Planning for Paris: Lessons From Iceland (Part 4)

The then-9yo enjoying the  morning before the long flight back home at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland. Even almost a year later, she loves talking about the famous hot pot and how she can't wait to go back. Her Papa, too,  enjoyed the geothermally-heated pool and wishes they'd had more time in Iceland so they could've spent more than just a morning there...

The then-9yo enjoying the morning before the long flight back home at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland. Even almost a year later, she loves talking about the famous hot pot and how she can’t wait to go back. Her Papa, too, enjoyed the geothermally-heated pool and wishes they’d had more time in Iceland so they could’ve spent more than just a morning there…

Traveling with Kids, Lesson Three: Scale Back, Stay Longer (Part 4)

I confess that, at first, I was a bit jealous that it was Bill, and not me, who got to be the first parent to pack a bag, flash a passport, and take off into the great unknown. But it *was* Bill, after all, who came up with the brilliant plan to start taking shorter international trips (rather than waiting until all the kids were old enough to implement our original plan, conceived way back before we were even married: to take all three kids out of school for a year and travel as a family to one country per month for twelve months), even if that meant just one parent and one child until all the kids got old enough (and our bank account got big enough!) to travel as a family of five. And it *was* Bill who put together an entire eight-day, seven-night itinerary for his and the then-9yo’s trip to Iceland within a couple of weeks – and even found a good deal on airline tickets! So it made sense that he’d be the first parent to go… But it wasn’t until he returned from Iceland that I truly appreciated the guinea pig/lab rat nature of being the first parent to go: “Six days just wasn’t enough time,” he declared as soon as he got off the plane.

He went on to explain, in between cups of coffee (which, sadly, didn’t compare very favorably to the apparently amazing coffee in Iceland – who knew?!) to ward off the jet lag, that the two travel days were essentially a wash: though he and Paisley did manage to spend the morning before their return flight home splashing around in the famous Blue Lagoon (and in the process, came home with the smoothest skin EVER – wow! I seriously need some cosmetic franchise or other to start bottling that baby-soft goodness and selling it stateside…), this was only accomplished because the Blue Lagoon is located very close to the airport and because they didn’t spend as much time there as they’d have liked; Bill recommended that, when it was my turn, I shouldn’t count the days going to and coming back from another country as anything other than travel days.

Once he subtracted those travel days, he was left with six days to see a country about the size of Ohio, but with some seriously rough terrain that makes it rather difficult – and time-consuming – to explore. Granted, they did a great job seeing as much as they could in those six days, but if Bill was left to his own devices, he probably would’ve seen twice as much as he did.

And, even as mindful as he was about traveling with a young child – who simply doesn’t have the attention span or the stamina of a grown-up who has consumed way more coffee than is good for anyone (no matter how delicious it is!) – about not trying to fit too much into one day, sometimes in his enthusiasm to see as much as he could he feels he sometimes pushed Paisley too far… Like on the day when, wanting to explore just a bit more of (in Bill’s words) “this tiny country that feels so BIG,” they took the Ring Road from Reykjavík to the village (yes, I said village) of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, where they rented a little cabin for the next two nights. It’s a long drive, through a whole lot of wide open space (or, in kid-speak: a whole lot of boring). In an attempt to make the road trip a bit more manageable for the kiddo (read: keep the whining to a minimum), Bill broke up the long drive with several stops along the way: for lunch in the small town of Selfoss;

Because food makes everything - even long drives! - better? Uh... how much further do we have to go?! (Answer: 126 miles... and instead of taking the 2 hours and 23 minutes Google estimates it'll take, it will really take another 6-8 hours).

Because food makes everything – even long drives – better. Right?! Uh… how much further do we have to go? (Answer: 126 miles… and instead of taking the 2 hours and 23 minutes Google estimates it’ll take, it will really take another 6-8 hours).

to explore the seawall in Stokkseyri…

"My papa took me 3700 miles from home just so I could climb around on this stair in Stokkseyri, Iceland! Who cares about the beautiful view of the The Great Þjórsá Lava (the largest lava flow in the country) I could see from the seawall... if I just looked up??" (40 miles outside of Reykjavík, with another 135 miles to go.)

Burning off some pent-up energy on the seawall in Stokkseyri (40 miles outside of Reykjavík, with another 135 miles to go).

and also to check out the quirky elf and troll museum called Icelandic Wonders while there (turns out, quite a few people in Iceland believe in fairies: how much do I love this?!);

Paisley checking out ... um... something very magical and mythical at the Icelandic Wonders Museum; it was all very dark and mysterious...

Paisley checking out … um… something very magical and mythical and pink at the Icelandic Wonders Museum; it was all very dark and mysterious…

AND to hike around Seljalandsfoss (one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls).

Hey look! She's still smiling! About 78 miles from Reykjavík, or (supposedly) only 1 hour and 37 minutes away from the capital city (if you trust Google...), Bill ad Paisley visited Seljalandsfoss, a gorgeous 60m high waterfall which you can even walk behind.

Halfway there, and look! She’s still smiling! About 78 miles from Reykjavík, and(supposedly) only 1 hour and 37 minutes away from the capital city (if you trust Google…) with another 83 miles to go to reach Kirkjubæjarklaustur (1 hour and 32 minutes away… supposedly), Bill and Paisley visited Seljalandsfoss, a gorgeous waterfall, almost 200 feet tall.

You can even walk behind Seljalandsfoss without getting wet (though why am I so sure my husband and daughter tried?)!

You can even walk behind Seljalandsfoss without getting wet (though why am I so sure my husband and daughter tried?)!

But though all those stops were wonderful and fun, they were also really tiring and made the already long drive (because they still had to spend several hours in the car, staring out the windshield at some seriously beautiful…

Right outside Stokkseyri, Route 1 - the Iceland's main road, also called the Ring Road, which connects the most populous towns found along the perimeter of the entire country - suddenly becomes a GRAVEL ROAD. It's very picturesque, though! Bill doesn't think these horses are the "eating kind" - which he did see a sign for, outside Reykjavík.

