It was summer vacation. That time of the year when the kids are allowed to be kids. The parents are spared the daily grind of packing them off to school. No one feels guilty to breathe easy. There is no neck break speed to get up early or the panic when routine goes astray. We had planned out the vacation in two parts. The first part was a 20 day trip to our native place Bhubaneswar Orissa, where we can reconnect with our relatives and friends. The second part was a 10 day trip to France and Italy. We had planned our trip to Europe carefully; after all we were travelling with kids, one of them being barely a year old. My husband enjoyed being his usual meticulous self, exchanging notes from people who had traveled there earlier, surfing the net based on recommendations, trying to figure out the most comfortable travel and accommodation options that suited our budget. We were all brimming with excitement especially since we were travelling with another family (friends). As soon as we got back from our 20 day trip to India, I emptied our suitcases of the summer attires in India and filled them with clothes appropriate for the weather in Paris, Venice and Rome. In this part I will try to bring in that sweet fragrance of Paris I brought back with me in my memory.
We skipped the conventional and recommended “Lido” show and “The Moulin Rouge” on our trip to Paris. These were highly recommended night shows, presented aesthetically and were a huge crowd puller at Paris. We had to skip the energetic and spirited adventure bus. Our priority was to keep the young ones engaged, interested, while keeping our expectation about their energy levels strongly grounded. So we did take the hop in hop off bus to tour the grand city (Sacre Coeur, Champs Elysees etc) but planned on a 3 days stay at Disney World Paris.
We landed in Paris with our energy levels depleted from the travel, jet lagged, trying to calm the grumpy sleep deprived kids. Yet as soon we left the airport in our allotted taxis our excitement came bouncing back again. We soaked in the first look of the city we would fall in love with over the period of 3 days. The first thing that struck us apart from the naturally abundant greenery (we were coming from the desert hub Dubai) was the Graffiti on the walls as we entered the city. Wall Graffiti is an art form, a medium of expression for the young and restless. We checked in at our hotel rooms. As expected and as fore- warned by our friends, the hotel rooms and hotels in the center of the city are small and may shatter most of our perception of four and five star hotels. However we were in no mood to complain, since we were hungry to experience Paris and all it had to offer. The rooms were clean and well provided for however. We freshened up and headed out to the Eiffel tower. The weather was lovely and it was refreshing to walk after sitting crammed in the flight for so long. As a young girl I had always dreamed of making it to Paris with my beau. Well, I did make it to the city of love along with my beau…opps husband and a few indispensable additions (kids and friend’s). My daughter would stop every few minute to admire an adorable pooch on a leash or arm or puppies sold in boxes by the road. The street was lively and I couldn’t help stopping by the flowers, the quirky clocks and clicking some shots even as my practical/sensible husband hurried us along.
The sky was clouding and that was a matter of concern for him. If you are one who throws caution to air and just relaxes and enjoys be sure to have a life partner who looks into the other practicalities of life. He hurriedly ditched the idea of a bus and called the cab to take us to Eiffel. We were lucky to get into the cab as the first few drops wet out hair. Soon it was pouring cats and dogs. We were witnessing the famous unpredictable Paris rains. We were all biting our nails with anxiety. “God! Please let the rains stop before we get down the cab.” That was the mantra on all our lips and mind. God sure must have had some spare time on hand that day since the pouring had waned off when we got down at Eiffel. I was completely blown away by the enormity and magnificence of the structure. It was lovely to get a little wet in the drizzle. We however bullied the kids into putting the rain jackets and sheltering themselves with the umbrellas we had packed along with us.
There were a few people trying to make most of the rain by selling umbrellas and rain coats. Waiting at the long queue didn’t bother us as we enjoyed the enthralling weather and breathtaking architectural marvel of Eiffel. Up at the observatory we were constantly warned by the guides and guards to be careful of our belongings. I am guilty of the crime of being careless not one but many times, but I will blame it all on the incredible feeling of being on the top of the world and the stunning sights from there. By evening when we got back from the observatory the Eiffel was decked up like a new bride. As if to add to the revelry a band of street dancers marveled all with their athletic ability and unique moves. We were dead tired but our mind and legs wanted to hold post, engulf the night and ambience that had come alive at Eiffel’s feet.
