Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fun in Europe: France

Over summer vacation this year we decided to visit family and friends in Europe. Flights to Europe from Hong Kong are about 12 hours so we did not jump into this decision easily. But once committed, we were more than excited to see faraway friends and to show the kids other types of cities than the ones they were seeing in Asia. We also told ourselves we wanted to expose the kids to new cultures, languages, foods and arts. Actually, we just hoped to show them some castles and linger in this phase where they all believe in princesses, unicorns and knights in shining armor a little longer.

First up was Paris, staying with Phil’s father in the Montparnasse neighborhood. We had filled the kids with stories of bakeries on every corner, tiny shops filled only with cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables of all types. They were willing and ready and quickly succumbed to the charm of chocolate croissants in the morning (and sometimes in the afternoon, if any remained). For the most part though they caught the ambience of the marketplace as we reeled in shock over the declining Euro against the dollar and quickly suggested we eat at home.

The attractions of Paris for the kids were mainly two-fold, the Eiffel Tower and Madeleine (of the old children’s story books). Because we were there, we did wait in a huge line to take an elevator to the top platform of the Eiffel Tower. Never once in the multi-hour wait for the top did the kids complain. They waited patiently, took the ride up, looked around at the top and quickly suggested we descend to a lower level. On a lower level, everyone admitted to some nervousness at the top. I know an on-going fire alarm drill added to my own nervousness up above.

We had planned to do a little more on the Madeleine agenda (no, we were not really considering throwing the kids into the Seine) but transport times and lines got the better of us there. We were saved however by "an old house covered in vines." On a long walk home, we spotted this old house which had one whole wall covered with green leafy vines. Convinced we found Madeleine’s house, the walk home became that much easier and this house became a much talked about hightlight!
Like many other vacationing American families, we spent the remainder of our time playing at the Garden de Luxembourg. The merry-go-round, the go-carts and the pony-rides were all great but our park deprived kids were easily won over by the grass and open spaces alone.

Another Paris highlight was taking the boat along the Seine and watching the sights roll by. During this ride, we first got off at the Notre Dame, faced the crowds and got the kids inside for a quick look. Outside waiting to board the boat again, the kids pulled out their sketch books and sat down to draw the Notre Dame. My friend Mary Kay and I laughed as two boys, about the same age as our kids, sat down next to the girls and pulled out their electronic Game Boys. The girls sketched on, reminiscent of another century. No one would have guessed they came from Hong Kong, high tech capital of the world.


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