Right outside Stokkseyri, Route 1 – Iceland’s main two-lane “thoroughfare” also called the Ring Road, which connects the most populated towns along the entire perimeter of the country – suddenly becomes a GRAVEL ROAD. It’s very picturesque, though! Bill doesn’t think these horses are the “eating kind” – which he did see a sign for, outside Reykjavík.

…but seriously empty empty empty landscape…

Nothing but wide-open spaces... and a phone booth.

Nothing but wide-open spaces… and a phone booth.

…to get to their final destination) just that much longer. With the breaks, it took them ALL DAY to cover 160 miles (which, according to Bill, felt more like 5,000 miles); though Paisley was a real trouper, Bill thinks the drive and trying to pack in as many scenic sights as they could just felt like too much for Paisley.

In spite of the long long long day of driving, Bill and Paisley had the BEST time together exploring Iceland. What parent could ask for anything more??

In spite of the long long long day of driving, Bill and Paisley had the BEST time together exploring Iceland. What parent could ask for anything more??

He sipped more coffee, made yet another reference to how good the coffee was in Iceland (I’m not kidding: he did; he really liked the coffee there and still talks about it…), and, quite seriously (clearly, he’d spent more than a bit of time mulling this over), suggested that when it was my turn to take Paisley to Paris, I should only plan to do one major activity on any given day, and even that should take no more than half a day; and then he looked at me, sussing out whether or not I was mentally fit enough to hear his next comment, and deciding I had to hear it even if I was going to have a nuclear-grade meltdown: “Jill, darling, dear, love of my life… You aren’t going to get more than a morning at the Louvre.” I cried. I begged. I pleaded! But he stood resolute: of course our high-energy daughter could be pushed to see more and do more, but he strongly felt (and still does) that she – and therefore I – would be happier if we took it all a bit more slowly, spending the mornings seeing the sights, and then, perhaps, whiling away the afternoons sailing boats at Luxembourg Gardens or reading books at a sidewalk café.  I sniffed. Scaling back?? Scaling back was going to be tricky. But I saw his point; and then I remembered that they serve wine at sidewalk cafés, and really good wine at that… “But how were we going to see everything we needed to see??,” I whined (I know; I whined! I hate myself). To which he responded by suggesting… that we plan on staying longer than a week.

Um… well… twist my arm?! Okay!!

So I abandoned the idea of looking at hotels and started looking for more economically priced rental apartments to stay in during our visit. To be honest, I would’ve likely stayed in a rental apartment even if we were in Paris for only a weekend, because I like having a separate bedroom where I can put the kid(s) to bed before I’m ready to retire for the night, I like having a washer and dryer so I can pack half of what I’d pack without being able to wash clothes, and because I like having a kitchen where I can make a cup of coffee as soon as I wake up and can make more wholesome (and way more affordable!) dinners than I usually find at the nearest Panera Bread or Macaroni Grill I have to rely on when traveling (though I suspect finding a healthy and delicious restaurant in Paris isn’t as difficult as in some parts of the US!), but I was originally open to staying in a hotel if the price and location were right. Once you plan on staying longer than a week, however, a rental apartment is definitely more financially advantageous, and plus, you get to live more like a local and less like a tourist… like having to find the nearest grocery stores and wine shops… which is really fun. So I started spending less time on Pinterest and Instagram and more time on Airbnb.com and VRBO.com, as well as VRBO’s sister-site, Homeaway.com and several other rental agency sites recommended by reputable travel books (like Rick Steve’s Paris book).

Of all the sites I looked at, Airbnb.com was definitely my favorite: they had the best prices, and we found some really great flats; but the few places that Paisley and I did try to rent were actually people’s homes (as compared to places used exclusively as rentals), which made them so cozy and so ideal for that truly “local” feeling I was after (and I’m the first to admit that I’m super finicky when it comes to places to stay – I’m pretty sure my fantastically-persevering realtor lives in fear of having to take me house-hunting ever again), but because they were actually people’s homes, they were only available when the people who lived there were on their own vacations and, sadly, our vacation times didn’t match up… So… I kept looking…

And eventually a good friend of ours told me that another couple he’s friends with used a local Paris rental company, My Paris Visit, for their trip to France the year before, and they’d had a great experience. When it came to smaller and local companies, I was pretty leery – most of them require a hefty down-deposit and I couldn’t stop imagining showing up on the doorstop to some apartment with my little girl in tow, jet-lagged out of our mind, and discovering that the key didn’t fit and I’d just been conned and now we had no place to stay in a country where I can barely speak the language (yeah, I’m that paranoid) – but as I had it from good authority that this specific company was legit, I checked them out, and was rather taken by one of their flats on Île Saint-Louis in particular (because Paris is laid out rather like a circle, divided roughly in half by the Seine River, the central location of this island in the very middle of Paris just seemed so ideal to me for using as a hub for touring various segments of this culturally-rich city), but as it was at the top of my budget, I kept looking…

And then I stumbled upon Craigslist Paris and – whoa! – I was so so so excited to recognize a handful of places I’d seen on Airbnb and VRBO (but were more than I wanted to spend for this trip to Paris) listed for 1/3 of the price I’d seen on the other sites! Right away, I emailed about an apartment on Île de la Cité (the other island in the middle of the Seine) with a fantastic view of the river and received an answer back saying the place was available! But… huh… that’s funny… the name on the email (a one John Williams) was not the name of the owner as listed on Airbnb… Perhaps John was just a property manager?? But according to the reviews I’d read, the property manager’s name was Claire. Uh-oh… So I did some research and learned that there are lots of “too good to be true” scams on Craigslist Paris that involve thieves pulling photos and descriptions from legit sites like Airbnb. Sigh… So I contacted Nina (the actual owner) to let her know how her apartment was being used (she was so nice, and very outraged), I flagged the ad on Craigslist (though it sounds like Craigslist does little to nothing about this kind of fraudulent behavior, which is too bad because it makes me want nothing to do with them ever again except warn everyone I meet away from their site), and went running back to the more trustworthy sites… and was relieved to find that the two apartments that I kept going back to were still available.