On the second day we were advised by our hotel receptionist to take the hop in hop off buses. Visitors can hop in or hop off these guided tour buses at various designated stops which are very accessible from the major sightseeing landmarks. The buses tour the various landmarks and a person can see Paris and know all about it even without stepping out of the bus once. People with small children and frail constitution can stick to the covered ground portion of the bus. The open first floor of the bus is for those unafraid of getting their hair tousled by the wind and that was the place for us.
We enjoyed the detailed accounts narrated by the guide on the bus and turned a deaf ear to the kids squabbling for the widow seat in the open first floor of the tour bus. While touring the Louvre we didn’t get worked up to see the kids complaining of leg pain, or happily engrossed with the huge exhaust vent , while we took turns to run through Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea, Giovanni, Raphael and Michelangelo.
Let me assure you it takes a truck load of patient to see your kids so enthralled by exhaust vents at the Louvre while the “Last Supper” awaits a glimpse. I convinced my daughter to come see the Monalisa with me, and my fascination for the master piece received a cruel jolted with daughter quipping “All this push and shove for such a pint sized lady?” To arouse her interest I told her all the fascinating facts and stories surrounding “Monalisa- La Gioconda”. We thoroughly enjoyed our pigeon feeding activity at all stop points.
The kids would invariably feel hungry at such stops and ask for snacks, which ended up being a feast for the uninhibited birds. We even took a detour to Grevin Wax Museum (touted as the Madame Tussauds of Paris) to humor the kids. We had gone with little expectation but ended up happily posing with wax replica’s of Marlin Monroe, Elvis, Queen Elizabeth, Spiderman, Ray Charles, other greats and didn’t mind a very pallid looking Shah Rukh Khan.
I was particularly impressed by the endeavor put to preserve the grandeur of the past, while incorporating elements of the present for convenience. Had we been travelling light i.e., without kids, we would have opted for the incredible cycle tours of the city. There is nothing like experiencing the city at an unhurried pace, stopping at whim and relishing the diversity it offers. Europeans not only respect the past they have an amazing sense of conservation and respect for the environment. People here prefer to walk and do not shy away from physical activity. The effect is quite apparent in the fit bodies that people double our age have. A plastic mineral water bottle is way more expensive than a glass bottle- a commendable move to discourage plastic usage. In one of the shops we stopped by, I chatted up with a Sandra Bullock look alike at the cash counter. She directed us to an Indian restaurant, as our system was frantically clamoring for some curry, dal, chapatti, riceee. The kids actually got cured of their pizza and pasta fixation at least for a few months following the trip. My love for muffins and pastries leaped and bound however, considering the divine delectable delicacies that enticed me at almost every food stop.
Day 3-Day 5
When we left for our Disney sojourn, I was sad that I couldn’t douse more in the culture and life of the city. Little did I know that the fantasy world would enthrall us so much! I feel no shame to admit that every bit of Disney land blew me away. We lapped up the night and day parades, the scintillating Fantalusia and the vibrant Fariytopia show. We sat with adept attention and unblinking eyelids savoring the gravity defying car and motor bike stunts. We were completely engrossed in the train ride across Hollywood stunt city, screaming when the fire apparently engulfed us and screeching with closed eyes when the waterfall seemed to drown us. We delighted to see the kids enjoyed the Stitch and Tarzan acts and various 3-D shows. We accompanied my 4 year old as well as my 10 year old for their age appropriate rides with equal zeal. We clicked pictures with fairy tale creatures, from toy story and lion king. So there we unabashedly became kids again.
When the lighting and the fire crackers transported the Fairy castle into another world we really lived in a celestial land in that moment. I could fully identify with the feeling the kids reverberated, “We want to stay here forever.” While my son wanted to become a Tarzan or Aladdin my daughter wanted to be dressed as Disney princesses forever, waving and blowing kissed at the dazzled audience. I think three days was the right dose for this dream world, anything more and the fascination would have waned.
We were now ready to lean with the Leaning tower of Pisa, sway in the romantic Gondola at Venice and explore the intriguing Colosseum at Rome. So with newer terrains and fresh adventures in mind we bid adieu to Paris. Like in every trip I wished I could pack all the moments, memories and experiences in a suitcase and take them with me. We tried to capture all we could through our camera, to relive them another day, but I knew a picture is only a memory not the actual experience.
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
– Jawaharlal Nehru