23.07.2017 - 26.07.2017 75 °F
The first time I came to Paris was 2001 with my mom, dad, and grandfather. My parents had the goal to see London and finish up in France with my Grandpa Dick acting as our trusty French translator. During our trip, my dad had heard that we would arrive in Paris on the last day of a big sporting event, and more importantly, we could even go check it out for free. There was a big bike race, and my dad said, "And there's actually an American in the lead. He's from Texas and his name is Lance something or rather." This would become Lance Armstrong's third victory in the Tour de France, and he would go on to win a record seven straight titles before admitting to using performance enhancing drugs many years later only to be stripped of his titles.
On this trip to Paris, I ended up arriving in Paris coincidentally on the last day of the Tour de France, exactly sixteen years after arriving on my first trip. This was by no means intentional, but it was cool to see the finish line one more time of one of the world's most grueling endurance events. I arrived around 2:30 in the afternoon and found out the riders wouldn't get to Paris for another three hours. Deciding Ethan wouldn't make it that long, I settled for a few pictures and went back to get settled into my apartment in Paris.
Marker at 1 km to the finish
Ironically, the bike lane was not part of the course
The next day, I woke up early to attend the 2017 International AIDS Society conference while Keri, Danielle, and Ethan stayed back. I arrived back around 4:30, and we decided to take a self-guided walking tour of Paris despite the drizzle.
The pyramids designed by I.M. Pei above The Louvre
A statue overlooking the museum
A boat on the Siene River
Notre Dame (not the school)
A statue of John Paul II in front of the cathedral
One of the beautiful windows
I spent the entire next day at the conference presenting my scientific poster and having various debates about scientific methods with other researchers (sounds stressful, but we love that stuff). I learned about the newest developments in my field, and mentally satiated, returned home later that evening to go off to the Moulin Rouge with Keri. The Moulin Rouge is a burlesque show that has existed since the 1880s. Although the dancers are indeed topless, there's nothing sexually risque about the show, and the best way to describe it would be "It's a Small World" in dancing form. As with most things on this trip, pictures were not allowed, but the show consisted of a few acrobats, a ventriloquist, a woman swimming in a tank full of water snakes, and various songs in French. It was entertaining, but it's probably not something I would do again.
We spent the entire last day indulging in the sites by visiting the Louvre (going inside this time), visiting the Catacombs, seeing the Eiffel Tower, and having our (first) authentically French meal. Although I saw The Louvre as a teenager, I don't think I really had a great appreciation for the amazing collection of work in the museum. We explored as much as we could, and when Ethan started to get grumpy, we took our leave to see the catacombs.
Although the line was really long to get in, an observant security guard let us go to the front since we had Ethan in tow
This picture makes it look like we're looking into a doorway to the crucifixion
More stolen art
Ethan and I doing our best impression
One of my heroes, Emperor Augustus
The person who bought this coffin must have been loaded
Viva la vida
Joan of Arc
The obligatory Mona Lisa picture
The catacombs were ordered by King Louis XVI in response to two infrastructure problems Parisians were facing in the late 18th century. When the Romans colonized the area many centuries before, they had dug numerous quarries throughout the city to obtain limestone to build roads and various buildings. Although the Romans contributed a lot to the development of Paris, the massive quarries didn't exactly make great foundations for the ever increasing population density centuries later. In addition to that, all of the bodies that had been buried over the centuries in mass graves started to spill out during new excavation projects. King Louis XVI decided that the resources should be spent on building pillars throughout the catacombs in order to strengthen the infrastructure and this could simultaneously be an ideal place to move about six million sets of bones which were in the way of progress.
Over the next thirty years, veterans and ex-convicts worked to accomplish these two tasks. Over sixty mass graves were emptied, and the bodies were moved to their (second) final resting place. The bones were stacked by type without any material to bind them together and remain that way to this day. Some workers decided to be artistic and placed skulls in the shape of hearts, a cross, or various other designs throughout the catacombs. After the project was finished, the catacombs became a chic place for rich people to have parties starting in the 1830s. It remains a popular destination to this day, and illicit events are still held throughout various parts of the catacomb network.
This carving was made by a veteran and prisoner of war in the battle of French-English battle for Minorca. He was imprisoned for 10 years and looked out at this fort from his prison cell every day. The carving is a replica of his view, and he wanted to share his art piece with the world. In order to do this, he tried to build a staircase to the top so that people could come see it, but he died in the process when the roof collapsed on him.
