London Tower

Just some of the London skyline.

Just some of the London skyline.

The kids mostly just wanted to walk around London and see the buildings, which is something Noah NEVER wants to do.But with this being London, that’s a great thing to do but I couldn’t just let us wander aimlessly. I had discovered a two-for-one pass program run by the London train company which I wanted to take advantage of. If you take the train into London you can get two-for-one entry into over 80 or so attractions. I read that the program was created to encourage locals to get out and visit London but there is no reason why tourists couldn’t take advantage of it. The savings from the tickets outweighed any savings we might see from special transportation deals. The first attraction we were off to see was Tower Bridge. It’s such a defining landmark of London. The two towers connected by a lower bridge and an upper bridge. Lovely!

Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge.

For our tour we walked into the visitors center in the bottom floor of one of the towers, took a lift up to the upper bridge and saw a brief film about the bridge. Seems that London was waaaay overdue for more bridges over the Thames and it took an act of Parliament to get this one built. There was a contest and people submitted some crazy ideas for it (over 50) but finally a design was chosen. This design is one that had never been used before in all of history. This bridge had to allow for tall ship traffic to pass through the river while at the same time pedestrians and vehicles needed to keep moving over top of the river. Viola! A two-tiered bridge that used bascules for the mechanism to open the lower level for tall ships. Bascules and engineering became our school focus for the day!

Looking up at the upper walkways of Tower Bridge.

Looking up at the upper walkways of Tower Bridge.

The support structure of the bridge is built of steel but to make it pretty, it is covered in stonework. After the movie we got to walk across the upper level – which is actually made up of two separate walk ways. Throughout the walkways they have an exhibit showing how the bridge was constructed, highlights of other amazing bridges around the world (of which we had seen 7 or 8 of them), and pictures of iconic people from around London or England (think James Bond, Twiggy, Roger Daltry, the Beatles). Noah loved the exhibit showcasing how it was built while Madison and I really enjoyed the pictures of other bridges and of the people. The tour included more highlights of how it was built and then we got to go down into what used to be the control room for the bridge. The bridge used hydraulics never before used in the world to open and close the drawbridge, and to operate the lifts to carry pedestrians up to the walkways, the signals that controlled the traffic and the jigger crane that unloaded the coal from the barges. Very high tech in those days.  The bridge opens 3 times a day and used to be powered by steam but now it’s all electronic and computerized. I think our favorite thing we found out about the bridge is that in 1952 the driver of London transport bus 78 had to actually jump the opening of the bridge. After that incident they reworked the security around opening the bridge. We figure those passengers had the ride of their life!

Bus 78 jumping the opening. CRAZY!

Bus 78 jumping the opening. CRAZY!

We probably spent 4 hours touring the bridge, and really enjoyed it. And, as every good tourist attraction does, they have a gift shop at the end. We just looked. On both sides of the Thames they have built a great walking system, I think they call it the Thames Path walk and it makes it very easy to walk all along the river for a long ways, which we did. We love seeing the funky buildings. The London City Hall is called the Armadillo. It’s a modern building that really looks like a giant armadillo. From up in the Tower Bridge we had great views of the London Skyline. They have a bullet building that looks identical to the one in Barcelona. And we loved seeing the “soul-eating-wifi-building”, as it’s called in Doctor Who but is actually known as the Shard. Can’t forget Big Ben and the London Eye (the giant Ferris wheel). And all of it set in front or right next to London Tower and the original walled medieval city. It’s the mix of old and new that is just so much fun.

That's the "soul eating wifi" building in the background.

That’s the “soul eating wifi” building in the background.

Our plan for the day included meeting up with Kay for dinner. She now had the “Paris cooties” and stayed home for the day. We had picked a restaurant that was close to the Tower Bridge and headed there to wait for her. But she never showed so our back up plan was for us to eat dinner anyway and then go home. Which we did. But not until getting a little lost after-all this was our second day out and now it was just me figuring out which way to go and it was dark. But fear not, we made it home and crashed into bed. Turns out I had taken both sets of keys to the apartment so Kay couldn’t leave because she couldn’t lock up.

Touring Tower Bridge was probably my favorite thing we did while in London. It was historical, interesting, educational, artistic, afforded great views of London, was just darn cool and reasonably priced. And that ticks off all my boxes for tourist attractions.

Tower Bridge at night.

Tower Bridge at night.

