Prague

I don’t know….

Prague has me trippin.

Nothing’s perfect. Except for maybe Prague.

I feel like I belong to a secret club now, or something.

A secret society of people who have visited Prague and now know it’s greatness.

I just have so many feelings.

First off, Prague (like London and Paris and many other European mega stars) is over a thousand years old.

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Just let that sink in a little bit.

For me to feel like I belong to a secret society of people to have walked in Prague is hilarious. Sooooo many other people have been here before me.

They have a clock in the square that is twice as old as the founding of the United States.

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And that’s just a clock. The 500 year-old Astronomical Clock, which we actually didn’t get to see because it was under construction. SUPER SAD. Cue a little bit of devastation, but really, the only disappointment I experienced the entire time.

I don’t know… it’s like the world hasn’t discovered Prague or something. Some of the other cities, while AMAZING, have felt at times over-run, over-visited, over-used (ehm, Paris), just worn out in a way. Dirty and smoky.

Like they just need a freaking break in order to return to their former glory.

Not that they’re not glorious, because they can be… it’s just sometimes they’re not, you know?

And I’m including London in this.

But not Prague. It’s different. It’s totally major. And has just as much amazing history as London, Paris and Rome.

I’m here to tell you. GO TO PRAGUE.

Prague first popped up on my radar a few years ago, while watching Emily’s season of *The Bachelorette.*

Heyyyyaa.. That’s right.

I mean, like they do on the Bachelor/ette, they just made the city look so amazing. And I was like “I’m going to be there someday” and it’s remained on the very tip top of our list the entire time we’ve been sitting in the UK.

The original idea was for Greg and Janice + Rich, Harry and Finn to go to Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg for a night or two while I stayed back with the babies.

But, I was like, “Hey, I think Prague is close to Hamburg… just let me take a quick look at flights. Just a real quick look and see.”

And before you know it, we book an AirBnB and everyone is going and we’re doing two cities in five days.

The only problem that I could really foresee was that I wasn’t sure if Prague was kid-friendly. Being kid-friendly, or family-friendly, requires a few specifics things -which I’ll get to. But I didn’t know if Prague would be that way.

Then I pulled from the back of my brain, somewhere I had read a “Europe’s Best” list and that the best zoo in Europe was in Prague. It stuck with me because I was so surprised.

And I thought, alright. We’ll start with that and hope for the best.

SO, ALRIGHT –

Fly from Hamburg to Prague. The flight itself is short – only a little over an hour – but of course we were delayed AGAIN. By just an hour this time. So, thankfully, it’s not too painful.

And we were waiting in the airport instead of inside the plane.

Which is helpful.

We were free to roam, play, wait 20 minutes in line for a cup of coffee… stuff like that.

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We arrive. And by the way there is no passport control. SWEET!

I love that when that happens.

Just waltz right on it, says the Czech Republic.

I’m going to like you, I thought.

I can already tell.

Our AirBnB host had arranged a driver for all eight of us, for the entire price of 30 Euros.

I was like… ah ya, we’ll take that…. thankyouverymuch. And the driver was there waiting for us with his little sign.

 

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We settle into our house with no issues.

And it’s in this old, sorta could-go-either-way type looking building.

But I mean, look at some of that detail work around the windows and the iron work on the door.

Just, you know. Average.

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I know this apartment got tons of five star reviews, and I know it’s in a great location. But you still never really know. I look around and the street itself is light and clean. The neighborhood seems safe as well.

I’m happy.

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We walk in and up three flights of stairs and I continue to appreciate the details of this building. The tile, the doors, the railings.

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These were the doors to our apartment. I wish I would’ve taken a picture of every set of doors. They were beautiful.

Moving in, the apartment was as described. Light, clean, and spacious.

With a long row of bedrooms on the front, and a kitchen and bathroom along the back. When traveling anywhere in other people’s homes – you have to be ready to make concessions. And I didn’t know what to expect.

But honestly, this place was just right.

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The view out the front:

 

 

Looking out behind the kitchen:

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Only a few simple issues in the house.

1 – We could not figure how to get hot water.

2 – I could not figure out how to use the coffee maker.

3 – There was quite a bit of street noise at night.

4 – We spotted ants in the kitchen.

BUT:

1 – Papa figured out how to get hot water flowing.

2 – I’ll just make tea instead.

3 – We’ll close the windows at night….Or if it’s too hot for that, we’ll see if we can sleep through it. The kids all slept like literal rock stars. And I think even though us four adults took turns being woken in the night, for the most part we all slept.

The kids slept and that’s the important part.

Plus, here’s the thing. You can either be close to everything or you can have a quiet place to stay. But you can’t have both. We’ve learned that we prefer to prioritize a central location.

4 – We are very creature friendly…. and there were only a few. And the last morning I didn’t see any at all.

 

Oh, and I should mention the other quarky/historical/educational detail about the house – and slight hazard for the children.

Giant windows. Open straight down.

I’ve never seen windows anywhere else like this. They were in every home, building, and restaurant I spotted in Prague.

Quadruple pain – swing windows.

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Definitely a little bit to get used to.

They aren’t quite as trecherous as they looked because with all the different panes to swing open, and a good two to three feet of casing, plus radiator – it would be challenging to actually climb up there well enough to fall out.

Possible, of course, but challenging.

I never felt overly worried about it. And I imagine the people of Prague who live in these homes full time don’t get overly worried about it either.

So that’s that.

And of course, upon arrival, it only took a few minutes for Finn to construct a fort.

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OK!

Moving on. We settled in. Found a near-by KFC to grab a quick dinner. HAHAHAHA.

Then we got the kids in bed, left them safely guarded by papa, and went out in search of a grocery store and if we were lucky – some gelato.

We found said grocery store.

Managed to figure it out enough to buy food for breakfasts, drinks, treats and snacks. We we made it out in time to hit the gelato shop on the way home.

WINNING.

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Our first full day in Prague was officially ZOO day.

This visit was pretty hyped up.

I’d done some research. We’d been looking at the map online before hand. We’d peeked in at the live feeds on the elephants and taken a look at the offering of exhibits – which is extensive and very impressive and featured some of their favorites like Lemurs, Otters, Tigers, Hippos, Elephants, Polar Bears, Lions, a Giant Salamander, and so many more.

It has almost 9,000 reviews on TripAdvisor. And according to Trip Advisor, it’s the 5th best zoo in the entire world.

For our animal-lover babies, I badly wanted it to live up to the hype.

And I have to say, after being there for the entire day… it does.

First off – it’s huge.

 

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Absolutely HUGE.

This is a good thing because it’s amazing, but a bad thing because it’s exhausting.

But for the most part, a good thing.

Sidenote – I made sure to make room in our luggage for Finn’s animal adventure gear. A gift from Grandma Susie. Because, of course, I wanted him to look awesome. And he excitedly wore it all day, even when it was kinda too hot.

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Secondly, it’s essentially on a mountain.

The map doesn’t show elevations. So we had no idea about this. We visited a few enclosures near the entrance and then Finn wanted to take this random path over around the corner that kinda looked like it was going to nowhere. But he was insistent and it was early in the day – so we agreed to follow him.

And we climb up this path.

And up and up.

And UP and UP.

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And again – this is a bad and good thing for us. Bad, because we weren’t expecting to go on a hike today. But it’s a good thing because as we climb up we start to get an amazing and unexpected view out and over the rest of the zoo and the city itself. We finally did spot some small random bird enclosures along this mountainous walking path, and Finn goes “I found parrots!!! TOTALLY WORTH IT.”

The weather was beautiful. We made it to the top and there was coffee, clean toilets, and ice cream. And we even saw a few more animals on the way.

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The nice thing about inadvertently climbing to the top of a mountain was that everything was a downhill walk after that. So, really, we did the best thing first. We would’ve been way too gassed at the end of the day to make that trek.

We wandered around and covered the rest of the enclosures and exhibits during the rest of the day. Stopped for food and play.

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There were a few giant, amazingly beautiful statues around that handily served as landmarks on the giant map.

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Oh, and don’t forget – everything is in Czech. Might seem like a major problem, but it really wasn’t. The zoo is definitely NOT near the main tourist areas where you have the highest concentration of people able and willing to speak English + english translations of signs and menus. There was definitely a this-is-a-local-place type of vibe to the whole thing… lots of just Czech moms with kids and local-looking families. Despite that, most of the employees were helpful enough. And I was able to find an english translation sheet of the menu at the restaurant and fumble through an order.

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Plus, most things are in pictures and we don’t like to read that much anyway.

Just in general, the enclosures were dreamy. The walks between the enclosures were dreamy. It was heavily wooded with plenty of shade, but still clean and easily walkable. It was more like taking a walk through the woods than it was being in a “zoo.”

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As the afternoon went on we were definitely hitting a little bit of an energy slump. The sun was getting pretty hot, we’d walked ALOT.