Skulls in the shape of a heart
The stacks of bones throughout the catacombs
Respect the dead
We finished up with a walk around the Eiffel Tower and our first authentic French meal. We all agreed that the meal was one of the highlights of the trip, and we filled up on everything from fried zucchini and escargot (snails) to veal, pork, and duck.
From the left
Trying to decide if I like it, it tastes a lot like Oysters
A duck for Danielle
Pistachio creme brulee
The view from the restaurant
The million dollar question is, would I do this type of trip again with an infant? The short answer is no.
Ethan did really well throughout the whole trip. He (mostly) went to bed at the usual time, slept through the night, and he was a really good companion when we were out and about. As his personality develops, we can tell that he is going to be someone who loves to socialize because he would often "talk" at strangers walking past when they would smile at him. He had a few instances where he was inconsolable for a few hours, but it was honestly nothing major.
It was also our first long trip with Grandma Keri, and she did really well too. She was very easy going with the schedule, and she was always happy to take Ethan if Danielle and I started complaining too much about our backs. She was adventurous and even went off a few times on her own to explore, even being mistaken as a member of a French family and being greeted as such. She also was up for trying things that most probably wouldn't like escargot and going out to the countryside to see a bar devoted to Alien.
In truth, I wouldn't do this type of trip again because it was just too exhausting. When I originally set out to book the trip, I asked Danielle if four stops would be okay since our trips typically consisted of five to seven stops. I reasoned that four stops with mostly museum and food activities would be easy and leave a lot of down time. Complete hubris.
The thing that made the trip exhausting was packing up all seven bags and moving to the next place. The airport experiences were definitely the hardest, but the train experiences were also tough because we had to get to the train station, figure out where we needed to be, and then we had to get all of our bags on and off the train. Although Ethan was great, it was also tough on our backs because he needed to be carried and fed often while we were out.
I constantly declared, "last vacation!" in my typical dramatic nature, but I knew deep down that it's the last of THIS TYPE of vacation for awhile. Danielle, Keri, and I talked about it, and it would have been a lot less exhausting if we flew into one place and rented a car and went from place to place. The day we took a road trip to Gruyeres was pretty stress free, and that's really what a vacation should be like.
I'm not done with traveling, but the mode of travel will definitely change for the foreseeable future. Out is the 7 stop trip to Japan, and in is the road trip around Iceland. Even though it was exhausting, we had a great time, and I learned a lot for what to do next time. If you're a new parent and want to take a trip with your little one, I would offer this advice:
1. Minimize flights: The biggest sources of exhaustion were lugging bags to and from the airport and being confined in a flying metal tube with an infant. If you can take one flight to your destination and then just take cars and trains from there, it's going to make life a whole lot easier.
2. Take the stroller: Danielle had originally suggested that we take a stroller, and I stupidly scoffed and said that it wouldn't be efficient because there are so many cobblestones in Europe. There are cobblestones, but I had apparently thought Europe looked like it did when Oliver Twist was written. The stroller saved our backs and our sanity since he often liked to go to sleep as well walked around each city. He got fussy in the baby carrier, so the stroller was really the only option unless I wanted to become a body builder in the span of two weeks. We got a stroller that folded up into a bag, and it was only seven pounds. Plus, strollers don't count towards your checked luggage allotment which means that there's no excuse NOT to bring one.
3. Take a starter trip: If you want to see what it's like to take a big trip, start small by flying somewhere closer. Danielle and I went to Sacramento to visit my family, and we learned a ton on that trip which ended up being three weeks before the Europe trip. Start small, and if all works out, then you can go big.
4. Take way more formula than you think you need: We ran out of formula with about 2 days left in the trip. Ethan started eating a LOT more traveling than we were at home, and our projections hadn't taken that into account. We went to three separate stores in Paris before we found a store that had only one type of formula. You can get diapers at pretty much any store, but formula is a lot harder to come by.
5. Pre-made bottles are the best: It can sometimes be hard to come by clean water when you are out and about. The Mixie bottles allow you to fill up the bottle with formula and water and then press the button when you're ready to mix the contents. I also recommend taking more than one type of bottle since you have to let the Mixie dry before you can reload it with more formula.
It's hard to believe that I've been doing this blog for nine years now and have covered twenty countries in that time. The next trip won't be for awhile, but you can be sure I'll be right back on here once the next adventure begins.