Ok, so we have just spent almost a week in Paris.
After the lush and verdant richness of Switzerland, we boarded the cheap skate bus to Paris. Of course, the TGV would have been fun and most importantly, fast. We could have made it in 4 hours. And it would have halved out budget for the whole trip….Piers is keeping an tight reign on our spending and so, after some reluctance on my part, we bit the bullet and booked an almost 10h trip from Zurich to Paris. Double the time, half the money. Easy logic.
To our surprise, the trip was pleasant in an almost empty bus and with several stops on the way. I have been raving to Piers about the great truck stop food in Europe. I don’t think he really believed me. I mean, how good can a rest stop on any Freeway be? Well, once in France we stopped at an unimpressive stop, headed to the shop and lo and behold, found fresh baguettes, salami and brie. Of course, not as fresh and crunchy as you would find in a village bakery. The cheese was not from a specialist cheese shop, but for Australian tastes, it was the first taste of a traditional french lunch. Piers was in heaven and has not changed this lunch menu since that first encounter.
Meanwhile we know, that a baguette older than 4 hours is not even worth dunking in your soup. A true frenchman gets a fresh baguette for every meal and there are a variety in style and quality of baguettes that Piers is making every attempt to sample….along with cheese and french wine. I think a few kilos have returned to his bony frame and a permanent grin is on his face around mealtimes.
Now Paris. I have been here several times and once with the kids, so I had a long list of things to do, see and experience. This is Piers’ first time and I wanted him to see the Paris that I so love. Sure, there are the must-see things everyone want to tick off. But to me, those are not the real Paris. Wandering the streets of the Marais or the Quartier Latin, getting lost in the 9th, stumbling upon unexpected hidden gems….lingering in cafes…But alas, that was not the plan the kids had. Admittedly, summer days in Europe are very long. Dinner is at 8, and at 10pm it is still daylight and the kids have been getting much less sleep. So aimless walks in a big city is not their idea of fun. Gian in particular likes routine and to know where we are going and for how long. We have been trying the Carrot and Stick method with some success, but there is only so many treats one can use to drag them along. At the end we have given up. One day was spent at home just doing some homework or playing games. And we have limited the sightseeing bit to one item per day. While I have been getting a bit frustrated at their blatant refusal to wander the streets, I get that, for kids, it is just not that exciting as rolling around a field in the mountains. I was lucky to be able to steal a few hours here and there to explore areas that I haven’t been yet. Piers spent Saturday morning at a flea market and one night we went to a fabulous restaurant near the Louvre. So all in all, we were all able to do a bit of what we wanted in Paris. But I will skip Paris and all other big cities with the kids from now on. Next time in Paris will be Piers and I alone, possibly on our retirement holiday. The kids will do their backpackers tour of Europe when they appreciate the history and beauty of these grand European cities. Our job is done here.
We have been incredibly lucky to again stay with our friends Simon and Celine. They have an amazing new house in Neuilly sur Seine, with plenty of space for a bunch of noisy Australians and with easy access to Metro and the city.
Tomorrow morning we are off agin. Next stop is Utrecht in The Netherlands. It is time to pick up our van and turn it into our home for the next 6 months. I can’t wait to finally start the real adventure. I am particularly looking forward to cook again. I know that the novelty of cooking in a Camper van will wear off very quickly. But I love checking out local supermarkets, farmers markets and discover new specialties. Seasonal fruit is at its best at the moment, and we have been loving the new variety of flat peaches and mountains of fresh berries on our yoghurt. So yes, that will be fun.
So, some fun facts on the money/travel side of things. Switzerland is ridiculously expensive. And it is better value to spend 3 weeks or more inSwitzerland to make use of the great public transport passes. Once you have that pass, prices drop significantly, children travel for free. Passes include everything from train, bus, boats and cable cars to the mountains. Other than that, be prepared to loose money every step of the way. As we are travelling for a long time, there are no little luxuries, like bought sandwiches or souvenirs in every town. We shop in the Supermarket and make up things to take. The kids are used to travel with me and I tend to be a bit more generous with treats. This time however, I am deferring all begging and demanding to Piers who is much more stern and stingy. But we are still sampling some gorgeous stuff…and the kids are happy with the occasional Escargot or Croissant. Paris is a living museum and it can be enjoyed without spending lots of money. Again, eating out is a drain on the budget, but supermarkets stock gorgeous food, and bistro food in Paris is not that great anyway in my opinion. On the first sunday of the months museums in Paris are free (not the Louvre), so that is a great day to see a few things. Parks are a great place for the kids and there are several amazing parks in and around the city.
Ok, that is us for now. Looking forward to The Netherlands.