Just one view of the very spiffed up and clean engine rooms.

Just one view of the very spiffed up and clean engine rooms.

The Armadillo - London's city hall.

The Armadillo – London’s city hall.

London Calling

Our first day in London - a typical rainy London day!

Our first day in London – a typical rainy London day!

On this trip we’ve visited the Acropolis, the Vatican, hiked the Swiss Alps, seen the Mona Lisa, visited the ruins of Pompeii, seen the great cathedrals of Europe – did any of this matter to our children? No. What matters is visiting London. You see, they are big fans of Doctor Who, and Sherlock, they love the second Thor movie where the deadly Aether was released in Greenwich, and of course, they’ve seen every Harry Potter movie out. What do all these have in common? London. Yup – we were in London to find movie and tv locations. As we rode the bus into London, Madison’s face broke into the biggest smile we’ve seen on the entire trip. She just kept looking around, pointing out buildings and saying, “I can’t believe we’re in London”. Our bus brought us to Victoria Coach Station which passed us by many of the iconic London buildings, and on our drive to the flat we saw even more.

Trafalgar Square.  Even in the rain the fountains operate.

Trafalgar Square. Even in the rain the fountains operate.

London was our first stop without our camper and we rented a flat for eight days in the Greenwich area of London. It was a strange flat, kitchen, bathroom and then one big room for us. Still – bigger than our camper just a strange layout. But, the bus was just outside our doorstep and the train station was a five-minute walk. We were a five-minute walk to a large grocery store and a ten-minute walk to restaurants. Ideal for us. This was our first day in London and part of that drill includes figuring out public transportation. Kay and I did a quick grocery run in the morning and then all of us headed out about 1 pm and took the train to King’s Cross station. As soon as we left the station we all realized we were starving and found a little pub to pop into for some fish and chips. Our first London meal and it was yummy. The service was terrible but the food made up for it. Besides, as predictable in London, it started to rain while we were eating lunch so we waited it out a bit in the pub. The pub was full of people who we think were teachers. They had been protesting and still had signs against privatizing education. Each day that we were in London we saw protesters of some sort; protesting against privatizing the parole system, privatizing the education system, protesting in support of Syria, in support of Turkey, constant protesters. All of it peaceful though. And with lots of police presence each time. Quite frankly, we have seen protesters throughout this trip in most of the large cities we have visited.

A giant, blue rooster - I don't know why - it just was.

A giant, blue rooster – I don’t know why – it just was.

Just outside the pub was Trafalgar Square and one of the many London museums, and seeing as it was still raining we headed for it. While the kids let out a less-than-subtle-groan we ducked into the National Portrait Gallery to kill some time. We kinda sped through much of it but spent time admiring the Impressionist collection which Noah really enjoyed. The museum was having a special exhibit showcasing two of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. We very much enjoyed the Van Gogh museum when we were in Amsterdam so we were thrilled to see these additional paintings here. Besides, if you know anything about Doctor Who there was an episode featuring Vincent and his work including his sunflowers so this satisfied the kids need to see tv locations and our need for, well, anything else.

Afterwards we walked around Trafalgar square a bit. Can anyone explain the presence of the large blue rooster? By this time it was pouring so we called it quits and headed back to our flat. In spite of the rain it was a good first outing in London. We figured out public transportation, had our first meal of fish and chips, saw a few iconic London buildings, and slipped in a museum and a tv reference all in one shot. We’ve got to pace ourselves – we’ve got a lot of territory to cover!

Family Adventure Podcasts

Family Adventure Podcast is this great resource for anyone thinking about taking their family and going on the adventure of a lifetime. The Hemingway family did just that – with 5 kids + adding one on the way – all in a sailboat. Now that they have settled back onto land the dad has launched a website of podcasts with families who have been touring the world. Home-schooling, world-schooling, amazing family time, slow-traveling, sailing, driving, all sorts of ways – you name it. It is full of inspirational podcasts from families just doing it. And we were recently invited to share our experience with them so you can listen to me tell our story. There are amazing families out there, right now, doing it. If you have an inkling of an idea about your own big trip go check out this website and the podcasts. It may be just the push you need.

http://www.familyadventurepodcast.com/

How Many Different Ways to Travel?

Here's our bus inside our train pod getting ready to cross the chunnel.

Here’s our bus inside our train pod getting ready to cross the chunnel.