And so I gave the decision to Paisley: would she rather stay at a really cute flat I’d found in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, fairly close to the Jardin du Luxembourg where she could play with other kids at the park every day, or would she rather stay in the (yes, more expensive, but I was now willing to spend more money for the security of knowing I wasn’t going to get conned) place on Île Saint-Louis, where she’d be within walking distance of the Cathédrale Notre Dame, which she was quite keen on visiting ever since we’d finished reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which we both really enjoyed even though I cried, okay bawled, at the end – and wow, that Victor Hugo fellow is a dark grim soul, just saying – and even though I had to highly-edit and gloss-over certain age-inappropriate bits while reading the near-rape scenes of the innocent Esmerelda by both the despicable Phoebus and the villainous Archdeacon Claude Frollo; for the record: the Disney movie version is SO NOT ANYTHING LIKE THE BOOK, and neither Paisley or I liked it… I mean, HOW can they possibly make Phoebus a HERO?! But I digress…)? To my surprise, she chose the apartment closest to Notre Dame over the place close to the park, and so now all I had to do (other than stop squealing in delight every time I thought about Paris!) was decide on the exact dates…

Based on Bill’s advice to stay longer than the 8 days he’d taken for Iceland, I originally planned to stay for 10 days, including 2 travel days… but as I kept researching apartments and looking at the calendar, it gradually morphed into 12 days… and then finally into 14 days – 14 days!! – once I figured out that many of the rentals offer a weekly discount… so staying for two weeks was simply a better deal, right?! Right?! (“Truly, I love how my mind works!!” she says while rubbing her hands together and laughing maniacally!) And then it became about which two weeks would be better – and that was pretty easy, as (I’m not kidding) I built our trip around the ballet schedule of the Opéra National de Paris (founded in 1669 by the Sun King, Louis XIV, it is one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world and performs at the opulent Palais Garnier under a magnificent ceiling painted by Marc Chagall; if you can’t tell, I kinda like ballet…), which would be performing La Sylphide (which originally premiered at the Paris Opera back in 1832 –!! – and which marks the very beginning of the romantic ballet – !!) from June 22 to July 15. For no real reason other than knowing I couldn’t catch the first show, as my son’s birthday is June 23 (and I wasn’t going to miss that!) and thinking it’d be fun to celebrate Bastille Day on July 14, I chose the first two weeks of July. And booked the lovely apartment on Île Saint-Louis. Just like that! Voilà!

And so now the time has come… in five days (FIVE DAYS!!) my 10yo and I are off for two weeks (TWO WEEKS!!) in Paris. While there, I will do my very best to heed my husband’s advice and “scale back” on all the activities and sights on the Must-See-and-Do-While-in-the-City-of-Lights-List my daughter and I have managed to compile over the last few months of reading every book on Paris we could get our hands on. And by “staying longer” I think we’ll even manage to See-and-Do most of the big items on our list (naturally we want to see the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, but Paisley can’t wait to visit Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, the largest flea market in the world, I can’t wait to walk in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles… and of course, we must climb the tower of Notre Dame!), and even enjoy some lazy afternoons people-watching at the park and idly sipping lemonade at the sidewalk cafés…

Honestly, I’m so excited about this “scale back, stay longer” lesson about traveling with kids that Bill (very generously on his part, I might add) discovered, that I suspect I’m going to want to “stay much longer” than two weeks… Like, I’m genuinely worried I’m going to Skype my husband after Paisley and I’ve spent one particularly wonderful morning puttering through some museum and after we’ve enjoyed every delicious bite of one or two or a dozen particularly delicious freshly-made croissants from the local patisserie and tell him to pack up the boys and put the house up for sale… because even two weeks just isn’t going to be enough time… and we’re not coming home.

Which would definitely fulfill the “staying longer” portion of this approach… Right?

Though I’m thinking he might call moving to Paris anything BUT “scaling back.” I’m not sure he’ll buy it… Well, I always suspected that part would be rather tricky!

Maybe if I just tell him the coffee in Paris is really really really good…

***

This blog post is the fourth in a series:
Planning For Paris, Lessons From Paris (Part 1)
Lesson One: Context is Criticial Everything (Part 2)
Lesson Two: Wherever You Go, There They Are (Part 3)

And still to come (if I can find some time in-between packing my bags long enough to write):
Lesson Four: Make Time for Playtime

Planning for Paris: Lessons From Iceland (Part 3)

Enjoying the fresh air and the views from the seawall in the coastal town of Stokkseyri, Iceland - about 40 miles outside of Reykjavík and home to approximately 450 hardy souls - which sits upon The Great Þjórsá Lava, the largest lava flow in the country.

Enjoying the fresh air and the views from the seawall in the coastal town of Stokkseyri, Iceland – about 40 miles outside of Reykjavík and home to approximately 450 hardy souls – which sits upon The Great Þjórsá Lava, the largest lava flow in the country.

Traveling with Kids, Lesson Two: Wherever You Go, There They Are

As parents of three kids, my husband and I sometimes fall into the bad habit of thinking that taking care of just one of our kids (especially the oldest who we often forget is still a young child, even if she is two feet taller than her youngest brother), is A LOT easier than having to juggle all three at the same time. And, more often than not, this misconception is held up by experience and rings true, like at bedtime: trying to convince the 10yo to brush her teeth is waaaaay easier when not also being screamed at to get soap out of the eyes of the 6yo in the bathtub while at the same time trying to wrangle the 2yo into a pair of clean pajamas (and not the yogurt-banana-cereal-smeared dirty pair he plucked out of the laundry basket and is insisting on wearing) while he gleefully taunts his sibling with the soap in his eyes by dangling a toy that said wet (and now screaming) big brother told the still-naked (and now giggling uncontrollably) little brother he couldn’t play with or even touch, but was, for some inexplicable reason, left in the middle of the youngest child’s bedroom floor (and yeah, I only wish I was exaggerating).