But we continued on, and like an oasis in the dessert we happen upon a little pool. Little Czech babies running naked in and all around, and everybody just relaxing in the shade.

Finn, who is not only our animal-lover, but also our natural fish says “Hey! Hey! Can I get in the water?? Please!?!”

And honestly, I was sort of in a haze and I was like “I don’t know…  don’t you want to continue on so that we can see the whatever whatever over there…” and he was like “NO. I want to go swim in that pool.”

And, then of course, Theo and Viv chip in “Ya! We want to too.”

But again, I was like, “Guys, I don’t know. We’re at the zoo. Do you really want to stop and do this when we have other animals to see? Plus, I didn’t bring anything for you to swim in.”
“That’s ok” says Finn. “Just let me put my feet in for A LITTLE BIT!”

“What do you think daddy?” I say.

“I don’t think so guys.” Replies daddy. “We can swim another day.”

“Please. Just for a little bit. Really quick.”

“Alright.” We concede. “JUST your feet. JUST a little bit. We’re here at the zoo, remember. Aren’t you excited to move on?”

“yayyayaya whatever.. whatever… ”

And within three seconds flat, Finn has his shoes and socks off and is shoving them to me turning to the water without hesitation.

I look around at the other kids around the pool. And most of them, up to a certain age, are naked or nearly naked – because it’s Europe and that’s the way we do it.

And everybody is cool.

And I’m soaking in the beautiful weather and the beautiful mountainside view we have. I’m helping Vivi take off her shoes and socks. She gets in with her dress on. I’m taking off my sandals. The cool water is absolute heaven for my over heated ankles.

And Finn is just SO HAPPY gingerly splashing around. But, you know, after a few minutes, he starts pushing it a little and going deeper into the pool. The bottom of his shorts get a little wet.

And I turn around to help Viv step into the pool and I *hear* Finn drop his entire clothed bottom into the pool.

And that was it. He convinced me to let him take off all his clothes.

“Just let me be naked and swim for little bit, like everyone else. I really really want to go under the bridge.” He said.

Alright.

I guess we’re doing this.

Fact about Finn – he doesn’t like to wear clothes.

This is well documented.

I don’t know if ANYONE has ever been as happy as Finn was swimming completely naked in this pool.

Harry and Theo stuck with the original feet-only plan… sort of…

And after only a few minutes, Vivian, our other exhibitionist had soaked her dress and decided to jump on the nudie train.

And we just took the time and let them swim.

And we sat, and their wet clothes dried on the sunny grass.

And it was sort of the best.

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And for me, this little nude swim, was not only the perfect refreshing battery-charging-cool-down that everyone needed, but was also a real highlight of the whole trip.

To think, Rich and I didn’t want to stop for this.

Life teaches you a lesson even when you didn’t realize you needed one.

Take a second or a minute or an hour, and go for the swim.

Even though I didn’t bring swim gear, I did pack a couple microfiber towels, and a change of clothes for Viv. Both came in handy.

After drying off and getting back to decent, we finished up the animal visits and even found it in our energy reserves to race down this little track we found.

When you ran by, it told you how fast you went and then told you which animal also ran that fast. We all did it, even Grandma and Papa. After that, we were all truly tired and it was almost time for the zoo to close. Grandma treated the kids to a visit in the gift shop and I got some (more) coffee.

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Then we returned to our apartment by bus and tram.

Our 30 minute journey was complete with snacks to keep everyone quiet, happy, and most importantly – awake.

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As stated above, I think this zoo totally lives up to the hype.

I found it:

  1. to be cheap! (adult admission = 200CZK = 7GBP = 9USD)
  2. not crowded
  3. very clean
  4. to have wonderful animals and exhibits
  5. to have frequent and clean toilets
  6. to have a good variety of clean restaurants with good service
  7. to have minimal gift shops (a plus if you ask me)
  8. easy to get to from the city center

I mean… what else can you ask for? Overall, just a huge win for us and a great day.

 

Once we got back to the house, we fed and scrubbed the kids, and got them promptly in bed.

We made sure Grandma and Papa were also fed, because they graciously offered to stay with the kids so that Rich and I could go out for dinner.

Rich and I were tired, but we were also really excited to go out.

So, we rallied.

Rich researched where we should go while I got ready.

Then we were off. And we got our first real look at the streets of the city center.

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In Prague, the specialty is meat and beer.

SO.

That’s what we shall eat.

This place, named Kantyna, is a butcher shop in the front and then a buffet/cafeteria in the back.

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The offering is different everyday, but always simple and traditional Czech fare. Across from the food station is the equally important beer station. After you get your food, you sit further back where it is cafeteria style and very casual – so you can make friends.

Apparently, places like these are very popular and all the rage with the ‘kids’ in Prague. But I found this one to be extra-hipster with copper fixtures, white walls and high ceiling, open seating, slick lighting, and overall attitude.

I have to admit, I really doubted our choice while we waited in line to be served. I had no idea what we were looking at and absolutely no idea if we were going to be able to communicate with the person trying to help us. But you see this man…working the counter – with the slicked over hair, white shirt, black apron?

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He smiled at me, proudly and patiently spoke in perfect English, and told me what was on offer. I asked him what he recommended, and he proceeded to lovingly put together my plate.

And then he convinced Rich to try the steak tartare (raw beef).

Sidenote – Prague is FAMOUS for steak tartare. Just as much as Paris.

Rich says to him “I really want to get the tartare. But I have to admit, I’m afraid.”

He says, “No, you just try some.” And he grabbed a little spoonful of the tartare for Rich to try and says “No junk, no fillers, no ketchup or mustard. Just salt and pepper and great Czech beef.”

And Rich proceeded to order an entire plate, which was literally a half a pound of uncooked beef.

I’ll admit, this man charmed me. He did.

I said to Rich “I wish we could take him home with us.”

And Rich was like “Uh.. What now??”

“Ya, you know, just to have around. To tell me what to eat and then make it for me. It would be so amazing, wouldn’t it? I love him. I want to keep him.”

None of that is creepy or weird.

You had to be there.

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On my plate – pulled pork, potato pancake, horseradish, asparagus with lemon sauce.

 

And on Rich’s plate, of course, the taretar – of which I had a bite or two.

Everything was DELICIOUS.

I don’t like, or drink, beer. Ever. But Czech beer is a whole thing, so of course I’m going to try some.

And wouldn’t you know, I liked this beer. To be fair, they cheat by adding juice. Freshly squeezed orange juice to be exact. But I don’t care one bit. It works. It’s amazing.

And I drank my entire beer all by myself and STILL wish I could have more, right this very minute.

And we drank, and we ate, and we sat right next to strangers, and I was a very happy person.

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We followed that with a little walk along the river, and then it was time to get back to the apartment.

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We wake up the next day with rough plans to tour the city. Eat breakfast at the house, and leave in a leisurely fashion.

We make our way through the streets, toward the Old Town Square.

I’ve got my trusty *Rick Steves* guide book.

The surroundings are hard to process.

It feels sort of Mediterranean sometimes, but then feels German too or Dutch, and also sometimes even a little English. It was the most amazing mix of buildings, each with a different color and usually amazing stone work and a tall tower or spire.

And HUGE old doors.

The streets are winding and narrow. And almost everywhere we went was cobblestone.

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Stop the train. WE FOUND AN ANT.

 

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All the little shops and such.

 

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The official street pastry of Prague is the “Trdelnik.”

Rolled dough, wrapped around a stick, then grilled and topped with sugar and/or your favorite mix of filling.

You can find them being sold all over town, so of course we stopped for one… or two.

 

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We never did find out how to properly pronounce the name of this delicious treat. We just kept calling it a “turtle neck” because that’s how the word looks to us and honestly it looks a little like a turtle neck. Why not? Sorry, Prague.

I will return someday and have one, or more than one….

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We round the corner after our treat break and find ourselves in the square. And discover the the Astronomical Clock is covered. That’s alright though. I read from my book a few other interesting things about the square and we just relaxed for a little while.

There was beautiful live music playing, we all enjoyed that.

The weather was outstanding.

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And, they had a meat and beer stand.

So.

We had some of that.

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Look at this simple archway.

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Hi Papa!

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Look at the sidewalks.

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We walked from the Old Town Square towards Charles Bridge.

I’d heard about a little library that might be worth a stop if we were in the area. A little look on my map proved that the library was, in fact, right on our way.

Some people think the Klementinum Library is the most beautiful in all the land.

And I might agree. I mean, I haven’t seen a book house better than this.

It was founded in the 11th century and houses 20,000 books – many of which are famous and there is only one copy.  It’s completely preserved and also still a working library.

Only rules are you can’t go in and you can’t take pictures.

And to actually look at a book, I’m sure you need to jump through just-a-few hoops.

All of which is understandable.