When we left Antwerp we headed to London. There is that pesky English Channel in the way so you need to decide how you want to navigate it. You can 1) fly over it, 2) ferry on top of it, or 3) chunnel under it. We chunneled! At first glance it makes sense to take the Eurostar from Brussels to Paris. It’s a 3 hour trip and, I guess if you buy your tickets far enough in advance, it’s not too costly. Well, we tried to buy tickets a few days in advance and it was going to cost us about $550 US dollar to take the Eurostar. Ouch! Plus we would have had to take the regional train from Antwerp to Brussels – additional cost and additional time. I trolled the internet looking for options and discovered MegaBus. Basically a no-frills bus company that drives over much of Europe, the US and Canada. We could go from Antwerp to London for $90 US. Sold. We took a taxi from our hotel to the bus station which wasn’t a station at all. It was a parking lot where buses could park. I could tell from his reaction that our taxi driver thought we were nuts. There was no bus waiting but there was another passenger waiting so we felt a little better. The bus did show up on time and we were off. We made a few stops along the way and then made it to the chunnel boarding area.

Other vehicles queing up to go into the chunnel. You can see a semi-truck in it's holding cell.

Other vehicles queing up to go into the chunnel. You can see a semi-truck in it’s holding cell.

This was our first time we had to go through customs since we ferried over from Greece to Italy. We had almost forgotten the drill. We first had to check out with the French border crossing – everyone off the bus, into the office and talk with the customs agents, then back on the bus. The bus moved forward about 100 meters and we do the drill again; everyone off the bus, into the office and talk with the UK border crossing except there we also had to fill out entry cards. No problems with any of this and we picked up another two stamps for our passports. Back on the bus and we drove to que up for the chunnel crossing.

Yes, we always read the safety posters. The chunnel has a third tube used for maintenance and rescues.

Yes, we always read the safety posters. The chunnel has a third tube used for maintenance and rescues.

When you cross the chunnel you don’t actually drive through it. All vehicles are loaded onto a train and the trains shuttle everyone back and forth. Once you are under way it is only about a 35 minute crossing. We had about 10 minutes to wait and then drove into the tunnel area. You enter, what I called, the train pod. Seriously – you drive onto a train and the entire car closes around you. I suppose each pod could contain several vehicles but we were the only vehicle in our pod. Remember, it’s not high season right now so we had no lengthy waiting time and no crowd. Once you’re loaded on the train you can get off and walk around. There are some windows looking out of the train pod but once you’re underground there is nothing to see. We did think it was a really cool way to travel although I think I still prefer the ferry. It was an uneventful crossing (what you always like), we drove up the ramp and we were now in the UK. No border personnel there as we did everything we needed to on the other side.

From there it was about a two hour drive to central London. The last hour of the drive we were actually in London but there is so much traffic that you just don’t move fast. The bus left us at Victoria Coach Station and from there we had hired a car to take us to the rental flat. It was a long day of travel and we really didn’t think we’d be up to figuring out the London public transportation system at 6 pm that night. Besides this car company works with the flat rental company and he took us to get our keys and get us into the flat.

It's London! Let the fun begin.

It’s London! Let the fun begin.

So just today we were on a taxi, a coach bus, a train, and a hired car. Once we gave up our own means of transportation we became totally dependent on the transportation that is available to us. Not a big deal – just a big change for us. And now we were in London, the number one place the kids wanted to visit. Let the fun begin.

Where and When to Ship Home?

For the past month Kay has been contacting shipping companies to get quotes and dates on shipping our camper back home. Our plan (that 4-letter word that never goes away) was to ferry from Calais, France to Dover, England , spend a few weeks exploring the countryside of Britain, Scotland and Wales, ship the camper home from Southampton, England and spend some time in Ireland while the camper is en route to Baltimore. We contacted the company we used to ship over here and they put us in touch with two shipping agents, one in Southampton and one in La Havre, France. Basically these two ports are just across the English Channel from each other and we could ship from either one. We contacted both and waited for information. The company in the UK got back to us right away and provided great customer service but they were about 25% more than we had budgeted for the return trip. Besides, the closer we got to the UK the more anxious Kay became about driving the camper on, what is to us, the wrong side of the road. So we waited for a quote from the company in La Havre. And waited. And waited. And waited. Not a good sign. They did finally get us a quote which was almost equal to the company from the UK. Both companies came in at around $10,000 to ship to Baltimore. Out of our budget but if we had to, we had to.

