Remember the time we lost our 12 year old in the Swiss Alps?

Remember the time we lost our 12 year old in the Swiss Alps?

Zermatt, Switzerland: the alps most famous, carless ski town

We left our Paris hotel early, and opted to utilize Uber, once again, to get us to the rental car company at Orly. While we had all eagerly wheeled our baggage on the train from the airport to the hotel, we were not as eager to do that first thing in the morning during rush hour!

I decided months ago that I’d rather take off in a car for the French countryside from the airport and not from the city center. We reserved a minivan for our seven hour journey to Zermatt, but, as our luck would have it, they were out of mini vans. They were apologetic, and assured us that all five of us and our five suitcases (filled with our normal clothes AND ski gear) and our carry-on bags would all fit in the Ford Mendeo station wagon… the modern, low riding, wood-panel-free version of the station wagons of the road tripping 1970s. It was touch and go and a lot of cramming, but the car rental people were right- everything fit. It was a tight fit, with no view out the back and only foot room for the feet of an imp, but it all fit! I explained to the kids how lucky they were to spend the next 7 hours snuggled up together in the backseat, we took the discount they offered us for our downgrade, and off we zoomed! We were bound for the Swiss Alps!

We stopped for a fabulous lunch in a town called Poligny. We ate in a wonderful historic restaurant, called La Sergenterie, which is built into a cave! We enjoyed dinner, and Noah, not to be outdone by his old man, ordered and finished his steak tartar. I enjoyed my first of three days of cheese fondue! After what proved to be our “big meal” for the day, we continued our journey to Zermatt, Switzerland.


It is important to realize that you cannot reach Zermatt by car- visitors must park in Tasche and take a train into Zermatt. After parking in the train station parking deck, we purchased round trip tickets on the Matterhorn Glacier Express. The ride up was little more than fifteen minutes and the train dropped us in the middle of a bustling Swiss alpine town.


We rolled our luggage down the car-less streets to our hotel- the Best Western Alpen resort, where we had reserved a family style room. We checked in and we’re thrilled with the accommodations. Our room had two twins and a pullout downstairs and a loft with two twins. The best part was the balcony, which offered us a view of the peak that makes Zermatt famous: the Matterhorn!


We awoke the next morning eager to hit the slopes! We opted for a shop next to the gondola, “Intersport Rent”and were impressed with the friendliness of the staff. With gear ready, and lift tickets in our pockets (the left tickets were magnetic cards that let you through the lifts by scanning them through your jacket pockets), we loaded into the “Matterhorn Express” gondola and rode up the mountain.



It took two gondolas and a five-person chair lift to reach the top. We skied off the lift and around the building before we truly beheld the snow capped Alps around us, all lapping the snowy sides of the iconic Matterhorn. It didn’t even look real, if I’m being honest- it looked like a backdrop painted by the most talented painter in the world. I tried to snap as many photos as I could, but none of the photos captured the absolute majesty of that scene. I could have sat and stared at that backdrop forever.


We spent the day skiing the Gorgenaut side of Zermatt- happily exploring the long, powdery runs. All the trails were clearly marked by level, and most were delightfully wide and uncrowded. In fact, many times I was alone on the run- as my family raced to the bottom!


We stopped for lunch at a buffet on the mountain called the buffet and bar Riffelberg, before realizing we lost Noah!  Jim and Hannah skied back to the chairlift, and I waited with Molly in case he might find his way to the restaurant. Hannah and Jim found Noah- he had no idea we were stoping for lunch so he had gone up to the top again- by himself- and come back down- not the least bit concerned. Boys!


The buffet offered plenty of hot and cold options, but they charge for everything- including ketchup packets and NAPKINS!? Use your sleeve, kids!

We skied until the 4:30pm closing forced us from the slopes! My forty-five year old muscles were burning and pulsating, and I cursed them for not being better sports! Given my aching body, and Molly’s overall lackluster feelings about skiing (she was an excellent sport about this adventure however), she and I decided we would spend the next day exploring Zermatt. We returned our equipment to the rental store and felt excited to take on the morrow!

The evening ended with a dip in the hotel hot tub and a visit to the sauna!

Molly and I slept in the next morning to a glorious 10:00am. The other three were out early- headed for their adventure- skiing down into Italy! As soon a I got out of bed, my muscles assured me that I’d made the right decision in not skiing another day…

We wandered the streets of Zermatt, exploring shops and eateries, and talking with local shopkeepers about everything from Swiss Army knives to cuckoo clocks. I quickly realized that my name is quite popular in the Swiss Alps- and lots of products bare my moniker!