And so it was, with this misconception firmly established, that Bill packed up our eldest child (who, theoretically at least, seemed the most independent, self-sufficient, responsible and open to the inherent differences that come with travel: different schedules and bedtimes, different social rules and expectations, different foods and flavors) and flew off to Iceland to learn yet another valuable lesson in traveling with kids: turns out… wherever you go, there they are.

Or rather, wherever your child goes, there your child is…

Meaning: you can take your child outside of the good ol’ U S of A, to explore and inhabit different cultures from her own in attempts to expand her young and therefore limited horizons, but – if your child is anything like mine – she’s still going to fight going to sleep just like she does at home, no matter how tired she is;

After absolutely refusing to sleep on the red-eye flight from Seattle to Reykjavík, the then-9yo finally CRASHED OUT in the rental car... for all of 20 minutes. All I can say? It must be nice to be young.

After adamantly refusing to sleep on the red-eye flight from Seattle to Reykjavík, the then-9yo finally CRASHED OUT in the rental car… for all of 30 minutes. All I can say? It must be nice to be young.

she’s still going to think the world is her playground and try to climb on stuff she shouldn’t;

Checking out - in close up fashion - the amazing Sólfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture by  Jón Gunnar Árnason located on the sea in downtown Reykjavík.

“What do you mean it’s not a jungle gym?!” Checking out – in close-up fashion – the amazing and very picturesque Sólfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason located on the sea in downtown Reykjavík. Please notice the proximity of the two other visitors in the background and the total lack of ropes cordoning off said sculpture from inquisitive youngsters: I’m REALLY hoping that exploring art, in a very hands-on way, is encouraged here!

and she’s still only going to want to eat PIZZA and nothing else. And I mean ABSOLUTELY nothing else.

Pizza and (Donald Duck) comics... living the American dream in Iceland. (Note: the deli-supplied stack of comic books were in Icelandic, but this didn't bother Paisley in the least).

Pizza and Donald Duck comics… living the American dream in Iceland! (Note: The Deli supplied the stack of comic books my daughter is devouring rather than her eating her pizza. The comics were in Icelandic; the fact that Paisley can’t READ Icelandic didn’t faze her AT ALL. She even bought an Icelandic Donald Duck comic book to bring home with her. It’s currently to be found upstairs, next to her bed, and is still regularly perused… and enjoyed).

Okay, maybe she’ll eat a pastry or a cream cheese bagel here and there (minus the cream cheese – nope, not kidding),

One of Bill's (but apparently not Paisley's) favorite stops: the Mosfellsbakarí, where they stopped to eat on the way up to Álafoss, the woolen goods outlet store found in Mosfellsbær (where they also really enjoyed the Lagafellslaug swimming pool - with some really crazy cool slides.

One of Bill’s (but apparently not Paisley’s!) favorite stops: Mosfellsbakarí, where they stopped to eat on the way up to Álafoss, the woolen goods outlet store found in Mosfellsbær (where they also really enjoyed the Lagafellslaug swimming pool, with some crazy cool slides). For the record: that is totally NOT her sandwich… nor her cup of coffee.

but not the thick, delicious Icelandic yogurt-like soft cheese called skyr you (read: Bill) thought she’d love.

This isn't even skyr - it's ICE CREAM (Bragðarefur to be exact) - and she STILL wasn't interested. But hey! At least she tried it! And then, of course, went right back to playing Crazy 8s...

This isn’t even skyr – it’s Icelandic ICE CREAM (Emmessis Bragðarefur to be exact) – and she STILL wasn’t interested (look at that FACE!!). But hey… at least she tried it, right?!

Clearly not the fish and chips she excitedly proclaimed to you (read: Bill) that she’d eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day while she was in Iceland.

Fish and chips... pretty sure the expression says it all.

Bill was hoping to eat at the well-reviewed Icelandic Fish & Chips in Reykjavík, but, very disappointingly, it was closed when they tried. The best fish and chips they managed to find on their trip was at a gas station near their cabin in Kirkjubæjarklaustur… Pretty sure Paisley’s expression says it all.

Definitely not the hot dogs, lamb stew, reindeer steak, or smoked puffin served in many restaurants in Reykjavík.

Bill finally found some Icelandic food - lobster chowder - but Paisley opted this time for a grilled cheese sandwich... which she obviously liked so much she had to chase it down with juice consumed with THREE STRAWS.

Bill finally said “NO” to any more pizza and found some authentic Icelandic food – lobster chowder. Paisley, of course, opted for a grilled cheese sandwich… which she clearly liked so much she chased it down with juice (using three straws… because three straws, obviously, makes everything better).

And absolutely NOT the  poisonous local shark called hákarl (this local delicacy apparently smells and tastes like ammonia, and can only be eaten after it’s been buried and left underground for several weeks, then cut into strips and dried for several months – apparently Gordon Ramsay, the “I’ll eat anything” adventure foodie, actually threw up – threw up!! – after eating hákarl, it’s that, uh, shall we say… potent?) which the (okay, maybe only some) Icelandic people enjoy. And truth be told, I can’t really fault her for this last one, but what’s up with not eating the yogurt?! Or at least the chips part of the fish and chips?! They’re FRENCH FRIES for crying out loud!! Who doesn’t love French fries?!

