternoon and that night to stay in the park if we wanted. The experience was surreal. The kids and I had never been to any Disneyland. My wife had been to Disneyland in California 20 plus years ago. To be at Disneyland but to be in a different country was strange and exciting at the same time. Main Street U.S.A was roughly the same but, the castle was all pink and a little bit smaller than Disney World. We did not stay late, we usually never do, but would have all of Monday in the park.  

Monday morning, we got up and had a fantastic breakfast buffet at our hotel. It was rather expensive but well worth it. They had a vast selection of breadt, pastries, and even more croissants. I kept noticing on our trip throughout Denmark, and especially France, they stayed away from plastic as much as they possibly could. The containers for the honey and jams and jellies were in tiny glass jars.  

Map of Disneyland Paris

Inside the park, Disneyland Paris had its equivalent of Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival going on. My wife was all excited. The event was called Le Rendez-vous Gourmand but was on a much smaller scale than Epcot’s. France had 4 or 5 chalets or pavilions, and there were only a total of 12 themed chalets. We ate at several of the kiosks for lunch. I don’t remember which ones we ate at, but I remember that we were full after three stops. This park had a cool ride that none of the other Disneyland Parks have called Crush’s Coaster. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNTbhPoABQA ). I rode it on a completely empty stomach, and my reward was almost throwing up after the ride was over. It spun you around while going along the tracks in what was mostly a dark ride. I haven’t been that sick since I don’t know when. Fortunately, nausea quickly passed, and I was able to ride other rides that day. The kids and my wife loved that ride. I highly recommend- just not on an empty stomach.  

Although the hotel was beautiful, we did have one rather annoying problem. After the second use on the first day, the toilet would not stop running. I lifted the lid of the tank and did not recognize any parts that I could move or tweak, so I called down to the front desk. After several minutes of no one answering the phone, we let the front desk know on our way back out to the parks. We came back from the parks, and the toilet was still running. I called down again, and this time the front desk picked up and told them that this needs to be fixed before we go to sleep for the night. They finally sent someone to fix it when we went out for the evening. The next day it did the same thing. We told the front desk, and again, it took them a while to fix it. Overall it was an incredible experience at the hotel and the Park. I know we didn’t see everything inside Disneyland, but we were getting tired from the long vacation- two full weeks.  

Tuesday was our day to tour Paris, and then we were leaving for home on Wednesday. I know the kids at this point were ready to go back home. My daughter loves her routines, and vacations are routine disruptors. I wouldn’t change anything about this trip if I had to do it over again, but I don’t think we’ll be taking any two-week vacations anytime soon. While my wife is extremely nervous about going into Paris, this was going to be my favorite part of the trip.  

I will post the Paris part of the trip very shortly and will include lots of pictures. Until then, may your vacations be filled with wonderful memories.  

Fredericia, Denmark

The last stop on our 10-day cruise to Northern Europe was a little town on the eastern shore of Denmark called Fredericia. It was a town of 50,000 and never had a cruise ship dock there. I got up early as usual to go workout. I went outside first to go run on the promenade deck and noticed we had already docked and was greeted with a Danish ‘delegation’ waving little Danish flags on the shore with a 10 piece band included. I was a little surprised, to say the least, but after I thought about it later when you put it all together- a town of 50k, the first time a cruise ship or Disney ship (not sure which) has docked there, it made sense. Did I mention this was just after 6 am? Our tour guide met us at the bus after we disembarked the ship and greeted each and every guest and shook their hand. He did the same thing when we were finished with the tour.

Our tour went to Egeskov Castle about an hour and a quarter outside of Fredericia. The castle was located on a massive piece of property. Whereby they had created a maze where you can walk through made from hedges and also treetop bridges spanning at least 4 trees, a car museum, a motorcycle museum, and a bike museum. So we were free to wander and explore basically until the bus left at 12:15 pm. If you wanted to go inside the castle, we had an appointed time to meet in front of the castle, and we would go in as a group because the castle, in all honesty, was not as big as one would think. They staggered the groups to accommodate everyone due to the small size of the castle. My wife and I had been to the Loire Valley in northwest France and have seen some of the most majestic and awe-inspiring castles that were ever built. This was not one of those castles. Unlike the castles in France, this castle is still owned and lived in by a succession of owners for over one thousand years. Denmark was founded sometime in the 10th century, and this castle was built in the 12th century. The Danes had a small empire at one point in time, but like a lot of the Nordic countries, they at one time were also ruled by the Swedish.