The only way to see the library is to book a tour. The guide will walk you to the library, give a little speech, and let you stand in the doorway. I wasn’t allowed to take a photograph – but do not fear. As usual, internet to the rescue.

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When we walked up to the building, there happened to be a tour starting right then. The tickets were fairly inexpensive. So we thought it worth the gamble. It was really special and I’m glad we stopped to see it in person.

And let me answer the question I know you’re thinking.

Yes.

It smells like old books.

 

From here we continued our walk towards the bridge and stopped at Starbucks – for a potty – which is nothing special. But inside the potty, I found this sign – which I do think is special… and strange…. and hilarious… and obviously, with the two language options being English and then some type of Asian-themed language aimed at a certain type of people. People who stand on toilets, I guess?

 

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So many questions…

Has this become a problem? Such a bad problem that they had to make a sign?

Why is this in Prague?

Do the people who need to read this sign think they can’t sit on a toilet?

It’s weird is all I know.

Around the corner from the sit-on-the-potty Starbucks was the landmark Charles Bridge. Famous for statues and for being beautiful. Pedestrian only, of course.

 

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Just before the bridge tower, there was a man with birds.

We paid him money to put the birds on us.

It was fun.

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Then we were under the tower and walking across the bridge, and getting a great view of the other half of the city and the castle up ahead.

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We got across, and the beautiful scenery only continued. I seriously have never been so compelled to take pictures of buildings. And streets. And manhole covers. And street lamps. And doors.

I just thought everything was so special and picture worthy.

It was honestly kind of exhausting.

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Then, like good little soldiers, we reported to McDonalds.

Because we are traveling with four children under 9.

#excuses

Sorry, not sorry.

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Sit.

Eat, drink, potty, walk on.

Our next idea is to tour Prague Castle.

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Which I now sense is going to be up high. I’ve taken in the view from the bridge. I’ve learned a lesson from the zoo. I’m going to use my deductive reasoning and guess that we’re heading up a hill to get to that castle.

And I was right. But, it wasn’t a hillside path this time.

Just a simple set of stairs.

The stairs go up and up.

And wind around and go up and up again.

I volunteer to take the 20lb stroller up the stairs because I always relish an oppurtunity to work my glutes.

 

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On the way down the stairs, Harry, Finn and I each counted the stairs and we each got three different numbers. Google says there’s 121 steps.

It felt sort of like 300 or so.

But, again, the weather was beautiful, there were lots of little landings along the way. We weren’t in a hurry, the kids did great. Even carrying the stroller up wasn’t so bad.

 

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Taking any little second they can to play with their fresh Happy Meal toys….

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We get to the top, and as you would suspect, there is a spectacular view out over the city and a rather large compound of (more) beautiful buildings.

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We find the castle gates and go inside.

It’s free.

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You can tour around the grounds and buildings of the castle complex, but we’ve got our eye on St. Vitus cathedral.

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These old cathedrals never cease to impress me. And this one, with it’s simple austere ceiling, lots of light, and exceptionally brightly colored stained glass  – might just be my new favorite.

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We ventured out of the castle grounds and found a little spot of grass to let the kids play in. As if they didn’t get enough exercise today. I thought they’d maybe sit and chill with us. But nope – they’re good to go. Run around and play for a bit.

Look at the brick work on that building… and this simple street lamp.

 

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All of us! Together in the frame!

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Time to head back down now.

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We’ve got a gift shop to hit, and coffee and gelato calling our name.

Notice the stair-step print in the brickwork on the ground.

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Back across the bridge….

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The picture-worthy Prague tram. By the way – watch yourself in and around them. They’ve got quite a little ZIP to them.

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One last picture for me and Viv.

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And we’re rounding the corner back to the apartment.

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This night, I stayed home with the kids and got them fed and in bed while Rich took Grandma and Papa back over to see my friend at the butcher shop cafeteria. He saved his appetite and when they returned, Rich and I ventured out for some delicious Asian fusion. Because when there’s good Asian fusion in the area, I can’t resist it’s pull.

We ate and had a great dinner, but not before stopping for one last picture by the river.

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We have VERY INTELLIGENTLY booked ourselves an afternoon flight out of town.

So, the next morning, we leisurely pack up, eat breakfast and leave the house.

Since we have all of our luggage with us, but it’s not yet time to go to the airport, we decided it’s best to lounge in the park near the train station.

Have a play and eat some lunch. Then, when the time is right, head to the airport.

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And we arrive at the airport with absolutely no trouble and find ourselves with some more time to kill.

And looky there…. sent directly from the airport gods, the perfect cage for our children to play in while we wait.

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They even made a friend, Marcus.

“Their best friend in Prague” they told me.

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But it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows and skipping right onto the plane.

No way would it be that easy.

We find out we’re delayed. AGAIN.

By THREE HOURS this time.

 

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You know….. like….. whatever man.

I could say a lot of things about airports or Ryan Air or time or bad luck.

But you know, it just happens. You are at their mercy. Completely at their mercy.

And… frankly, it’s what you knowingly sign up for when you venture outside of your hobbit hole. No sense in being a total grump.

We had electricity, food, water, clean and working toilets. The area where we were camping was at a pleasant temperature, and very clean and not crowded. Nobody bothered us. And we had the unexpected BONUS of a play gym. Waiting on a delay is the absolute worst, but when you’re comfortable it’s not sooooo bad.

And Prague was so good to us, honestly I can forgive this.

It’s not Prague’s fault anyway. It’s probably Paris.

We finally make it onto our plane. And we’re all a little relieved.

The flight home is short, just an hour.

Later than we wanted, but we are going to make it home.

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I can confirm that Prague is indeed kid friendly.

Here are my criteria:

  1. cleaniness
  2. walkability/public transit
  3. ease of dining/ordering/seating
  4. cheap/free activities
  5. crowd level
  6. cultural experience balance
  7. general safety/crime
  8. smoking culture
  9. cost

 

1.cleaniness: you can look back through the pictures for proof. But this city is spotless. Not a lick of trash or a cup rolling down the street. Even taking the “back roads” to the grocery store, even when we ventured outside city center for the zoo and for Asian fusion date night = all squeaky clean streets. And I didn’t notice a single homeless person. I mean, it’s not the biggest deal, but it’s just nice to see… and smell. And NOT having to discuss ‘homelessness-in-society’ is always a welcome treat.

2. walkability, public transit; both stellar. We chose a centrally-located apartment, which is key. But more importantly we were easily able to walk from the Old Town square, over the bridge, and to the castle – no sweat. We didn’t have to mess with trying to find a cab or public transit to get through our day. Not only does that make the day more relaxing – it saves a huge amount of time. And when we did use the public transit (the tram, the bus, and the underground train) to go to the zoo and out for dinner – it was really cheap, light and clean, and very easy to navigate.

3. dining, ordering, and seating… when we did have food out with them, places were not very crowded and we were easily able to find seating. And there were plenty of familiar options for us to grab for them – Subway, KFC, McD’s. Frankly – we go around this as much as we can with the kids while traveling. I pack them hearty snacks. We let them eat fast food. And we do a lot of eating in the apartment. Mostly because we have the special problem of needing 6 seats. With Grandma and Papa – that makes 8. European restaurants, generally speaking, are small with not-always-alot-of-seating. Plus, many European restaurants have a certain timing that we find… annoying… with the children. It just takes way too long and it’s a waste of time for us. Trying to entertain our children inside a restaurant waiting for food…. just doesn’t work. We’d rather use that time doing something else. Most of the time we manage to find street food options for them to try – like the Trdelnik, the meat in the Old Town square, and gelato – in order to meet the food-culture requirement of the trip for them.

4. cheap/free activities/green space = lots. Everything we did was very inexpensive and we had a great time. Sometimes your kids don’t like something or they poop their pants and you have to leave. And in those cases, it’s a good thing you didn’t pay very much to get in. And a big green space is sometimes exactly what you (and they) need. Plus, it’s a good dose of the local culture.

5. crowd level: low and the vibe was relaxed. This is important because it becomes a safety issue… and because it’s annoying.

6. cultural experience balance: perfect. I found the city center to be very authentic in it’s shops and restaurants. It wasn’t over run with gift shops and tour companies. But it wasn’t too far out of our comfort zone either. It didn’t feel bombarded with stupid merchandise and there were zero peddlers trying to sell us mini Eiffel Towers. And the sights and cultural activities are plentiful and cheap.

7. General Safety/Crime: we never felt unsafe.

8. Smoking Culture: better than other places, but not as good as it should be.

9. cost: the most inexpensive trip we’ve had to date. Exchange rates are very friendly here.

 

Not only is Prague kid friendly, but it’s people-friendly.

It feels like this city was built with thought and love.

And it feels like it’s taken care of with thought and love.

You can relax.

Nothing is in your face.

It’s just there for you to enjoy.

Prague just wants you to be yourself.

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The kids all took turns running fevers before we left, the weather called for constant thunder storms. I was worried and anxious about the unknown of Prague – our most Eastern adventure yet.