"Lamb? No. Reindeer? No. Puffin?! NO! Shark? No. Fish and Chips? Where's the pizza?! Guess I'll just fill up on this glass of water here... That's all I need."

“Lamb? No. Reindeer? No. Puffin?! NO! Shark? No. Fish and Chips? No. Huh. Where’s the pizza?! Guess I’ll just fill up on this glass of water here… Really, that’s all my growing body needs. And I definitely won’t have a sugar-crash induced tantrum in T minus 2 hours…”

All of which leaves me more than a little nervous about our impending trip to Paris (in only 4 ½ weeks!!). Specifically… I worry that Paisley won’t find any cheese, stinky or otherwise, to her liking at the fromagerie nearest our rental apartment (which I’ve even shown her, in hopes that familiarity breeds not contempt but comfort, by doing a virtual walk-by on Google Maps, which, can I just say?, is honestly the coolest resource available when planning a trip: just type in the address or place you want to “see” – like the Louvre, Paris, France – zoom in on the location, then click on the little yellow person icon and drag it to the spot you want to check out; it’ll pull up Google’s photos of that street, and you can use the arrows to “walk” by the store or café or even through the entire neighborhood!). I worry that not one of the very few (turns out this foodie capital of the world caters mostly to the carnivores and omnivores amongst us) vegetarian-friendly restaurants (yes, I’m vegetarian, so for the most part the foie gras, paté and langoustine ravioli is out, to the 10yo’s great relief) – of which I’ve spent several hours researching various delightful and helpful Paris-specific blogs (I find myself pulling up Lost In Cheeseland more than any other blog, but HiP Paris is another solid site, and I also really like Paris in Four Months) and several Paris guide books (if you only buy one guide book, make sure it’s Rick Steves’ Paris – I actually had an anxiety dream the other night that I’d forgotten to pack this book and was almost willing to miss my flight in order to go back home and get it!) and several more hours bookmarking the most promising finds on my Yelp Paris account (which has a helpful GPS-enabled map that can quickly lead me to any nearby restaurant of my choosing, if I decide to pony up for the international data plan for my iPhone) and on my TripAdvisor Paris City Guide app (which has a map feature that can be used offline and therefore can be accessed without racking up data roaming charges, but which doesn’t have as thorough of a list as Yelp Paris) so that when we’re walking around the quaint streets of Paris after a morning spent in this greatest museum in the world or that fantastically picturesque park and suddenly find ourselves ravenous without a boulangerie or pâtisserie in sight, I can instantly pinpoint the nearest well-reviewed coffee shop or place to eat and, voilà!, we have food in our bellies and enough energy for another round of sightseeing – will possibly tempt Paisley into eating something other than the bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios (or the nearest French equivalent, which I will make my number one priority to obtain as soon as we arrive on foreign soil, at the closest supermarché to our rental, which I’ve also already located via the very fantastic Google Maps) she had for breakfast. I worry that Paisley won’t like the crêperies that abound on the streets of Paris (yes, the French have crêpe stands like we Americans have hot dog stands, and how insanely brilliant is that?!), and will be the only child in the history of civilization to turn down a Nutella and banana crêpe for lunch. I even worry that Paisley won’t eat the long, thin baguettes that (like the Icelandic fish and chips of last summer) she’s proclaimed she can’t wait to eat for every single meal every single day, but will, instead, use them as Jedi swords against her unsuspecting mother (though, rest assured, I will fight back, in spite of my desire to avoid, at all costs, being considered an uncivilized American with bad manners and ugly shoes; however, I will most definitely smear my baguette-sword with rich and creamy French-made butter afterwards and devour it with utter delight).

But here’s the thing… really, what are we expecting? It’s not like Paisley’s an adventurous eater here at home. I’m not sure she eats anything that isn’t white or beige, other than pizza sauce (and only then, if it’s smothered in white cheese) and the occasional slice of bacon (she likes saying she’s a vegetarian except she eats bacon – again, nope, not kidding). Just because we WANT her to try new and different things (like local cuisines) while we’re out exploring the world doesn’t mean she’s going to (and I’m the first to admit, as a vegetarian with a purposefully-restricted diet, it’s not like I set the best of examples). And even if she DOES try something new, she might not like it (like the Icelandic skyr). The point is, she’s still a child, she’s still who she is, she’s still my sleep-fighting, sculpture-climbing, picky-eating daughter, and we need to not expect that she’s going to change overnight just because she woke up in a different country. And that’s really okay. Because the fact is, she’s still IN a different country. She’s still SURROUNDED by people speaking a foreign language. She’s still OUTSIDE of her comfort zone, and learning to navigate in a world that is, each trip she takes, way larger than the 10-block radius that makes up her everyday life.

So… if a couple slices of pizza make her feel more comfortable in this new, great-big world?

Then pizza it will be.

(And you know what? Though it’s not Venice or Chicago or NYC, I’m pretty sure that finding a slice or two of good pizza in Paris will still be easier than putting all three of my ornery, dramatic, loud, and possibly tired, cranky and wet, but also adorably cute, little urchins to bed at night!)

***

This blog post is the third in a series:
Planning For Paris, Lessons From Paris (Part 1)
Lesson One: Context is Criticial Everything (Part 2)

And still to come (if I could ever stop researching vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Paris long enough to write):
Lesson Three: Scale Back, Stay Longer
Lesson Four: Make Time for Playtime

Planning for Paris: Lessons From Iceland (Part 2)

Paisley the Viking at the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavík . Pretty sure the Louvre in Paris doesn't let kids dress up in their exhibits... More's the pity.

The then-9yo, aka Paisley the Viking, having fun (fun, I tell you!) at the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavík. I wonder: do you think the Louvre in Paris will let her play dress-up with their exhibits??