On a whim we decided to contact the shipping company we used to enter Belgium. Rita was the agent we worked with and she had an immediate reply for us. She provided us with shipping dates and they got a quote to us within 24 hours. Customer service we liked! And, the quote was for almost the exact amount it cost to bring it over, $7,500. Perfect and our exact budget number. So now you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Wow? $15,000 dollars to ship round-trip? Why did they do that.” Believe it or not, even with the shipping costs it was the least expensive way for us to do this trip. Renting an RV in Europe and/or buying one is even more expensive than how we did it. I would guess you could rent a camper van or something smaller for less but with a family of four, including two teenagers, we wanted a bit more space than European campers provide. There are so many ways anyone could choose to do this type of trip – ultimately you have to choose what is the best situation for your family. So that’s what we did.

So to ship we needed to go to Antwerp. That’s where we started. We ended up loving the idea of shipping out of where we started – we lapped Europe! How cool is that? Kay didn’t relish the idea of another day of driving but it turns out it wasn’t that far, about a 6 hour drive, and all major motorways. We were heading to Antwerp but knew we didn’t want to stay at the campground where we started. It worked well for our first few days on the trip but now we knew enough that we looked for someplace else. Looking back at the beginning of our trip we had a terrible time getting propane in Belgium so we left Belgium sooner than we had planned in order to head to Holland in search of propane. Because of that we didn’t get to see Brugge or Ghent, both places I had wanted to go. Now that we were returning to Belgium, we could go there. We found a great campground just outside of Brugge and made ourselves comfortable. Our goal over the next five days was to pack up the camper, get rid of things we acquired along the way that wouldn’t fit on the trip home, and to pack our own stuff up for traveling via hotels for the next few weeks. And I, of course, wanted to sight-see.

What happened was the “Paris cooties” that Noah had – he gave them to me. I ended up in bed for the 5 days we were in Brugge leaving Kay to do all the packing and purging.  The cooties eventually made their way to Kay and onto Madison although no one had it as severely as I did. So much for sight-seeing in Brugge.

On the day we were leaving we emptied our waste water tanks as much as we could, checked out of the campground and headed to the port. I thought we were going to Antwerp where we had picked up the camper when it shipped here, turns out the actual port was in Zeebrugge.  Very close to our campground. It was an easy drive and then Kay went to check in to see what we do next. Basically she had to fill out some paperwork and then drive the camper to a specific parking spot where they measured it and sent her on her way. Simple! We then took a cab to the train station in Brugge (so I did get to see some of it), and took the train to Antwerp where we had our first overnight in a hotel since last July!

The camper will take about 3 1/2 weeks from the time we leave it at the port to the time we can pick it up in Baltimore. During that time our plan is to travel to London, then Cardiff, Wales and then onto Ireland. We made arrangements to stay in a flat in London and an apartment while in Ireland. We have a few nights in a hotel in Cardiff and we’ll be in a hotel in Baltimore for one night. This end of the trip is requiring a whole different set of planning skills. We have grown very used to finding campgrounds and deciding our route as we go – now we have to make solid plans. But, so far, so good. The next few weeks should provide a good contrast to how we have been traveling for the past 9 months. I feel like it’s a great experiment! Can’t wait to learn the outcome.

Pictures – Northern France and Normandy

Northern France and the Beaches of Normandy

The American Cemetery has row after row of white crosses.

The American Cemetery has row after row of white crosses.

After leaving Mont St Michel we drove just a few hours to the beaches of Normandy, specifically we were camping at Crouay, a small French town tucked between farmlands and the beach. It was only about a 2 hour drive, fairly relaxing up until the last 15 minutes of the trip, then it’s the back roads through tiny French towns to get to the campground. Our host at this campground was a retired lorry driver who spoke probably 5 languages and was one of the nicest men we have met in the last couple of months. Yes we were big but he didn’t care – of course we could camp there – anywhere we want.

DSCN5681After we got “installed” (as he called it) he brought us tourist information and told us the easiest way to get to the beaches of Normandy. Noah was fighting what we called “the Paris cooties”, so we left him in the camper to sleep and Kay and I went to see what we could find. We had our choice of about 10 different museums which made it a bit overwhelming figuring out where to start. We didn’t want wax museums or animatronics just straightforward, factual information.