But once again (despite our airport delays) I feel like the travel gods smiled upon us.

It all just sorta rolled into place.

The kids got better just in time.

The weather cleared.

And we did it.

We wanted to go to Prague and we made it happen.

And once again, I can’t really believe it.

We did it.

WE WENT TO PRAGUE.

 

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Where we stayed:

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/3674459

Hamburg

A few years ago my husband’s father sent him a YouTube video that featured the largest model train exhibit in the world. The exhibit is called “Miniatur Wunderland” and it’s in Hamburg, Germany.

My husband watched the video, showed me, and then said “Wow, that’s amazing. I’d really like to go there someday with dad.”

 

 

After we moved to London, going to Miniatur Wunderland was now much more possible than ever before – and we added it to the do-to list.

Rich’s dad, Greg, has spent lots of time here with us… probably more than anyone else. He came along and helped us with our initial move over. Stayed for three months. Then came back when we had to change houses and stayed for a few weeks again.

And he is just the BIGGEST help to us.

But we were just too overwhelmed and overloaded to go to Miniatur Wunderland during those times. When it was arranged that Rich’s parents were coming this year for the kids’ half-term break, it became apparent that this was the time to make it happen.

And there was absolutely no argument or negotiation.

Rich just matter-of-factly said “This is happening, now.”

So… off we went to work it out.

In order to book affordable flights, we booked with the budget airline that flies out at the airport over an hour’s drive away. And in order to make the most of our time – and hopefully visit Miniatur Wunderland on the same day that we fly – we booked the early morning flight out. This meant we needed to leave the house at 4:30AM.

We don’t normally do such a thing. But for this particular time/day/destination flying out of Stansted Airport costed £56/person. Flying out of Heathrow or Gatwick costed £136/person. We’ve got 6 people to fly.

£56 x 6 = £336

£136 x 6 = £816

Even after we pay for very expensive cab service to the airport – right around £140 per car per way, we still come out way ahead. Plus, it’s sooo LUX for us. Not to be schlepping all our bags and all our kids around the sidewalk and up and down the stairs and the stations and on and off the trains to the airport.

Ahhh, there’s something to it. Not usually our best or cheapest option.

But this time is was and it was so so sweet.

Kids rolled out of bed, we made it to airport, through security and right on to our plane smoothly and in good spirits and really excited.

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As soon as we get seated the captain comes on and announces that “Because of the lighting storms through the night, yada yada…..  something about the fuel….. and we don’t have fuel for the plane. Apologize. So we’re on a little bit of a delay.”

And I was like, ok that’s fine. Expected, really. The kids are good, everyone is fed, we can use the plane bathroom. We’re good.

And we sat inside that plane on the runway for THREE MORE HOURS.

No joke.

I understand that there are storms and delays and things get backed up and it’s impossible to recover. But I’m still not sure, why, in this situation they went ahead and boarded us. The only explanation is that they underestimated our wait. It could have been miserable, but all things considered, it really wasn’t that bad. In fact, I was impressed with my children. Plus it was good practice. Since our move over, we’ve never taken them on a flight over 2 hours. Like I said – they were all freshly fed, watered, with access to a potty and full charges on the ipads and lots of fresh stickers.

Remove any of those factors and it could’ve gotten really ugly.

But still, it’s nice to know they can handle it.

This flight itself to Hamburg is only a little over an hour. So once we finally did take off it seemed like we were instantly back down and ready to land.

We took public transit to our hotel, and in the process we definitely got a little turned around. But we made it in a fair amount of time.

Our hotel was beautiful – just a Holiday Inn Express, but seriously immaculate.

We were able to rest a little bit. Viv fell asleep.We had been up since 4AM, after all.

Rich was able to move back our Miniatur Wunderland tickets, and we even had time to grab a meal at a nearby McDonald’s. Our favorite! So, even though that huge delay put a real damper on our day, I think we still salvaged it.

We took a quick cab from McDonalds to Miniatur Wunderland to save time and hassle. From there we just breezed right on in.

Before we booked this, I have to be honest, I was very lukewarm. Like, I know that it was a big deal for Rich and I really knew the kids would like it. But, since it’s not my thing really… “I’ll be impressed if I’m impressed” was all I could think.

I mean, for a train novice like me, how awesome can model trains be?

 

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First off, it’s huge. I knew it would be huge. In some of these pictures you can sort of tell how big it is. Behind us (in the pictures below) you can see back through the open space. And this is one floor, out of two.

 

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And for me it was something that you have to observe, and let it soak in for a little bit to really appreciate. Something about the scale of it that is impressive. The little tiny trains and the little tiny people, in the big giant space. Going on and on creating a real miniature world. With INCREDIBLE detail and fun surprises. So many thoughtful and clever details.

Moutains, cities, bridges, train depots, airports, bays, rivers, deserts, snow-land, an amazing volcano!, on and on…

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Mini models of Hamburg, Las Vegas, Venice, Rome…

 

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In every section, it would turn from day to night, and you could appreciate the scene in a whole new way.

 

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The big scenes were impressive, but it was the little details that got me.

Like a little pet daycare I found.

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And an underground lair to plan “World Domination”

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The blue crystal Elfin Hollow

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To the outdoor evening market.

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And this poster of glue categories that I feel like could only exist in Germany.

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I also really appreciated, that between each section they let us get a peek at the inner workings. We also had full access to see the control center where they monitor the trains and all the cameras on all the tracks. And for some reason, I don’t have a picture of that. But it was cool.

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Speaking of cameras… and tracks…. we had a little incident while we were there.

Because of course we did.

When we went to McDonalds, we got little Happy Meal toys. The current toy in Hamburg Germany is a small National Geographic stuffed animal. Which by the way could not be more perfect for us at this time. It’s like the lord himself made McDonalds have these perfectly suited toys for my children while I was on this trip.

That’s how it feels.

Normally, my kids don’t really like the happy meal toys. But not these toys. They love these. Especially Finn – who EVERYONE knows is our animal lover. I’m talking BIG TIME animal lover. He knows all the facts and all the science. He loves every single moose and otter and ant. And he’s very sensitive about the killing of them.

He cries and cries forever. With real feelings.

Like, as in, we can’t even swat at flies in his presence anymore and we have to pray over the bee that I had to kill in his room and we have to catch and release any spiders we find in the house instead of giving them a good old squish. It’s gotten pretty serious and we’ve just – all of us – walked around him on this one, because what else are we going to do? Have him bawl-a-fit every time we swat a fly? Not really. Even little Theo knows, it’s best just to take the go-around, and not stomp on the bugs outside.

So, back to train world. Finn had gotten a very special manta ray at McDonalds in his happy meal. He wanted to carry it around train world.

I advised otherwise.

He countered.

And in most of the pictures above, he is holding his little manta ray.

Three quarters of the way through the visit, Finn and I were perched up on a little balcony taking in the beautiful view of down below, when wouldn’t you know it – he drops his manta ray INTO THE EXHIBIT.

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And not just INTO THE EXHIBIT, but right smack onto a train track.

I mean, right on it.

He shakes my arm “Mom, I dropped my ray.”
Me “What?”

Him “Mom I dropped my ray in the train.” and begins to panic.

I finally realize what he’s saying, scan the exhibit and find his ray. It’s on the track.

Oh man….

Maybe it’s just a decoy track or something.

Nope.

Here comes a train.

Oh man… this is gonna be bad. There no way I can fish it out. There’s nothing I – or anyone – can do.

Train comes, hits the manta ray.

Stops cold.

Shit.

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So now we’ve got double bad. First bad because he lost his manta ray.

And second bad because he’s now caused a train-murder of his manta ray.

And bonus triple bad – because now I’m afraid that we’ve somehow stopped the whole exhibit and some train worker is going to have to crawl in there and get his manta ray off the track.

And it’s going to be really embarrassing, and we don’t speak German, and I don’t know… are they going to yell and kick us out?

I mean, I’m sure he’s not the only person to drop something into the exhibit. Right??

RIGHT???

They have millions of visitors per year.

Pretty sure he can’t be the first or only one.

And that I’m not the first distracted mom…. right?

Finn starts wailing. We wait for a little bit for someone to come along. But no one ever does. I usher him away from the scene. Half trying to comfort him, half afraid that we’re going to get a serious scolding.

I take him over to the “airport” and he recovers remarkably fast all things considered. And when we walked back by the scene of the crime, the manta was still in the exhibit, just to the side of the track. The train had somehow finally pushed it’s way through.

And Finn was sad, but realized there wasn’t much to be done. He didn’t want to push – same as me – for fear of getting in trouble with the workers, I think.

So he let it go and moved on with a promise that Grandma would let him pick something out in the gift shop.

Which he did.

 

Overall, I have to admit, I was impressed.

It’s the number five tourist attraction in Germany for a reason.