Lesson One: Context is Critical Everything

One of the more important lessons Bill learned about traveling with kids (or at least traveling with our kids, or maybe just traveling with our ONE kid, but it seems like a good lesson for any young person with an attention span that can barely last through an episode of Phineas and Ferb without taking a break to beg for more goldfish crackers, visit the bathroom, or whack a sibling upside the head just to see the reaction): give them as much knowledge, background information and context about what they’re going to see or do BEFORE they actually see or do it – and not DURING and not AFTER.

How did Bill learn such a valuable lesson, you ask? Well, a little backstory first:

As a family, we we have decided that these global escapades of ours, though meant to be fun, are also very much meant to be educational – as compared to, say, our past trips to Hawaii, which were solely dedicated to frivolity and absorbing as much Vitamin D as possible, a vitamin, it turns out, that is quite important for pasty-fleshed Seattleites (okay, I’m only speaking for myself, but seriously, the pasty-tones get BAD come early spring) who can only go so long without sun before turning translucent (like those icky looking fish who dwell in cave lakes – honestly, it’s not a good look for me or anyone), and I therefore whole-heartedly appreciate every trip to a sunny paradise I’ve ever taken (truly!). However, these international trips with the kids are not about devouring as many beach reads as we can stuff in the suitcase and sipping fruity drinks with paper umbrellas in them poolside (though maybe I can work this in during a future trip to say, oh I don’t know, Bali? There has to be some GREAT educational stuff going on in Bali!!). Of course, just being immersed in a new culture is mind-opening and enlightening, but in attempts to ensure the whippersnappers learn something a tad more concrete about the country they are visiting than “Hey! Like, wow! They speak a foreign language in this foreign country!” we decided to ask the kiddos (in this case, just Paisley, since she was the only young‘un going this round) to write a report about something – the culture, the history, the social expectations, etc. – they’d be seeing and encountering while visiting the destination country.

So about two weeks before Bill and Paisley left for Iceland, I asked Bill when he was going to have Paisley do her report on Iceland; wasn’t he running out of time? And he was all, “Huh! I thought we were doing these reports after they got back from the trip…” And I was all, “Huh! I guess that makes sense… Write up what they just learned…” Turns out, I was thinking the report would serve as a way of providing information (you know… that whole context thing?) about what they’d see while they were there, and Bill was thinking the report would serve as a way of synthesizing and summarizing what they learned while they were there, after the fact. (Which really does make sense, but you see where this is going, right?)

Okay, so I agreed that Bill’s plan to wait until after the trip to have Paisley write her report on Iceland had merit, and two weeks later they abandoned me and the boys, and headed off into the great unknown…

Being very conscious of traveling with a young child, and considerate of her feelings and that whole relatively short attention span thing (recall the whole Phineas and Ferb episode above: I wasn’t making that up…), before they left he worked hard (like the good Papa he is) to create an agenda that would be educational, but enjoyable, too. For instance, he planned that they’d spend the first two days in Reykjavík touring the must-see sites like Hallgrímskirkja (a tower-like Lutheran church that is probably the most distinct landmark in the city),

Jet lag? Or just in awe of the grandeur that is Hallgrímskirkja (or Hallgríms Church) in Reykjavík, Iceland?

Jet lag? Or just in awe of the grandeur that is Hallgrímskirkja (or Hallgríms Church) in Reykjavík, Iceland?

Solfar (the Sun Voyager sculpture that sits majestically in the center of Reykjavík, on the waterfront),

Please notice that I'm posting the picture of Solfar with awesome views of Videy Island, Old Harbour, and Snæfellsnes Peninsula (upon which is found Snæfellsjökull, the setting of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth), rather than the photo of my daughter, in typical American fashion, climbing on stuff that they generally shouldn't!

Please notice that I’m posting the picture of Solfar with awesome views of Videy Island, Old Harbour, and Snæfellsnes Peninsula (upon which is found Snæfellsjökull, the setting of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth), rather than the photo of my daughter climbing on it, and – in typical American fashion – generally acting like the world is her playground…

and Tjörnin (called “The Pond,” this lake in the center of the city fronts Reykjavík City Hall),

Visiting the swans and ducks at Tjörnin, enjoying the sunshine, and trying to stay warm (it's August, by the way!), by drinking some hot cocoa...

Visiting the swans and ducks at Tjörnin, enjoying the sunshine, and trying to stay warm (it’s August, by the way!), by drinking some hot cocoa…

but he also planned on them spending several (very happy) hours a day (both morning and evening!) in the more kid-friendly pursuit of swimming and splashing about in several local geothermal pools (Laugardalslaug, the city’s largest hot pot and host to an 86 meter long water slide – 86 meters long!! – was their favorite).

Though Bill and Paisley visited several local hot pots, or geothermally heated swimming pools, they're still talking about Laugardalslaug. Sadly, we have no pictures of the epic slide inside because, as it turns out, it's rather difficult to swim with an iPhone...

Though Bill and Paisley visited several local hot pots, or geothermally heated swimming pools, they’re still talking about Laugardalslaug. Sadly, we have no pictures of the epic slide inside because, as it turns out, you can’t really take your iPhone swimming… Apple really needs to get on that…

And instead of spending all day driving the 190 mile loop that comprises the three different sites of the famous and touristy Golden Circle (Bill didn’t think our 9yo would much appreciate spending that much time in the car), he planned for their third day to visit only one of the sites, Þingvellir (where the continents of North America and Europe actually meet, the first national park in Iceland, and the original location for the founding of the country’s parliament way way way back in 930 AD),

Bill and Paisley - with Paisley's new "friend" and souvenir from her trip, a stuffed puffin (turns out, Iceland is home to one of the largest colonies of puffins in the world, and this makes my daughter very happy, as our kids are rather bird crazy) - enjoying the beautiful views at Þingvellir.