We decided to go to the American Cemetery and spent several hours touring the visitors center and walking the grounds. The cemetery is run by the American Battle Monuments Commission, the agency responsible for building and maintaining cemeteries around the world for Americans killed overseas. There is a very well done visitors center that takes you through the prep work for D-Day, the planning that led up to it, the equipment needed, and of course, stories of the men who fought and died there. They include information on only a few women – the nurses. It was exactly what we were looking for when we thought of a museum to help us understand WWII. After fully exploring the museum, Kay and I walked quietly through the grounds of the cemetery. It is perfectly tended cemetery with beautiful flower gardens, monuments throughout the grounds and sweeping views of the beach.

Memorial at Omaha Beach - the flags and the statue Les Braves.

Memorial at Omaha Beach – the flags and the statue Les Braves.

What really surprised me was the beaches in this area. You always hear of the Normandy Beaches and you know about the D-Day landing but what I never realized is just how beautiful of an area this is. The beach was probably a full mile wide and stretched up and down the coast for probably 5 miles. And at the end of the sandy area the coastline heaves up to form both steep cliffs and gentle hills. Homes have been built on the hillside and we saw several signs indicating you could rent homes for the summer. It looks like a wonderful summer location.

I found it fascinating that even today Americans are still seen as the liberators.  There are signs everywhere welcoming the liberators and welcoming Americans. We wandered through several surrounding towns and looked at memorials and statues and the beautiful view. This entire coastline is dotted with memorials and places to stop and see; I think I read this area was an open-air museum. The next big stop we headed to was Pointe du Hoc. This was a strategic location during the invasion because it was atop of a cliff that juts out overlooking the coast. The Nazi’s had constructed bunkers and tunnels throughout the area and it was a key point of their entire fortification. The allies were able to overtake it within a day and today you can visit the bunkers and see the impact made by bombs. Kay and I spent a lot of time walking through the area, reading the placards and exploring the site.

A view from inside a bunker looking out over the beaches of Normandy.

A view from inside a bunker looking out over the beaches of Normandy.

The next day we returned to the same sites, this time with the children. We also went to the Arromanche cliff tops to see the artificial harbors established by the allies two days after the invasion. You can see remains of the harbor in the waters outside of the of the town. I had never thought about the engineering support that goes into an invasion like D-Day. After they establish control of an area they bring in the engineers to set up roads, bridges, infrastructure, water supplies, a total city. Throughout this trip we have marveled at the work of engineers throughout history. Here at Arromanche, they have a 360 degree theater that shows a movie about the invasion and the subsequent battles. I thought it was really well done and brought to life aspects of the battle. After that we took the kids through the American Cemetery and Pointe du Hoc. What a great way to learn about WWII history.

I would have very much liked to stay in this area and explore other aspects of it. The tourist information really emphasizes all there is to do in the area – it’s not just about WWII. It’s a beautiful farming community with local meat, honey, eggs, apples, and lots of veges. There are also opportunities for hiking, exploring wild coastlines, horseback riding and other history. Think about it…. William the Conqueror and 1066?  I really wanted to visit the Bayeux Tapestry but couldn’t fit that in. We had to make our way to Belgium as it’s almost time to take the camper to the port for transport back to the US.

 

 

 

Mont St Michel

The canal alongside our campground in Paris.

The canal alongside our campground in Paris.

As our time ran out we said goodbye to Paris and ventured north. Leaving this campground was probably one of the most difficult drives we have had in quite a long time. The tiny streets make driving ever so difficult but Kay expertly got us out  of there. Fortunately it was only about 15 minutes of driving before we were back on the wonderful French motorways! Today’s drive took us north to Mont St Michel. It is a medieval town built on an island in the north of France. It’s funny to think of it as an island but it is – connected by a causeway and only 1 km off the mainland. In low tide you can walk out to it and in high tide it is completely surrounded by water. We visited in the afternoon during low tide.

Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel

I have read that it is a very visited spot in France which seemed evident by the large parking lots. We parked in the lot, walked to the visitors center and then took the shuttle to the island. When I was researching this area I had read that you could wild camp in the parking lot and wake up surrounded by water but it seems they don’t allow that anymore. When you walk inside the town you enter through a large medieval gate – it feels very old-worldish. The first construction on the island was a church and abbey, followed by a street leading up to the abbey and then a small town. Nowadays 44 people live there. In it’s peak about 1,200 people lived there. We meandered the small street and walked the walls around the island. We chose not to tour the abbey mainly because it is pretty expensive and the children didn’t want to. It was fun for us to just walk the walls around the city.