By early evening, the rest of the family returned from their day on the slopes. They were eager to share the adventure stories of their days- their faces ruddy from the wind and sun of the Alps.

We shared experiences at a neat little restaurant in Zermatt called the Restaurant du Pont, where I enjoyed my final cheese fondue.


The next morning, Saturday, we were packed and headed to the train station by 7:00am. Our flight was leaving Orly at 7pm, so we traveled back to the city.

We flew from Orly to Heathrow, and checked into the Heathrow Marriott for one final evening. We ate a late dinner of fish and chips- maintaining the mantra of “when in Rome”… and hit the proverbial hay! The final morning, we opted to Uber to Hyde Park, where we wandered in and out, then walked up the side of Green Park all the way to Buckingham Palace, where we waited with the crowds to see the Changing of the Guards!  From there, we went to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben before heading back to the hotel to check out.


We made it back to Heathrow with time to spare. Our flight took off for Atlanta at 3:55pm. I will say, the flight back to reality never offers the same excitement as the flight that sweeps you off on an adventure…

Skulls and femurs and bones, oh my! Our last day in Paris 2017

Skulls and femurs and bones, oh my! Our last day in Paris 2017

Some folks like to begin their day sipping slowly from a cup of coffee… we, however, preferred to wake up amidst the femurs and skulls of 6 million dead Parisians. 

We opted to skip my original plan, which was to ride the elevator to the top of Monparnasse- the tallest skyscraper in Paris, in order to catch up on some sleep. (The view from the top might have been redundant since we already took photos atop the Eiffel Tower)! We did not, however, intend to sleep until 10:45am! The hotel’s electricity had been out all night, and not only did we not get our wake up call, but none of our alarms went off- again! Our tickets for the Catacombs, pre purchased online, were from 11:00am-1:30pm. We didn’t have any idea if that meant we had to be there at 11:00am or if that was just a range. My optimism began to sing my favorite raegae tune… “every little thing… is gonna be alright…” a tune I tend to sing to myself in times of worry.

Once again we found ourselves flying out of the hotel toward our metro station.

When we arrived at the Catacombs, the Denfert-Rochereau stop on the metro- we saw that the line to get in was wrapped around the next block. With a sinking spirit I took our tickets to the man at the door to inquire about whether or not we should get in line or if we were too late. He looked at our tickets, unlatched the canvas barrier, and motioned for us to enter! Perhaps the curse of our comedy of errors was nearing a finish! The fates were on our side!

We entered, put on the headsets provided with the self guided audio tour, and descended the winding stairs- hundreds of them, spiraling down, down, down! We ended up what seemed like like miles below the bustling Paris streets, where we began to follow the winding passages leading to the ossuary. As we approached the halls of the dead, a sign warned, “Arrete! C’est ici l’empire de la mort!” (Stop! This here is the empire of the dead!) But how could we stop now? Isn’t morbid curiosity inherit in all humans? We had to press on and witness the bones of over 6 million dead Parisians.


The tunnels were used, from 1786-88, as a nightly depository for the dead. The cemeteries of Paris were filled beyond their rims, so the tunnels below served as a convenient final resting place for these poor souls. Years following the body build-up, the bones became a tangled mess- falling all over visitors and even occasionally blocking an entrance.

Finally, in the early 1800s, the Paris Authorities decided to organize the underground mausoleum. Workers spent months sorting and organizing the bones. They stacked them in patterns and rows- sometimes even making heart shapes with the skulls. According to the informative “audio tour”, they have to realign the bones here and there as some settle and fall out of the walls. I was thankful I wasn’t knocked out by a falling femur.


The walk back up the winding stairs was brutal, but, after what we’d seen, we were happy to be granted another day of life on earth!

After finding the “sortie”, we wandered down the street, where I happened upon a tailor who was willing to fix the strap on my backpack for two euros. He spoke no English, and it was rewarding to use my years of French classes to speak with him! His shop was a tiny place- not much bigger than a closet, and he put my bag’s strap into his sewing machine and had it secured and good as new in minutes!