The Germans love their trains, and that’s apparent here. I think anyone who visits could be, at least, a little bit enthused.

Hundreds of thousands of hours of work and love. Millions of dollars.

A work of art.

Even someone like me can appreciate it.

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Afterwards there were no cabs waiting outside, and we struggled to find a cab option – it was a very quiet part of town on a Sunday evening.

The walk back to the hotel seemed simple enough – about 20 minutes, and it seemed our best option to get back. Even though we were all seriously exhausted, the directions were fairly simple, the weather was beautiful and we made it back safe and sound.

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And here is Finn, happy, with his gift shop find – a new animal to carry around.

The kids ate some snacks, in lieu of solid dinner, and cashed out fairly soon.

And we all slept.

We leisurely woke up and ate our lovely continental breakfast; then checked out shortly after. Thank goodness we had the good sense to book an afternoon flight instead of morning.

A walk and a train back to the airport. We’re heading to Prague today!

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Where we stayed:

https://www.ihg.com/holidayinnexpress/hotels/us/en/hamburg/hamch/hoteldetail?cm_mmc=GoogleMaps-_-EX-_-DE-_-HAMCH

 

Miniatur Wunderland:

https://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/

Disneyland and Paris

Hello!

We took our kids to Paris… again.

As in Paris, in the country of France.

And again, I’m like…. how is this my life???

We’re from a cornfield in Illinois.

We live in London.

And we are going to Disneyland Paris.

That’s life and it’s strange.

We decided to book this trip only a few weeks before we actually went. Because that’s how we roll almost alll of the time. Little ads kept popping up on my Facebook feed asking if I wanted to go to Disneyland. (because facebook knows everything about my life… and yours, and probably intercepted email from me ordering mermaid stickers for Viv and that means I’m interested in Disneyland. Which I am.)

ANYWAY… I was like “No!” I don’t want to do that.

I’ve got too much else to see and do over here.

And then, like it always does, a little “deal” popped up.

Ticket sale for Disneyland Paris.

Add to that, *Her Royal Highness* Princess Vivian, despite literally no encouragement from me or her THREE older brothers, is slightly obsessed with anything princess related. Let me clarify – I don’t negatively encourage it, I’m just neutral like Switzerland.

 

Her brothers obviously negatively encourage it though – one day, the boys turned their bunk into a pirate ship. Viv walks up in her full princess garb. She wants to play too. Harry says straight to her “Viv. You don’t want to be a princess. You want to be a pirate!!” On that rare occasion, she conceded the outfit.

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But for the most part, she remains undeterred by them. We’ve already burned through one princess costume and now have purchased a replacement. She insists on wearing it daily, usually with a tiara and superhero cape. She calls herself Hero Princess, which I actually think is completely awesome. She’s a hero princess on the daily… eating… going to the store… picking up the boys from school… all that.

 

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So… I knew she would like to see the princesses.

And I knew that I would like to see her see them. And I didn’t really care whether the boys liked it or not. There’s definitely a ranking system in our house. Tra la la…

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I looked into how we’d get there. I didn’t previously realize how easy it is from London. Just pop on a train for a few hours. There’s a stop right at Disneyland! That sounds nice! We found a GREAT (fun, family, pirate-themed hotel). That also sounds nice.

Why not?

We don’t come from California or Florida where Disney is this accessible to us.

When will it ever be this close, inexpensive (relative term), and this easy?

Tickets purchased.

Ok, we’re just going to do this. We booked late March. I quickly whipped up a Pinterest board, watched some YouTubers go to Disneyland Paris, and starting thinking about packing. And a few weeks later, during Spring Break, we left for it.

One of my favorite parts of the trip actually happened before we even left.

We went ahead and told the boys that we’d booked train tickets for our family.

“To where?!?” they said.

“To Paris!” we said.

“What?!! YES!!!!” they said, and proceeded to jump and yell and dance around as they do when they are really happy.

We hadn’t even mentioned Disney yet and they were sooo excited.

Rich and I high-fived ourselves, like, ya we haven’t even told them the best part and they already want to go…. we are the best.

OK!

For a short trip, this is going to be a long post because I want to remember how this whole crazy thing went down.

Two days before leaving we get an email that our train to Disney has been cancelled due to trains strikes in France.

ahhhh what yasaythere? no train? no train for us??

The original booking was for a train to Lille, France. From there, you get off, and make a switch for the train to Disney.

We planned to do this. Then get off. Take the shuttle to our hotel, check in and unload our luggage and then go back to the Disneyland station and head back into Paris for the day. Disney is about an hour outside of Paris. The journey from our hotel to center of Paris should take about 1h20m each way.

With our train cancelled, Eurostar rescheduled us on a later train and now the best Eurostar could do was get us on a train to Paris. And well… that doesn’t really help us because we paid for and planned to arrive out at Disneyland.

But then I realize, Heeeeyyyy, we wanted to spend the day in Paris anyway! This might actually work out in our favor. We can take the train direct to Paris, tour around for a little bit, and then make our way out to our hotel in the evening. We will still have to pay separately to get ourselves out to our hotel. But hey, we were going to have to do that anyway because we were planning to come into the city and back out. So now, not only will we start out where we want to be, we’ve gained an extra 3 hours or so of time that was previously going to be in transit to city center from our hotel and back.

This strike is a big win for us!

Eurostar and the third party booking company we used drug us along all day however and we weren’t sure if we did – in fact – have seats on the train to Paris. They originally rescheduled us for a 10am train and then a noon train, and even though I was happy with our newly arranged plan – arriving even later, and then later again, was not cool.

8pm the night before we are supposed to leave – we still don’t have confirmation that we are on any train to Paris. Rich has been on and off the phone all day with different agents, but everything is a mess. We’re worried about our rescheduled tickets being all spread out and not together.

“Nobody can give me any answers,” he says, “I don’t want us to get all packed up, show up there in the morning and then NOT be able to get on one. I’m just going to go to St. Pancras (the international train station) right now and see if they can help us.”

So, he takes off, I stay home and pack for a trip I hope is going to happen. The thought of waking up and telling the kids we can’t go makes me want to vomit. I simultaneously look up car rental options and driving routes, and also miserable and expensive flight options. St. Pancras is across the city and about an hour away from our door. About 9pm, Rich texts me “We’re on the 8am train, seats together. I’ve got tickets in hand.”

No extra charges, just done. Sometimes, you just have to march yourself to the station at night and get someone to work it out. Job well done. Whew! I seriously thought we weren’t going to be leaving at any time tomorrow and now we’re on an even earlier train. We’ll have seats together and we’ll have most of the day in Paris!

But now…  if we arrive in Paris… and we don’t check into our hotel, what will we do with all of these bags I’m currently packing…. ?? Carrying them around is NOT an option. Hum… a quick internet search provides me with “Stasher.” A website where you can arrange to have your luggage stashed at a locker or a hotel, for a small fee.

Is there one by Gare Du Nord? Yes there is. Yes! Fist pump.

I finish packing, because now not only are we leaving tomorrow for sure. We’re leaving even earlier than originally planned. We’ve got to be OUT THE DOOR by like 6:00am.  Rich makes his way back home and then cleans up the wreck that was left in the kitchen because both of us were too consumed with trip plans to clean up after dinner.

We also decided to go ahead and book our Louvre tickets. This will save us time tomorrow. We won’t have to wait in the ticket line or find where to buy them off site. With our now confirmed early train – this is a no brainer.

Rich finalizes and prints our Stasher reservation, reserves our Louvre time and prints tickets and then I ask him to also print the Disney tickets.

It’s now midnight, I’m down to just the last few items I need to pack and Rich says “Hey hon… uh… looks like I booked the wrong sort of Disney ticket.”

You know that deal I talked about? We saw the deal, but the deal just inspired the trip. We knew we would have to go during spring break and the deal tickets were over before that. We knew the deal expired before we were going, we knew we were paying for regular tickets. But for some reason, the website let Rich book “deal” tickets even when he put in dates that were after the deal. And.. he hadn’t previously checked the confirmation email closely enough to realize this small fact.

Bottom line, our Disney tickets were expired.

Rich is confused and devastated. But, it appears to be a simple mistake. Anybody could have made it. I have faith it will get fixed once we’re there.

“We’ve dealt with enough today,” I say. “We need to get to bed… try to sleep. I’m sure we can work out the Disney tickets once we’re there. Maybe they can just credit us what we already paid or something. It’s Disney, they’ll fix it. If we learned anything today, it’s that if we go to the place – there’s a chance they can just fix it for us.”

 

Did I mention, too, that the weather forecasts calls for rain every day of this trip?

Well it does.

But by now, I know how to dress for spring time in Europe and I’m prepared with layers and rain coats, warm shoes, umbrellas, microfiber towels, and ponchos that double as tarps and picnic blankets. Rain sucks. But at least I’m ready and prepared. And hey, maybe it will keep the crowds away, and that’s always a good thing.