This is a small chapel outside of the walled city. See the color variations on the rocks?

This is a small chapel outside of the walled city. See the color variations on the rocks?

We did find our way outside of the walls and explored the tidal areas a bit. The tides here are some of the largest in Europe. The difference between low tide and high tide can be 45 feet or so. Walking around the rocks you could see the rings left by the tides over the years. It was fun for us to compare this area to the Bay of Fundy in Canada which we visited two summers ago. Fundy has the most extreme tides in the world with a dramatic coastline to punctuate the differences. This area does not have the dramatic coastline but rather wide open tidal spaces. It is pretty in it’s own way.

The one street in Mont St Michel.

The one street in Mont St Michel.

The one street inside the city is a wall-to-wall tourist trap. For such a small city it had tons of kitschy souvenir stands, t-shirt shops and stores. There is a hotel on the island and quite a few restaurants. We split a yummy crepe with their local salty caramel sauce and ate that as we wandered the street. After a few hours of exploring the nooks and cranny’s of this little town we were ready to head back to the camper for dinner and admire it from afar (with the lights on.) They light up the island at night and we could see it from our campground.

This week is a driving kind of week. We drove to Mount St Michel first then we head to the beaches of Normandy then onto Belgium. We stayed two nights at Mont St Michel enjoying the stark quietness of the surrounding area, we’ll stay two nights in the Normandy area and then 4-5 nights in Belgium as we prepare to ship our camper home.

A night time view of Mont St Michel.

A night time view of Mont St Michel.

The abbey and church on Mont St Michel

The abbey and church on Mont St Michel

One of the turrets on the wall of the city.

One of the turrets on the wall of the city.

We walked to the base of the abbey and looked back on the town.

We walked to the base of the abbey and looked back on the town.

Tons To Do in Paris!

The Louvre! Both old and new.

The Louvre! Both old and new.

Finally made our trip to the Louvre. I had read that it would take 9 months to see everything in the Louve and I believe it. Although we decided that much of your time would be spent trying to navigate the hallways, stairwells and ins-and-outs of the different buildings. The Louve is housed in a former palace with several floors and several different buildings all connected to each other. Many of the rooms are georgous and elaborately decorated much like we saw in the Vatican museum. Our favorite part of the building was the glass pyramid built to house the entrance to the Louvre. It certainly isn’t an old traditional building – it’s a large glass pyramid that sticks out. I like the contrast of it to the old buildings. And when you are inside the pyramid it feels so light and airy which is also a great contrast to some of the dark, stone rooms of the Louvre.

The "Jetson's" elevator inside the Louvre.

The “Jetson’s” elevator inside the Louvre.

Inside the pyramid is a large, circular staircase and inside the middle of that staircase is an elevator that we dubbed the “Jetson elevator” – you know, like George Jetson. It’s a circular platform that you walk onto and you are lifted up or lowered down to the opposite floor. With this still being low season we were fortunate again to have no wait to buy tickets and no wait to get in. The biggest crowds we saw were the endless amount of school kids on class trips in the Louvre. What a great place for a field trip!

After admiring the pyramid and getting our bearings we headed toward the Mona Lisa. There was plenty to see on the way but much of it was Greek or Roman art which we had recently seen quite a bit of. The Mona Lisa had a crowd around it but not too large. It is protected by bullet proof glass because, yes, in the past, someone tried to shoot it. It was smaller than I had expected but interesting to look at. We’ve been having a great discussion on what makes art famous?

The Mona Lisa! Madison thought it was pretty cool that we just saw THE Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa! Madison thought it was pretty cool that we just saw THE Mona Lisa.

Why is the Mona Lisa famous when there are other paintings from the same time period that are bigger or more interesting? Madison says it’s her smile. Back in the time when the Mona Lisa was painted people did not smile for paintings. We explored the Louvre for about four hours working our way through the Roman Empire, Greek Antiquities, Italian and Spanish sculptures, Arts of Africa, Asia and Oceania, French paintings, Dutch paintings, and Egyptian Art. Our highlights were seeing the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the Code of Hammurabi, and the Egyptian Sphinx. Our favorite item was definitely the Code of Hammurabi which gave us a great basis for some research and dinner conversation for several nights afterward!