Bill and Paisley – with Paisley’s new “friend” and souvenir from her trip, a stuffed puffin (turns out, Iceland is home to one of the largest colonies of puffins in the world, and this makes my daughter very happy, as our kids are rather bird crazy) – enjoying the beautiful views at Þingvellir.

where they could spend a few quality hours (rather than just the quick, cursory visit most tourists make when trying to see all three sites in one day) exploring the church and the remains of the Assembly (talk about an educational experience!),

This picturesque cluster of buildings located in Þingvellir - also called Thingvellir - National Park is the Þingvallakirkja on the far left, a church built in the 1850s on the site of the original church built there to commemorate the adoption of Christianity in 1000 AD, and the five-gable Thingvallabær farmhouse on the right, now the summer home of Iceland's prime minister (currently Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who is, by the way, the first female prime minister of Iceland AND the first openly lesbian head of state in the world - GO ICELAND!!)

This picturesque cluster of buildings located in Þingvellir – or Thingvellir – National Park is the Þingvallakirkja on the far left, a church built in 1859 on the site of the original church built there to commemorate the adoption of Christianity in 1000 AD, and the five-gable Thingvallabær farmhouse on the right, now the summer home of the country’s sitting prime minister (currently Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who is, by the way, the first female prime minister of Iceland AND the first openly lesbian head of state in the world – GO ICELAND!!)

hiking around,

As seen from the national cemetery  (the final resting place for such country notables as poets Jónas Hallgrímsson and Einar Benediktsson), the Icelandic flag flies over the löberg, or the "law rock" - the long, low-lying rock wall under the cliff face and above the Öxará River and lava field  - where Iceland's parliament, called the Althing, met for six weeks every June and July since it's creation until 1874, when it moved to Reykjavík.

As seen from the national cemetery (the final resting place for such country notables as poets Jónas Hallgrímsson and Einar Benediktsson), the Icelandic flag flies over the löberg, or the “law rock” – the long, low-lying rock wall under the cliff face and above the Öxará River – where Iceland’s parliament, called the Althing, met for six weeks every June and July since it’s creation in 930 until it moved in 1874 to it’s new home in Reykjavík.

and just playing outside at a more leisurely pace – after, of course, spending the morning at a hot pot!

All was going well, everything was going according to plan, and Bill was looking forward to what Paisley would choose to write about in her report, when… on DAY TWO:

Bill, being a history buff as well as a diligent visitor who genuinely wished to know more about the foreign country he was in, naturally took our daughter to the National Museum of Iceland. The museum has an impressive exhibit, with about 2,000 objects and 1,000 photographs dedicated to telling the story of Iceland from the Settlement in the 9th Century to modern day. Bill planned on a lovely morning spent taking it all in… Maybe a couple of hours, say, followed by some lunch and a cup of hot coffee for himself (did I mention that he said the coffee in Iceland was out-of-this-world good?) and some hot cocoa for the kiddo…

Yeah… it took our daughter exactly ten minutes to go through the ENTIRE exhibit, covering approximately 1,100 years of history.

TEN MINUTES.

She even wore the little headphones and followed the special audio guide for children. To give her CONTEXT about what she was learning about… To give her a general awareness of what she was seeing and why it was important…

TEN.

MINUTES.

At which point, Bill started worrying about my upcoming trip to Paris…

He knew for me, who loves art, who studied art history in college, who can’t WAIT to meander, browse, slowly absorb and just BREATHE IN the art and history and culture of all of Paris… Well, yeah, ten minutes wasn’t exactly going to cut it.

He emailed me that night, and reiterated his point when he got back home, saying that, um, yeah, he thought maybe the kids should go ahead and do those reports BEFORE we left for foreign lands… I believe his exact words were: “Make sure she has LOTS of context when you go to Paris; otherwise you will go NUTS!! I really think she was bored today.” And then he recommended I have Paisley read everything she could about everything that was Paris before we left.

Great. So, I had a little less than a year to introduce her to all of art history?!

Yes, yes, I know I’m rather melodramatic (you’re not really surprised, are you?!), but, as you might be aware, the Louvre is just a WEE bit larger than Iceland’s National Museum, and it’ll take more than ten minutes just to GET to the Mona Lisa, let alone spend any time with her small bad self… At least seeing Leonardo’s masterpiece – if you recall – is one of the primary reasons Paisley chose Paris for her second international trip (left to my own devices, I probably would’ve picked somewhere they serve those fruity drinks with paper umbrellas with a healthy dose of Vitamin D on the side, waiting to visit Paris when Paisley had several years of world history under her teen-aged and undoubtedly hipster-styled belt), so I can at least feel confident that she’ll want to GO to the Louvre… But will she want to STAY there long enough to see and learn about (this isn’t supposed to be torture – I want it to be fun! – but it is supposed to be educational…) some of the most significant and iconic art pieces in the world?? (Like, did you know that the Louvre houses not only some of the most impressive works of the Renaissance, but is also home to the Law Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian stele dating from 1772 BC, one of the earliest known law codes in human history, and the origin of that whole “an eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth” concept?? Yeah, kind of a big dealio…)

And then, of course, there’s still the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musée de l’Orangerie… For crying out loud, do you have ANY idea how many of the world’s GREATEST museums there are in PARIS?!?! Well, let’s just say… there are a few