The next morning, we’re all up on time, fed, excited and in good spirits for our day ahead.

And I have to admit I’m more than anxious about how Vivian’s going to do. We’re asking a lot of her today – she’s only two after all. A train ride, a full day out, and probably a skipped nap. She’s still not comfortable with her potty situation when we’re out and about. The hand dryers in the public restrooms really set her off. Anybody else with that?? As usual, we just hope for the best and plan for the worst. I curb my anxiety by putting her in a pull up and bringing along our fold-up potty seat.

Early Uber to St. Pancras and here we are boarding our train. I would like to note how hard it is to move around with kids AND bags. It’s really hard and completely exhausting. It’s been a while since we did this and I honestly forgot how exhausting it is. The last time we did this we had an AuPair with us, and that made a big difference. And I pack LIGHT. As light as humanly possible… but as we were arriving to the train, I was already making notes on how to try to improve this situation the next time.

Regardless, we made it with no problems, happy to have a train to get on.

Happy face times a million.

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We train.

We arrive.

We locate our “Stasher” hotel across the street from Gare Du Nord and stow our luggage.

Winning!

And now, kids are hungry, of course.

I mean, I brought snacks. They ate snacks.

But we were up early and they are hungry NOW. Full force. RIGHT NOW. So, we stop into McD’s grab some lunch. I know…. lame. But you make sacrifices when you travel with kids. And Paris is not the place to be sticking to any sort of opposing ideals on this.

Kid friendly, this city is not.

Nuggets and Hamburgers. A surprisingly delicious wrap for me. And we’re off with happy kids ready to take on the Louvre. And hey, I like exploring McD’s in other countries. It’s fun to see the differences and to see how they make changes to adjust to the differences in culture. Anyway…

We use the Metro to get to the Louvre and then we have a few blessed minutes to hang out in the beautiful park in front of the Louvre. Rich takes the boys to grab some pastries while me and Viv chill in the grass with my poncho-turned-picnic-blanket.

And you know what? It’s not even raining a little bit. In fact, it’s hot! And even though I’m packed for rain I’ve got sunglasses for everyone and it’s wonderful.

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And Finn with a Dab.

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I really wanted a picture of all of us outside the Louvre that wasn’t a selfie. I scanned the area and used my nice-person radar to locate the perfect little Swiss lady. She took our picture and practically made a show of it. Taking her time, trying really hard to get all of the kids to look at her and be agreeable. She gets a gold star, and afterwards we chatted for a bit.

Let’s all be more like her.

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Our entry time arrived and we headed towards the main entrance, which is in that glass pyramid. I had read about the nightmare that is the Louvre ticket and security line. That was our primary reason for buying our tickets in advance. But we just waltzed right up to the door with exactly no one in front of us. NO one. Pretty sure it’s the most visited museum in the world… something like that. Definitely the largest, I think.

So, this was bizarre… I don’t know if it was the beautiful weather, or the (late-ish) time of day – 3pm – but there was no line.

Win!

While we were walking up to the entrance, I’m soaking in the 80 degree sun, and I casually think to myself “I bet it’s hot in that glass part.”

And I was wrong. It was SUPER hot is that glass part. The second we entered the door, it was like hitting a wall of lava. I’m not over-exaggerating. Similar to when you walk from your air-conditioned hotel out into August of central Florida.

Just all over hot insta-sweat.

And my first thought was “I need to get out of my clothes.”

I stared at the security guys in their full on jackets with pity. All they had was a little fan. Like, I’m sorry Louvre pyramid designers… did that not occur to you? Was the air-conditioning just not on yet because it was April? I mean, it is France…. I think there’s a possibility that it’s really NOT ever air conditioned in there.

Anyway, seriously, ask Rich… he got caught up by a guard at the escalator. They wanted him to take some dumb elevator down instead with the stroller, but I just bee-lined ahead with the boys as fast as I could. I rode down and left Rich behind. I located a spot of shade beneath-the-escalator and stripped myself and the boys down to our under layers. And even though I was still sweating, at least I could breathe.

As previously mentioned, the Louvre is enormous. And really confusing, honestly.

We walked around for a little bit trying to get oriented. I think we were there an hour and a half or so and we covered ONE FLOOR of ONE WING. That’s it.

Given – we move slow. And we had to maneuver around and find elevators, Finn had to poop for 10 minutes and we split up for that and then sort of lost each other. But regardless I was happy with what we accomplished at the Louvre. I didn’t intend to spend a long time in there. I just wanted us to have the experience. You know, get a taste of it. And with four littles, I think we did just that.

Entrance is cheap enough, kids are free, we got RIGHT IN. Obviously there’s much more to see there, but only for people who know and appreciate what they are looking at. And since that’s not us, I don’t feel like we wasted time or money.

And don’t worry, once we got away from the pyramid, the temperature inside was MUCH better. And here is a picture of Harry and I in the temple of heat:

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As you can imagine, it’s overwhelming and it’s awesome. And honestly the kids really liked walking the halls. There was lots of nudity… which lead to lots of questions and fun answers. Despite that, the kids appreciated the grand-ness of it all.

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We found HER!

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Oh, and also, Viv peed here.

Sorry, but it was a huge deal.

She was terrified of the bathroom on the train, she was too scared of the hotel bathroom where our “Stasher” was, she was terrified of the bathroom at McDonalds because someone turned on the dryer. She’s too advanced to want to pee in her pull up. So our two year old held her pee from 5:30am until 4pm. And it’s not like she didn’t eat or drink anything either. And it’s not like she was a happy chicka either. She was as miserable as you would imagine, and it was showing. We felt so awful for her and it was majorly stressing me out. We passed a bathroom in the Louvre, I just took her in and made her sit and she cried, but she finally couldn’t hold it.

AND IT WAS THE BEST.

And that’s traveling with kids. Specifically potty-training kids…. which are the worst kind.

From here, we took the Metra to the Notre Dame area and got some ice cream!

While Rich was waiting for ice cream, I stepped next door and bought cheese and sausage pastries and the-most-delicious chocolate baguette. I had to fumble through my order with grunts and points, because the shop workers didn’t want to con VER sate in English with me – even though I know they could.

Next we made our way to Notre Dame. When I came with my mom, this was my favorite thing in Paris. When we came back with the kids and Rich’s family – it was crowded and full of police because of a huge wake we didn’t know anything about.

So – we HAD to get back here this time. I was insistent that, at least Rich see it. We waited in the line to get in, which moves really fast. Then we randomly got asked to be interviewed by French television. So.. we did that.

And then, a few paces into Notre Dame – as kids like to do, all three boys announce to me that they need to pee.

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WELL that’s just GREAT.

Notre Dame has no bathroom, I know this.

The area around doesn’t really have a bathroom either – Paris is really bad about public restrooms. I say to Rich – you go on with the stroller and Viv. Enjoy it. I’ll take them out and meet you in the park. And that’s what we did.

I backed out of the guideway in Notre Dame with the boys. Asked two different attendants where the nearest restroom was and got two different answers. I have a ‘public restroom’ app on my phone, there appears to be one right outside. But we search and search and cannot find it. Across the river I spot a Subway restaurant. We march across the bridge and by now we are really reaching emergency levels of course. My planB is that I’ll let them pee in the park. But I’d really rather planA work out, even if I have to buy a sandwich. I sneak us in and to the back of the tiny restaurant. They have a potty!!!! YES!!! Pee. Done. Again.

We meet back at the park where Rich is waiting for us. And, now, finally, this was a really relaxing moment for us. The kids played, we sat. The kids didn’t like the French pastries I bought, so Rich went back over to Subway and bought some sandwiches. Between that and my pastries, we were all full enough for dinner.

And it was nice. And I let the kids have a few nibbles of that chocolate baguette I bought and then I tucked the rest away for after the kids went to bed.

Rich and I ate the rest of it all by ourselves because we deserved it.

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Theo made a friend, of course.

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It was getting late-ish, some clouds were sort of rolling in, and we needed to get back to our luggage by 7:00pm to avoid an overcharge.

So we headed towards the bus stop. From there we were able to catch a relatively quick ride back up to the train station. The kids were doing great, but definitely getting worn out.

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Theo fell asleep at some point, and so did Viv.

 

And then we had to decide how we were going to get from the city center train station out to Disney. We could wait and catch a train to Disney and then take our hotel shuttle from Disney to our hotel.

Or we could hire a driver to take us straight from the train station to our hotel.

They both take about the same amount of time.

The train option costs maybe 10 Euro.

And the taxi costs 110 Euro.

We’re tired, and the thought of dragging ourselves, the tired kids, and now the bags again has altered our budget.

Taxi it is.

And it was the best 110 Euro we ever spent. It actually ended up being much faster than the train – which hardly ever happens… and obviously much easier. Rich grabbed coffee while we waited for the taxi, the kids were weirdly quiet, the taxi-van was really nice and big and roomy and since we always train it instead, this car ride was so luxurious for us.