When we had finally had enough we ventured outside to see the building from there. Surrounding the Louvre is an extensive park that stretches through the middle of Paris. I will say Paris has tons of green space everywhere. The weather was really nice so tons of people were outside enjoying the sun. The park has all sorts of fountains and statues throughout it with lots of places to sit and relax. It is beautiful. The one thing that did surprise me was that all the walkways were made of dirt. I guess I expected the walkways to be concrete or wood, something a little less, well…dirty. It still was very inviting to meander your way through the grounds. We bought Noah a croissant from a street vendor which turned out to be his best croissant EVER. And Noah has become quite the connoisseur of croissants so that was saying something.

Think. Think. Think. Think.

Think. Think. Think. Think.

The next day Kay and I came back into Paris on our own to visit a few more places that the kids just didn’t want to go to. First we visited the Rodin gardens where Rodin lived and worked for the later years of his life. He is buried here as well underneath his statue, The Thinker. The gardens are a beautiful space in Paris, hidden behind walls, so it’s like you discovered a secret. There are statues throughout the park with the largest of them being, The Gates of Hell. It depicts Dante’s Inferno and the seven levels of hell. The Thinker sits at the top of the gate contemplating the work. I didn’t know that The Thinker was just part of a larger work of art. I was fascinated by all the statues that came together to form The Gates of Hell.

After the Rodin garden we worked our way to Montmartre. We knew very little about this section of town but thought we’d check it out. I had read it was the Bohemian center of Paris that nurtured the spirits of Van Gough, Picasso and many dancers through the years. It is the old medieval quarter with small cobblestone streets high up on a hill overlooking Paris.

All the painters lined up in a neat little row!

All the painters lined up in a neat little row!

There is one block where probably about 100 painters are set up and ready to paint a picture of you. We passed on that. We did enjoy a crepe and walking around the area just looking at it all. There is a beautiful church overlooking the city that we ducked into for a quick look. After getting lost wandering the streets and hills we did find our way back to the metro and back to our campground. Paris definitely has easily managed public transportation and is a fun city to just go out and explore.

This street performer did it  ALL!

This street performer did it ALL!

Venus di Milo.

Venus di Milo.

One of our favorite subjects in the Louvre.

One of our favorite subjects in the Louvre.

Just a Wee Little Fire

See the blackened wad of wires in the left side? That was our fire.

See the blackened wad of wires in the left side? That was our fire.

What started off as our-day-to-visit-the-Louve quickly turned into the day-the-electric-converter-box-caught-fire-and-melted-down. Fortunately everything is okay but we had a bit of a scare that morning. We were getting ready for the day when we lost power to the camper. That’s nothing unusual as we have lost power lots of times but not yet in France. I went outside to reset the breaker and noticed a weird smell. I tried to reset the breaker but heard clicking noise coming from the compartment in the camper where we house the electric transformer. I peeked inside there and smelled a strong burning odor and then saw the box glowing. I didn’t know what was going on but quickly unplugged the box and moved it outside of the camper. When I set it on the ground I saw flames inside that quickly burned out. Yeah for that! And then I hollered to Kay. It was clear that our absolutely necessary power transformer box had bit the dust – or should I say gone up in flames?

Our power inverter looked something like this.

Our power transformer looked something like this.

The transformer box is how we are able to bring electricity into the camper. European electricity is 220V and American electricity is 115V. When we set up camp we run the European power supply though the transformer and then plug our camper plug into it. Viola! Electricity. This has been the one system that has worked great on our trip, until now. Without it we have no electricity. We quickly took to the internet to search where we could buy one in Paris and thought we found one. Kay and I headed out on the train to hopefully purchase a new one and have a happy ending. We found the store and of course, it was out of stock. They could get one in 5 days but our plans did not call for us to be in Paris that much longer.

The other thing is that we are shipping the camper back to the US on March 27 so we only have about two more weeks in the camper on this side of the pond. We really didn’t want to spend the $500 or so dollars it would cost to buy a new one for that short time. The woman at the store told us another place we could try so we headed out there. Our afternoon continued to be just like that – go to a store, tell our story, see what they have and get referred to a different store. At the fourth store we were able to buy a 500 Watt 220V to 115V convertor and decided that would do. We also purchased two extension cords and two French-to-American adapters and headed back to the camper. Between all of that we are able to plug into the European power source, run it through the smallish power transformer and power up our basics in the camper. We also run an extension cord through the window and use that power to charge up computers and electronics. Between those two power cords we are doing just fine.

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