We wound up having a bite of food at a food kiosk on the property along with some coffee, of course. I was interested in the motorcycle museum while the kids and my wife were playing on the playground. I snapped a lot of photos of old classic bikes. We all climbed up a narrow, iron, spiral staircase up into trees. The owners had built chain bridges going from tree to tree. It felt like the bridges were 25 to 30 feet in the air, they were a lot of fun, and a little spooky for some guests we encountered.
The tour of the castle itself was a little underwhelming but nonetheless was very charming. The artifacts inside the castle were of typical fare. When extreme wealth afforded trips to Africa to go hunting so they can hang their trophies on the wall. When we left town, we had to go through passport control again, but unlike Russia, the customs officers were very friendly and a pleasure to deal with. Russia was more like – stern and a little scary. My family and I got back on the boat, and we immediately went to a movie, Aladdin live-action. I was more interested to see the send-off that the town put on as we left the docks. To put it bluntly, it seemed a good portion of the town came down to the pier to bid us goodbye. They had a stage set up with several different singers singing Disney songs. I pretty sure everyone on board was a little shocked and amused because a good portion of the boat was outside on the promenade deck to wave goodbye. I stayed out watching the people until the ship started to leave. As we were leaving, there were 3 cannon shots! I went back to my family in the movie theatre to finish watching Aladdin.

I think this was one of the kids favorite stops because they got to play a little with NO museum tours. We had a really good time and glad we skipped the Lego tour which was an option on this stop in Denmark. It was a little said because we knew this was the end of the cruise. Our next stop we would disembark in Dover, England; take a couple of trains to get to Disneyland Paris and spend the rest of the vacation in our hotel almost inside Disneyland Paris.

Helsinki, Finland

After two amazing full days in St. Petersburg, our next port of call was Helsinki, Finland.  A small city located on the coast of the Baltic Sea in a sparsely populated country but with very friendly people.   Founded at least around 1150 A.D. it was usually under Russian rule and/or Swedish rule. 

My daughter and I had a tour to go out to the countryside as well as see the city and see some horses while my son and wife stayed in the city.  It turned out we visited almost the same places with the exception of the horse farm.  The city itself was like any other Nordic city but, once we hit the countryside, we were treated to a very friendly host with good, healthy food and beautiful views.  Our lady host had two tour buses to feed, around 80 people.  She was not without help as there was plenty of young people to help.  The farmhouse had large ceilings and a huge wide staircase.  The second floor is where my daughter and I ate.  We were served a typical Nordic cod dish, with nettles soup and a yummy side salad.  After lunch, we went out to visit the animals.  She had some very interesting looking chickens.  A miniature horse, which we were able to get up close and pet.  And off in the distance, we could see several other horses.  The weather cooperated and was beautiful the entire time.

After the horse farm, we went to a quaint tiny town north of Helsinki called Porvoo.  My daughter and I  strolled along its narrow cobblestone streets, shopped mainly for licorice and chocolate candy.  We usually buy edible treats and bring them back for everyone to try instead of buying junky souvenirs.  You get to try a little of their culture that way, or at least we feel that way.  Between the gracious host at the horse farm and we had a wonderful tour guide it left us with a warm feeling about Finland

Stockholm, Sweden

I think by this point on our ten-day cruise, everyone on the boat was ready for a day at sea to relax, but it was not to be. The fourth stop was Stockholm, Sweden. We were greeted with partly cloudy skies and beautiful weather when we arrived in port. It was slightly warm in the afternoon, and everyone was out and walking. We met our tour guide who strangely enough didn’t match the stereotypical Swedish looking person. She had dark hair and dark-skinned. Anyways, we promptly went to the royal palace.

We only saw the palace from the outside there were currently no tours offered that day. A king and queen still rule Sweden. We took a tour through the narrow cobblestone streets and eventually got to shop, eat and stroll on our own. Walking through the streets of Stockholm was very quaint, and by far, we enjoyed this part of the tour the most. We stopped for homemade ice cream, and I found the fluffy sweater I wanted (which funny enough is made in Norway, the only Scandinavian country we did not visit). Stockholm, by far, was almost everyone’s favorite city according to a very unscientific poll I took later that afternoon amongst the other tourists on the bus. I have to admit I loved Stockholm. If felt modern European, but anchored in a long history and unique all it’s own.

I have to stop here at this point and say that everywhere in every city we had been to took credit cards- no problem. And thank god because in Helsinki the currency is the Euro, Denmark is the Danish kronor, Sweden is the Swedish kronor and Russia’s currency is the ruble, although Russia commonly took Euros at the tourist shops. We had brought cash with us and some euros, but mostly, we were relying on them taking credit cards, so we didn’t have to lose out on the currency exchange process.
We did take a quick bus tour up to a little town called Sigtuna, Sweden to see some Runestones at an abandoned church which dated back to 1100 A.D. It was a beautiful afternoon and we had time to stop and shop, look around at the little town of Sigtuna.

After the stop in Sweden, we finally had our day at sea. It was glorious, and we took full advantage. We did a lot of relaxing, I did some writing, but we stayed busy as the same time. We saw Toy Story 4 and really liked it. The next stop was a little town in Denmark called Fredericia.