It’s during this car ride, however, that I decide we’re not coming back into Paris. The original plan was to do as much in Paris as we could do on our arrival day (Sunday) which turned out to be quite a bit! Then spend one day in Disneyland. And then a third day back in Paris. We thought we could spend the morning at a fun Market Street like Rue Cler where we could grab food for a delicious picnic, have a picnic lunch in a nearby park and possibly visit the Musee D’Orsay. But I just decide it’s not the best idea. We’ll either find something else to do outside of town, or we’ll just hang at the hotel if it looks good.

Ok, now.

I’m about to get a little bit off topic in order to explain myself and my decision to avoid Paris a second day.

I’ve gone to Paris three times now and I’m just going to say it…

I don’t like Paris.

To say it and to put it here in permanent ink where it will live forever feels like betrayal to…. myself… or Emmanuel Macron (who I think is a complete genius).

I like and respect a lot of the things that France stands for and does.

But it’s just my truth.

And my decision NOT to go back there when we could’ve easily done so just felt right to me.

I whispered across the van to Rich my thoughts, and he agreed without hesitation.

I don’t want to talk smack. I really don’t.

No place, no city is perfect… even my precious London. I KNOW THAT.

And I’m spoiled. I KNOW THAT.

There’s just a lot of situations happening there. Paris has a larger homeless population than we are used to seeing. The homeless are out and in-your-face even around tourist areas and especially around the train stations. This brings up discussions that we have to have with the children. I’ve had to explain why we saw a homeless person pee-ing on the sidewalk.

Most of the Metra stations smell like pee. They are also poorly lit, poorly staffed, and dirty by my standards.

Public restrooms are hard to find. I know they’ve made strides to improve this, but it’s still not good enough. Which is probably why it smells so much like pee everywhere.

In addition to the homeless, there are lots of beggars and men trying to sell you cheap trinkets of the Eiffel Tower or selfie sticks or bottles of water. Even out by Disney, these men were set up and walking around.

There are lots and lots and lots of stairs. This is also the case in London, by the way. So, if you’re with a toddler and a stroller this is your nightmare.

There is a large armed presence. Men with BIG guns walking around all train stations and most tourist areas.

Everyone smokes. Everywhere. And this is not specific to Paris. People were smoking at Disneyland. Obviously it’s worse in the city. It’s everywhere and constant.

People are rude. I don’t really need to elaborate… just the truth, in my experience. It can feel like nobody wants to be nice and like nobody is happy to see your kids in their space.

You better speak French. Or at least try. I have absolutely no ground to stand on with this, because I feel like Americans are equally demanding that people better speak “American” when they are in America. But if you have ever travelled anywhere where you don’t know the language – having a person be gracious enough to try to communicate with you anyway is, like, literally the most bestest thing to happen in your day.

On that note, service is TERRIBLE. Again, don’t feel the need to elaborate. It’s just really frustrating when everything else is already really hard.

And if you read anything about traveling in Paris, and Europe for that matter.. you’ll see that you need to watch out for pick-pockets and people trying to distract you while their buddy robs you from behind.

So, the situation is like this moving around Paris, FOR US – We’re walking from the train station and we see multiple armed guards. Kid discussion about that. We see multiple homeless camp-out stations. Kid discussion about that, and questions about smells. We see someone getting arrested, little bit of discussion about that. While we were eating in McDonalds some undercover cops confront a patron and check him for drugs. The kids, and I, were genuinely scared. I didn’t know what was going on for a few minutes because the cops were under cover, but afterward everything was fine. Again, discussion.

And we’re moving around the city and we’re trucking up and down stairs, trying to figure out where we need to be (which isn’t that hard for us at this point), with people literally smoking in our faces.

And the entire time, don’t forget, you’ve got the baseline need of just simply keeping track of your kids and keeping track of your valuable items because you know the pick-pocket dangers and you know you can’t take a second to be distracted.

It’s like… you need to be at top level brain function to be able to process and handle everything that it takes to maneuver around this city.

And bottomline – it’s just stressful.

Doing another day and going to the market street sounds fun, but ALL THAT is the reality of being in Paris for us.

I mentally prepared myself this visit. From our previous visits I knew, and planned to avoid the busy areas. Avoid the Eiffel Tower area. I was determined to have a different Paris experience this time, and I was ready and open minded. We were going to avoid the French restaurants, but still get good food from the cafes. Try to relax in the parks. That was my goal. But it was just too hard.

I KNOW I’m spoiled in London – where seriously I don’t think I’ve ever approached a flight of stairs at a tube station and someone didn’t offer to help me with the stroller.

I KNOW that I have a microscopic view of Paris with my visits and maybe I’m not being fair. Maybe I’m not doing it right. All of that is possible.

I KNOW that seeing homeless people and people getting arrested and people getting roughed up for drug checks is not specific to Paris. I am not, nor are my children, above seeing or having discussions about these types of things. My kids can handle it. And I can handle it. I can have those tough discussions with them about tough topics. It’s part of living and traveling.

I KNOW that there are millions of wonderful, smart, warm, amazing, thoughtful French people. I know some of them! Here in London. They are my neighbors, and my friends.

I KNOW I can’t judge a city by a few narrow, short, visits.

And I KNOW there are many reasons to love Paris. I’m just not in that place right now.

Sorry, Paris. It’s not you, it’s me.

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Continuing on.. our magic carriage took us directly to our hotel/resort. I don’t know whether to call it a hotel or a resort. It was built for families is all I know. Pirate themed. Indoor and outdoor playgrounds. Soft Play. Indoor pool fun area. A dragon in the lobby. Couple different restaurants, one being a buffet. Arcade room. And the best part… a room actually built for a family of 6. We booked a “crew 6” but until we arrived I was skeptical.

I was like…. ya, ya… they’re just calling it that and it’s going to be cramped and we’ll have to call for extra stuff and I don’t know what else. But no. We walked into our room – nice big bed and a set of bunks. And then another room (with a door) and another set of bunks! 6 beds, 6 towels… the whole deal. Run of the mill, generic, hotel rooms are never built like this. I was elated. The hotel and room weren’t lux, but they weren’t budget either. Just right in the middle. Clean and tidy, with plenty of space. Just perfect.

This was a huge score for us. The kids were so happy.

We take a little walk around, Finn lays eyes on the pool area.

“I have to be in there. I will swim in there.” He says, matter of factly.

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We settle everyone in. Sleepy time. We have Disney tomorrow.

 

And here is the video we created of our day! In it, we let Harry take the camera for a little while. I might be biased, but he is completely adorable.

 

 

 

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We get up and around a little bit later than we should because we were sooo tired. We head down to the breakfast buffet and then out to the shuttle and over to Disneyland.

We’re dressed and ready for rain. We take a few pictures outside. It does, in fact, start to drizzle and feel cold. And we move ourselves to the customer service line because our tickets are technically, accidentally, expired.

Rich waited for a while in the line. Because of course there was a line.

Gets up to the front, pleads his case.

“Sorry can’t help you.” They say.

ah, what?

“Ya, they are expired. There is nothing we can do.”

A little push back from Rich….

“No. Sorry sir.”

Bye.

………………………..ok…..

We have taken our children to the gates of Disneyland and now we can’t go in.

Thank goodness we’ve booked the expired tickets with our Amex. We can make a claim with Amex to refund the ticket money. We have previous experience with them, and they are pretty good about that kind of thing. #AmEx

We’ll deal with it later.

We gotta move on and get tickets.

Option 1 – Buy tickets at the gate.

Option 2 – Buy tickets using our phones from a third party to save some money.

Option 3 – Go back to hotel and try to figure out tickets for tomorrow.

I don’t know if anyone ever just walks up to the gates of Disneyland to buy their ticket anymore. But ah… definitely don’t do that.

For our family to enter Disneyland Paris for the day, gate price was 500 Euros.

Option 1 is out.

A quick search on our phone tells us we can buy from a third party for about 300 Euros. We also figure out that we can buy them from the front desk at our hotel for a similar price.

Option 2 is out. Nothing from a third party or our hotel will be for ‘same-day.’

So, Option 3 it is.

It’s raining. It’s a little cold. We got a late jump on the day anyway. This is fine. Since we’ve decided not to go back in to the city and we haven’t had time to make any new plans, I guess this means we’re spending the day at the hotel.

This morning the kids begged and pleaded to go swim or to go play in the soft play. But, we had to get moving. I know leaving Disney is sad, but I know telling them we get to go back to the hotel is also going to make them happy. At least I think so…

I say to the kids, “Ok guys. Now we know how to get here! We have practiced how to get here from our hotel. We for sure know how to do it. So that’s good. But, we made a mistake and we don’t have the right kind of ticket. We can’t get in. So we’re going to leave and come back tomorrow.”