At this point, we hopped back on the metro and headed for the Arc de Triomphe, at the top of the Champs Elysees! We got a family photo, then began to wander down to the Rue de la Paris, just outside the Tuillery Gardens. As we meandered the famous Champs Elysees, we watched a gypsy play her game on a poor gal. The clipboard-toting gypsy approached the unsuspecting gal whilst her partner in crime reached in the victim’s bag, grabbed a wallet, and ran! It happened as quick as a wink! I was glad I had taken the extra precaution of using a luggage lock on my little day back pack!

After wandering in and out of a few places, we stopped at a crepe stand in the Place de la Concord to enjoy crepes and a drink and watch the people pass us by. Once we were refueled, we headed past Le Grand Palais and over the bridge toward Les Invalides. Inside the gates, we passed oozie- toting guards and purchased our tickets to visit the Musee de l’Armee, home to over 500,000 artifacts dating from the the 12th century up to World War II. I was thrilled to see- close-up- the chainmail armor worn by the Anglo saxons- described in such detail in Beowulf. I also enjoyed the weapons, armor for even tiny kids, and paintings of ages and ages of historical battles.


The exhibits were amazing and ended in the famous gold-domed Invalides- which is home to the tomb of Napoleon. The tomb is massive and symbolizes the enormity of this tiny man’s place in French history. Visitors can look down to it from the main level or walk below for a closer look.

 After leaving Les Invalides, we made our way back to the Champs Elysees, and continued to the giant Paris ferris wheel. (While nowhere near the enormity and height of the London Eye, I prefer its more intimate feel) There was no line, and we enjoyed pointing out all of the easily recognized Paris landmarks.


Behind the Rue de la Paris were a few little trinket shops and a macaroon stand. I insisted that everyone try a Paris macaroon. We bought six- raspberry, caramel, mint, mint chocolate chip, and two Nutella. I could not BELIEVE that I was the only one who enjoyed them!?


We wandered through the Tuillery Gardens and back up to the Louvre, enjoying the beautiful daffodils and tulips lining the walkways. Ahhhh… Paris in April.

We caught the train to Bastille- where I thought we would be able to see some sort of rebuilt fortress!? All we saw, however, was the monument marking the famous “Storming” that the French celebrate each year! I was glad I had not made this a bigger deal in our day!

Our final supper in Paris was quite memorable. We all enjoyed wine and fromage… and watched as Jim ate an entire plate of “Steak Tartar”… which is pretty much a raw hamburger topped with a raw egg and raw onions. Wow. Gross.


We took the train back to our hotel, walking past the Gallery de Lafayette which was a block down, and tucked in for the last night in France.

A British Comedy of Errors, Indeed

A British Comedy of Errors, Indeed

I suppose it’s appropriate that our day in London, home of the Bard himself, should begin with a complete comedy of errors! Our alarm for 5:45am did not go off. We awoke at 6:20am to the kids banging on our door! The irony of my sleep-crazed teenagers waking us up was not lost on me!   

This was the day we took the Eurostar train over to London for the day. In order to save money on the train tickets, we found we saved over $500 by going with a Viator one-day tour package, which included the 5 round trip train tickets, 5 “hop on hop off” bus passes, 5 one hour walking tour tickets (which we didn’t use), and and 5 tickets for a river cruise down the Thames river. 

We skipped breakfast and arrived at the Gare de Nord train station, where we were told to meet our local guide at the base of the escalator near a meeting area. When we got to the station we quickly realized that there were at least four escalators… so we got a bit nervous. (When you book a tour online, and you can’t find your guide right away, there is a little voice in your head that starts clicking its tongue and admonishing you with reminders of the Internet scammers who are always scamming people over!)

Fortunately, I asked an official looking employee where we needed to be and she directed us to the right place! Viator (who was bought out by trip advisor several years back) uses local tour groups to provide the local services, and our guide was wearing a red vest and holding up a sign: Paris Vision Tours. She handed over all of our tickets, and bid us adieu!

We found our way through security and onto the Eurostar train. The train took off at 8:30am and arrived in London at 10:00am- after dashing under the English Chanel at 187 miles per hour! The Eurostar train is an awesome way to travel, particularly with families. The seats are comfortable and there are tables with the seats facing each other so it is easy to play cards during the trip! Train car #9 had the snack bar, where we purchased Croque-monsiers and Caesar wraps, drinks, and chips. The ride was only two hours and twenty minutes, and it was exciting to realize we were speeding along at 187 mph as we plunged under the English Channel! 


