We were packed and ready to go to Paris before midnight on the eve of our departure! This was a huge win for Nathan and I, as historically, we’ve been up well into the wee hours packing our family up for a trip. It’s quite possible that in the evenings leading up to departure I may have experienced massive anxiety symptoms, which I may have soothed by searching for and then giggling over Pride and Prejudice memes on the interwebs.
Fortunately, Nathan has a secret ninja skill: he is MasterPacker. Also, he just buckles right down to work and doesn’t scorn me if I fritter my time away by laughing myself to tears over P&P memes when I should be, for example, sealing our liquid toiletries in plastic baggies.
I’m rather pleased with how light we packed for a family of six: two duffel bags (one medium and one small), a backpack for each of the older three girls and one daypack for general family use, and a giant bag o’ food. A stroller. In retrospect, I may have omitted the stroller, which we only used a few urban days out of our total 2 1/2 weeks. I also could have omitted some writing journals of mine, a few more items of the little girls’ clothes, and Cecilia’s fancy black Mary Janes. She never wore them.
These Keen Newports were all they needed. All lined up and ready for take-off!
We plucked pre-dressed children out of their beds at 4 am to drive to Vancouver, Canada for our international flight. Fares out of YVR were half the cost of anything I could find from SEA-TAC, so it was totally worth the extra two+ hours of driving.
A Canadian bank has a penguin mascot in the Toronto airport, where we caught our connection to Paris. Kate immediately fell in love.
After our evening layover in Toronto, it was time for the red-eye cross-Atlantic flight to Paris. The older three girls wisely slept through part of it. Cecilia couldn’t settle; she was highly stimulated by the touch screen installed in the seat back facing her. Fortunately, I quickly found how to adjust the settings to turn off the display on the screen. Unfortunately, it turns out that in order to turn it back on, all you have to do is . . . touch the screen again! Any part of it. Whoever engineered this and then made the decision to put them within arms reach of every single seat clearly did not have a two-year-old. Guess how long it took Cecilia to figure out how to turn the screen back on? Guess how much fun I had turning it off over and over? Loads, of course, especially as I realized we only had two hours left of airplane “sleep” before we arrived in Paris at 7 am.
Ah, well, at least she finally slept in that final hour.
Arriving in Paris and getting to our rental apartment was surreal, just in that we were so amazed we were actually in France! It took us about three times the time to get from the airport to our Paris apartment rental as I’d figured, but we had a low-key day planned, so pas de soucis, no worries. (Had we been wise, we would have learned from this to allow double or triple time for all in-France transporting of our family.)
The apartment we rented was perfect, with an awesome bunk/loft in the kids room, giving the younger ones their own space to decompress.
The plus sides of renting guesthomes were: 1) It was cheaper or equal to renting enough hotel rooms for our brood. Usually much cheaper. 2) We always had a kitchen, facilitating frugal home cooking. 3) More space and rooms allowed us much better down time, putting Certain Children down for naps or quiet times as needed. We weren’t all on top of each other in one undifferentiated space, as we would be in a hotel room. Also, 4) Interactions with authentic French homeowners were always involved, which I enjoyed. However, 5) You have to clean afterwards, or pay an additional cleaning fee. Most of the time, I cleaned the bathrooms, and kitchen the night before we left, recruiting the older girls to help clean the floors the day of departure, though in Normandy I pooped out and we just paid the extra fee (about 60 Euros, as I recall). One further potential downside: we learned later, from French friends, that these private rentals slide past the hospitality taxes lobbied on hotel rooms and are somewhat controversial. They may be regulated further in the future. We rented four guesthouses through three agencies: HomeAway, Housetrip, and Gites de France. This latter agency caters to French and European vacationers, who are used to certain conventions: stay from Saturday to Saturday, bring your own bedlinens and towels, arrive at 4pm and check out at 10 am. We didn’t do any of that, and it worked out fine, though we did have to rent bedlinens and towels at one place, for a total of 35 Euros. The Gites de France place we rented in Lisieux did also charge a pittance for a local hospitality tax, which I think is totally fair.
The apartment was just a few blocks away from the Basilique du Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. This beautiful basilica of white stone has held Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration for over 125 years. In the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, the French honored Jesus’ Sacred Heart through the construction of this national shrine, beseeching grace for the whole country of France and offering Eucharistic Adoration in a spirit of penance and reparation. It was recently renamed so that it now honors Jesus’ Divine Mercy as well. Sacre Coeur is a spiritual powerhouse; in addition to Perpetual Adoration, Confessions and multiple Masses are offered daily, retreats are constantly available through the attached guesthouse, and the Liturgy of the Hours is sung throughout the day by the community of Benedictine sisters in residence.
By the time we settled into our apartment, rested a bit, and walked up two flights of charming Parisian steps and through the cobblestone streets of Montmartre to Sacre Coeur it was evening in Paris. It was breathtaking to see all of Paris laid at our feet as we stood on the hill in front of the Basilica.
We went inside, prayed before the extra-large monstrance to thank Jesus for our safe journey and to ask his blessing on our time in France, and then we walked around to view the gorgeous mosaics of the interior of the Basilica.
I wanted to stay and hear the Benedictine nuns sing evening prayer, but the girls were clearly fading. However, when we tried to leave, the heavens opened to let loose a torrential downpour of rain. Il pleuvait des cordes. (“It rained cords.,” trans. “It was raining cats and dogs.”) So, to my delight, we stayed through much of the gorgeous prayer service after all. Those nuns sounded like angels! This is me listening in rapt contemplation. (Or a jet-lagged sleep coma, your pick!) Clare always has four times the energy as the rest of the family. It served her well after our epic voyage that day!
(*yes, the apartment we stayed in had an extra stroller that we used for Beata. And that was a time that bringing our own stroller really came in handy.)
We counted the nuns’ chanted night prayer as our family prayer for the night and enjoyed the shortest bedtime routine ever. Day 1 was a success!