They’re like, “Ok. Alright.” and they were all very ok with that.

“So, where are we going to go?” They said.

“Back to the hotel for the day.”

and… total eruption of happiness, lol. “YES!!!!! SWIMMING!!! Pirate ship!” “YES!”

That damn hotel. What kids are happy to leave the gates of Disneyland?

Mine, I guess.

Partly, probably because they didn’t really know what they were missing. But also mostly because the minute we stepped in that hotel the night before, they were dialed in. They were in wonderland.

We didn’t make alternate plans and we just hung at the hotel and the kids were SO HAPPY. It was really relaxing and fun. We were able to buy Disneyland tickets for the next day at the front desk, and we didn’t even have to sell one of the kids.

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They ran around like crazy people and had the best time.

Viv was happy to take care of her potty needs as usual in our room – so we all took a brain break from THAT.

We ate the dinner buffet at the earliest possible time (5pm), and got the kids in bed early.

And you know what? It rained all damn day.

ALL DAY.

Every time I looked outside, it was raining. And I was so glad we were not at Disneyland… or anywhere else.

And you know what else? Weather forecast has changed for tomorrow. They were previously calling for rain all day again, but now it says just a spot here and a spot there. I can definitely work with that.

And now… I need to take a second to talk about the food at our hotel. We are in France, and I truly didn’t know what to expect with a French Buffet.

What does that even mean?

We ate three breakfasts here and one dinner.

First morning here, came down for breakfast… and the first thing I see is the breakfast salad bar.

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This has been the scene in every breakfast buffet I’ve seen in Europe. I’ve seen the breakfast salad before in Germany and in Croatia. It always strikes me odd. Savory vs. Sweet – I usually go savory for breakfast, but even this is a stretch for me.

To actually have cucumbers and tomatoes. But, you know, it’s fun. And Harry actually did eat one single cucumber slice every morning. “So he could be healthy” he informed me. It definitely was needed to balance out out the 5 croissants he ate each morning.

Anyway, as I walked around the buffet for the first time I have to admit, I was disappointed.

They just have the salad bar, some cheese and fruit, and some cold cuts.

Simple yogurt and three types of chocolate cereal.

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You could pay extra to have eggs cooked, but we were like naaaaaaa.

And then bread.

And more bread.

And CROISSANTS and CHOCOLATE CROISSANTS.

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I just didn’t think there was very much choice or that the options were going to be very healthy and filling. And they didn’t have oatmeal, which is my go to.

We start filing plates and coming back, and eating.

And that cheese is really good.

Huh, and those cold cuts are DELICIOUS.

And the bread. Forget it. Completely serious, as I type this my mouth is literally watering remembering these croissants and the shortbread.

They just… they know how to do it.

And like, ya, there’s not a lot of choice. That’s true. But if the choices you have are really good, then you don’t need a lot. You just eat 5 or 6 or 7 croissants and you move on with your day. We didn’t even need the egg station, which I would’ve normally ran to.

When you combine those croissants with some of the coffee. Knock yourself over dead. By the third morning, when I woke up, I COULD NOT WAIT to get downstairs to eat this buffet.

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I know it doesn’t look like much. But it really was – to us anyway – just SO GOOD.

Plus, the kids loved it. Which is always helpful. And it was so easy for them to just go grab whatever they wanted next. Normally, I’m a bit of a stickler with making sure we have a nice breakfast with minimal sugar. But not here. I let them just eat as they pleased, and they didn’t go overboard. And they didn’t vomit afterward – which I started to get seriously worried about. They just had a good time.

Seriously though, I think Finn made himself three salami sandwiches one morning with three glasses of juice and Harry confessed to topping out at 5 chocolate croissants for the meal. So ya, I see it’s not the healthiest. But you can make up for that later in the day… hopefully.

Speaking of later in the day. Since we were in the hotel for the day, we had the oppurtunity to eat dinner there. And just also – for the record – I would like to confess my love of buffets when it comes to dining with children. Just get over yourself and go to buffets. Because you know what?

YOU DON’T HAVE TO WAIT FOR SOMEONE TO SERVE YOU.

It’s perfect! That’s the worst part of eating at a restaurant with kids. The dreaded wait. The dreaded wait – while they are most certainly starving-to-death and they have to simultaneously sit still and be reasonably quiet.

So, just, do the buffet.

DON’T look at your kid’s plates.

Everything will be fine.

 

Ok, DINNER. I take our first gander around the pickings and I’m (again) disappointed.

As first glance, I thought maybe they weren’t done setting it up.

Very simple fare. Not a lot of options again.

A lot of cold items that I didn’t even recognize.

 

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Plain roasted chicken, fish, and lamb. Plain pasta, sauce separate.

Steamed plain vegetables. Potato wedges.

 

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It is France, though, and there will be bread. YES.

 

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And desserts.

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Like I said, I’m deflated for some reason, but we forge ahead.

And I mean…. I’m wrong again.

It was plain. It was simple.

But again – it was completely delicious.

It was healthful and nutritious. Cooked perfectly. And after you’re done, you don’t feel like you need to do a cleanse. I grabbed a small plate of all the things I didn’t recognize – tried them all.

My kids ate this food really well. They loved the roasted meats and even ate the vegetables, which did help to make up for their sugary breakfasts.

And I mean…. the bread…. again.

Doesn’t look like much. But IT SO IS.

And the desserts. SAME.

Just genuine good feelings in and around everything about this dinner buffet.

If we would’ve been around to have another dinner here, I would’ve looked forward to it.

Two thumbs up and 5 stars from me.

Oh, and check out this sign. #BOSS

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Next day. Disney day.

We are up and ready, fed and happy, and on the shuttle and by the gates of Disney just shortly after it opens with tickets in hand.

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I sat Viv on a trash can and tried to get a castle picture. She wasn’t interested.

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Theo and Finn snuck off while we were waiting at the gate.

Pretending to be statues…. because they think they are so hilarious.

And they are.

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We rode a couple rides, watched a few parades, ate some food and just generally had a magical time. Our princess strategy was just to catch them in the parades and shows instead of waiting in line at the princess pavilion. Vivian was thrilled to see them from a short distance and it worked out wonderfully.

 

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Theo found adorable kid-sized potties and thought they were so cool. 

 

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On the potty note – Viv was back to having a hard time. She was totally freaked out in the restrooms here and withheld again. Making her really hard to deal with, again.

While we were waiting in line for the Peter Pan ride, she lost it and even though she was wearing a pull up – it either couldn’t contain the volume or the force, because it leaked out and around everywhere. And we were the people with the kid who peed all over the ground in line.

The stares from the people in line with us were sort of awful, actually…

A quick step out of line and a change. We were able to join back up and ride together with our boys. And naturally she was a much happier girl after that.

Screw off judgey line people.

Moving on, the park itself is beautiful.

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We camped out for the main evening parade about 40 minutes beforehand. The kids and I held down the spot while Rich went and grabbed us pizzas. And we just had a picnic dinner right there while we waited. And we were the only geniuses doing that.

It was perfect.

We were multi-tasking!

Plus, we wouldn’t have to fight the rush of people in the restaurants after the parade was over.

Triple win.

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Then the main evening parade began and it was awesome.

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And by the way… check out that beautiful sunshine. The rain completely held off.

Did not come at all and the weather was complete and utter perfection.

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AH, got a little pizza sauce on your face there…

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After the parade, our crew was really getting tired but still trying to put on a good face.

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We rode “It’s a Small World” twice in a row, because it had no line. And then we got ginormous lollipops and called it a day.

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Outside the park I grabbed a little surprise for the train home tomorrow…

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We also made a little video of this day. It’s fun.

Go to minute 12:50 for the best Vivian moment ever.

 

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Our overall review of Disney Paris is a little mixed. We liked some things, we didn’t like other things. The size of the park is small in comparison to Orlando – which I actually think is a plus, especially for small children. But other things, like service at the restaurants, food in the park, line management on rides, and smoking were big disappointments.

The magic of Disney is there, but for us was just ever so slightly sour. Compared to our Disney Orlando experience – which was overwhelmingly sweet, this one was just a little under the bar. Still GREAT, and the kids had a wonderful day.

And like…. if we won tickets to go back or something like that, I would be happy to go again.

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We slept, woke up, ate the delicious breakfast. Then, leisurely packed back up and headed home. Without a hitch really.. except Viv not liking something at the train platform….

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And that’s all there is.

We did it.

And TRUTH, it was exhausting.

The whole experience was a roller coaster – between the upfront train fiasco, all the forecasted rain, the expired Disney tickets, and the unplanned non-Paris day.

Despite my mixed feelings about Paris and Disney, I’m really glad we went.

The kids had a wonderful time.

We had a wonderful time because they did.

I’ll forever think of this trip as the trip that went completely wrong and then worked out exactly right.

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Where we stayed:

https://www.explorershotels.com/en/