We arrived at the St. Pancreas station in London, cleared customs, and were greeted by our “CityView Tour” rep. He was a nice enough fellow. He provided us with a map of bus stops and told us which blue, open top busses were included on our tour. We thanked him and hopped on the first blue double decker we saw, climbing immediately to the open-air top floor.  

We got off what would be our only bus for the day about one block from Trafalgar Square. We began walking toward the “Floating Yoda” who was performing when I’d been here in June of 2016. We wandered through the square, where passionate activists were yelling into loudspeakers in front of the National Art Museum. We made our way toward the 169 foot Nelson Column guarded by four giant lions, where we got some good photos. The photos continued as we passed the iconic red phone booths on our way to Piccadilly Circus! The kids were truly able to enjoy the British pride that flew on flags and was marked on every bit of merchandise imaginable! We enjoyed the shops and general heartbeat of the area before making our next move which would be to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

After realizing we would have to back track to wait for the next bus, and believing it would take up too much of our precious day, we opted to travel like the Americans we are-we “Ubered” to our next stop- a mere £9 for all five of us! (A small price to pay to ensure we got to see all the stops on my list!) We ordered an Uber to take us to St. Paul’s Cathedral! The Uber driver, adding to our comedic theme, missed us in the Piccadilly madness, then was stopped by the police trying to pull a fast turn!

He finally connected with us and dropped us off at the foot of the stairs at the breathtaking St. Paul’s cathedral. The kids didn’t care about going in, so we told them to sit on the steps and watch the pigeons for a bit- we were going in! I was thrilled to have a look inside St. Paul’s, as I didn’t get to go in when I was last in London. As a teacher of British Literature- with a particular soft spot for the Romantic poets who often reference this church- I was thrilled to take a self guided tour complete with headsets. The dome ceiling gave way to a breathtaking ceiling of artwork. I can now imagine the entrance of the poor children of London who were paraded in to the church each Easter- the flowers of London as William Blake liked to refer to them… I enjoyed going below the church to see Blake’s memorial, as well as the crypt of Horacio Nelson.


Once we left St. Paul’s, we set out on foot to the Thames River- passing the London School for Boys and crossing the Millennium Bridge. This is the bridge that Simon- my EF Tourguide from June of 2016- said was famous for the “gum art”! My kids got a kick out of that! Halfway across the bridge we stopped and bought some hot, caramelized almonds from a street vendor…. they were to die for! They were gobbled up before we made it to the other side of the Thames!

On the other side of the bridge we made our way to the Globe theater! We took the museum tour and enjoyed seeing the history of Shakespeare’s theater, as well as costumes, props, and instruments!

After leaving the Globe, we walked all the way down past London Bridge to Tower Bridge. I was tempted along the way by a spooky theatrical opportunity to learn “the history of London Bridge”, but opted to continue on our days journey! We crossed the beautiful Tower bridge and stopped for lunch at a place right next to the walls of the Tower of London! We enjoyed a local beer and traditional fish and chips!

After lunch, we made our way down to the Tower pier- where we got on our Thames river cruise down to the London Eye. I hardly call this thing a cruise- it is really a water taxi! Unless you sat outside you couldn’t’ see anything out of the completely fogged windows! As we cruised down the Thames, however, we got great views of Big Ben and Parliament.

We departed the river boat at the London Eye. We made our way to the ticket center, got tickets, and got in line. The line moved pretty quick- we were in our little capsule within twenty minutes. The views were really quite spectacular! You could see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Shard, the Thames, Whitehall Court and so much more! The ride lasted about thirty minutes- really pushing our time limit in the city.

After departing the Eye, we opted to Uber our way back to the train station- where we were an hour later than they recommended.

When we got dropped off at St Pancras, we walked in- and my priority was to find the WC! Hannah insisted that I look at the tickets and tell her the train number. It was 9054. We all looked up at the screen and it said- “Final boarding!” What!!?? The comedy ensued!

The five of us took off running through the station. Noah, my youngest, was behind me yelling, “Mom! I’ve never seen you run like that! I’m going to video tape you!!” And he did. I’m sure that embarrassing bit of footage will rear its head somewhere soon…

Luckily, we made it three minutes before they closed the gate. Phew! We would make it back to Paris after all!

When we got back to our hotel, we found the final act of our comedy of errors was in full production… our hotel has no electricity until 7am. So- I am typing this blog on my cell phone, with the hope that my battery will see it to its finish! And it has. The sounds of the city will now lull me to sleep until tomorrow! 

European Vacation: First day in Paris…

European Vacation: First day in Paris…

We arrived in Paris last night after an overnight journey from Atlanta to Heathrow… British air was quite an impressive airline- feeding us dinner, free wine, and breakfast! 

Our hotel is beautiful, but the front desk seems a bit crabby. Monique looked at me like I was from Mars when I asked about the air conditioner in the room. “Madame, here we do not have air conditioning this time of year.”  What!? The French doors to the balcony are chained and  will only open an inch, so the fresh air only trickles in…

We have two rooms at the Marriott Ambassador Opera Hotel, which is in a fabulous location- with a metro station one to the right and another one block to the left. 

Our dinner last night was at a cafe down the street called the Cordial Cafe… the place had the perfect menu for our family of teenagers… burgers, crepes, pizza, French onion soup, and cheese! The family liked the Cantal cheese, but only I enjoyed the Camembert! Yummm! The waiter was full of good humor- for example,  when we asked him to take a photo for us, he took the iPhone and put it in his pocket and pretended to walk away! 

We rose early to enjoy a quick hotel breakfast of eggs, breakfast meats, fruit and coffee. With full bellies, we hit the metro and headed for 8:30am mass at the Notre Dame cathedral. There was no line to get in, and we even beat the gypsies! The pipe organs echoing through the cathedral during mass were majestic, and I’m sure the kids got a lot out of the priest’s sermon- all en francsaise! Haha

After exploring the cathedral we made our way to the toilets (WC), where they charge one euro per person to pee. The line was 50 yards long by the time we left! 

Next stop was the Eiffel Tower- the symbol of Paris since 1889. Jim and the three kids climbed the stairs to the first level- I went with the Chmielarskis on the elevator. After taking photos, we took the elevator to the summit which reaches 1063 feet! It was a clear day and we could see for 40 miles! We were able to see Montparnasse, Invalides, the Seine,  all the great Paris cathedrals, and so much more! The lines were long, but the views were worth it! I did manage to walk the stairs back down to avaoid the elevator lines. (Which was the start of my close relationship with stairs for the day!)

We walked from the Eiffel Tower to Trocadero- which is home to the Palais de Chaillot which was built in 1937. We stopped off at a local crepe stand to grab a quick lunch of French bread sandwiches and crepes, and sat down to eat on park benches outside of the Palais. 

We passed some local entrepreneurs who were “renting” opportunities to drive Lamborghini sports cars! Noah was chomping at the bit! We walked up and over the Musee de l’homme, (loads more stairs!) stopping to watch some street performers.  

The next stop was The Louvre- where we were eager to spend a few hours exploring the paintings, sculptures and exhibits! The kids got in free, so we only had to pay for two adults, which was a nice surprise! We were all blown away by the ancient art- particularly the Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo… Noah was ecstatic to have his picture taken with none other than the Mona Lisa! 


The Egyptian and Roman exhibits were fascinating-  some of the art dating back to 4,000 years before Christ! I was thrilled to wander the museum and its 30,000 works of art- as it was closed because of the floods when I was in Paris during the summer of 2016.  We walked a good percentage of the 200,000 square feet of the Louvre. The kids may even blushed at a few of the paintings which may have had rather “adult themes”! 

After closing down the Louvre, we made our way to Montmartre. Half took the stairs- half took the elevator up. At the top, we enjoyed more gorgeous city views and more street entertainment before heading in to tour the Sacre Coeur Basilica built in 1873 to atone for the lack of religious faith typical of the century. The ceiling fresco upon entering the church is truly breathtaking. It actually makes you catch your breath. 

After wandering through the church, we wandered over to Montmartre. Here we wandered the shops and the kids used their own money to buy MORE Eiffel Tower  trinkets… they just can’t get enough! 

We finally settled in to dinner at  a restaurant right in the middle of the artists area. What a romantic place with local artists carrying on the tradition of their craft that began with great artists like Degas!

We ordered dinner and decided that everyone in the family would try a French tradition: escargot! I had fun talking with the The flavor at first was delicious, and I was relieved that they were cooked. When the pesto gave way to the actual flavor of the snail, however, my pallet wasn’t pleased…a strong taste of mud invaded! I wish I could have filmed Molly’s reaction! Haha! Thank goodness the French love bread!