And she might get BORED?! Well! I don’t think so…

So as soon as Paisley returned from Iceland I took Bill’s advice and I brought home approximately 20,000 books from the library (okay, okay, more like 20 books) for her to start reading… and I must confess, my indoctrination plans (pardonnez moi, my plans to gently and supportively create CONTEXT!) for my 10yo are, so far, going quite well… In all seriousness (don’t snort; that’s rude… I can be serious if I really really try!), we have found many delightful books which I think, or at least hope, will help her (or, to tell the truth, help both of us, as I’m learning stuff I never knew about the City of Lights as well…) more thoroughly enjoy our upcoming trip (and avoid that dreadful boredom that comes with being forced to look at art or, are you kidding me?!, another church, that just looks old-fashioned and has no relevance to her modern-day life): books about kids going to Paris (for instance, we both chortled and snickered while reading Eloise in Paris, in which Paisley learned several invaluable French phrases, her absolute favorite being “tout de suite” – meaning “immediately” or “right away” – which she uses quite often here at home, now, with much Eloise-style flair, as in: “Mama, please do have Papa come upstairs and say good-night to me… and make sure you tell him tout de suite!”); books about kids living in Paris (outstanding reads in this category include the impressive and captivating The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a novel worth owning whether you plan on visiting Paris or not… the very enjoyable Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles, though I seriously doubt even this cute book will be enough to encourage Paisley to try either foie gras or paté… and the adorable Adèle & Simon, about a sister who walks her brother – who loses a mitten, a scarf, a crayon and other precious childhood items while visiting the dinosaurs at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, watching a puppet show at the Jardin du Luxembourg, eating sweets at a patisserie and visiting several other essential Paris destinations we’ll be visiting ourselves – home from school… Paisley and I liked the story so much we plotted out Adèle and Simon’s address on the Cour de Rohan on our map of Paris and plan on walking by!); books kids in Paris themselves read and love (the standout in this category is, hands down, the English translations of the wildly popular Astérix comic books, about a village of wily Gauls who fight off Roman occupation, which have also been made into several films starring none other than Gérard Depardieu – though Paisley hasn’t seen the movies yet, she did get an Astérix t-shirt for Christmas, which she plans on proudly sporting on the streets of Paris… unless, because it’s quite a favorite of hers, she wears it out from overuse before we ever leave!); and books about kids meeting artists whose paintings and sculptures are on display in the various museums (MUSEUMS!!) of Paris (there are literally hundreds of kids’ books about famous artists like Degas, Rousseau, Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Picasso – some of the better ones are the handful of books by Laurence Anholt, and the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series by Mike Venezia, the Da Vinci one being a beloved gift to Paisley from her grandmother who visited Paris a few years back and is most likely the reason Paisley knew enough about the Mona Lisa to declare she’d be going to Paris to see said painting for her second big trip abroad). And when we were done with those first 20,000 books, I went and got 20,000 more books… and 20,000 more after that… I will confess: for the most part, I’ve deliberately chosen picture books for her to read – books well below her reading level, I suppose, but books that are fun to read and full of stories about kids just like her and, I think most importantly, books full of colorful pages exhibiting the very paintings and sculptures and cathedrals she’ll get to see (and dare I hope… want to see?) in Paris – art work and buildings that she’ll be able to recognize when we visit all those (hopefully now interesting and not boring) museums and tourist attractions in Paris.

The latest pile o' books from the library...

The latest pile o’ books from the library…

Of course, this “lesson” is currently more of a “theory” at this point… and I have no idea if all this reading will pay off; after all, the museums we visit are still MUSEUMS, and she’s still only ten years old with the attention span of any 10yo: roughly somewhere between ten minutes and the length of that ridiculous episode of Phineas and Ferb (and that’s approximately 22 minutes, for those of you whose children don’t demand a little cartoon action in their day)…  Nor am I sure that having her write a report for me before we go will help, either (though I’m thinking of having her write something about Versailles, as it’s going to be infinitely BORING for her there if she doesn’t understand who the Sun King was and why he was so important, or who Marie Antoinette was and why she got her head cut off for simply offering to feed everybody cake – because, let’s admit it, without a modicum of historical context, any modern-day 10yo in her right mind would throw a parade for someone, anyone!, who offered them CAKE; I mean, it’s CAKE!). But, for me, I think it’s worth trying to follow Bill’s advice to provide as much knowledge, background information and context as I can, in attempts to hold off the boredom as long as possible for that 10-22 minute stretch of time, so that our visit to the Louvre or any given museum in Paris will be educational, but will also be just that much more interesting

And don’t worry! Even with having learned all this “context” BEFORE we go, I know I’m not going to get more than an hour at any given tourist attraction. So what to do with the rest of the 23 hours of the day (well, minus at least eight hours of beauty sleep – we ARE in Paris, after all, and must look our best!)? Well, we might not be able to go splash around in any geothermally heated hot pots (sadly, I don’t think the Seine is very warm, or even very clean, and I’m pretty sure we’d be arrested if we tried taking a swim… and being arrested in a foreign country isn’t exactly the kind of educational experience I was hoping for), but there’s gotta be some serious giggles to be had in counting how many couples we see kissing as we walk along the Seine on our way to the nearest metro station, and some great times to be had while trying desperately not to accidentally order frog legs or snails at the fantastic sidewalk café we just stumbled upon, and, if all else fails, some deliciously smile-inducing moments to be had while devouring all the macaroons and pain au chocolat we can lay our greedy little hands on, right?? Because we WILL have fun… after all, c’mon! As Eloise just might say, c’est impossible – and that means rawther impossible – to NOT have fun when one is on vacation in PARIS.

And if things go really well, and we’re not in a total sugar-induced coma from all those macaroons? I’ll have Paisley send you a postcard telling you all about everything she learned at the museum that day…

***

This blog post is the second in a series. If you missed it, feel free to read the Introduction: Planning For Paris, Lessons From Paris (Part 1)

And still to come (if I could ever stop pinning Paris pictures on Pinterest long enough to write):
Lesson Two: Wherever You Go, There They Are
Lesson Three: Scale Back, Stay Longer
Lesson Four: Make Time for Playtime

Planning For Paris: Lessons From Iceland (Part 1)

Herein, find several tips for traveling internationally with kids - kids who may or may not like extra long flights or eating anything other than pizza once they arrive in those horizon-expanding destinations...

My daughter, at the airport, on her way to Iceland. She didn’t sleep a wink on the 7 1/2 hour red-eye flight… Because sleep is totally overrated for pint-sized international travelers… Right?!

Holy WOW. I did it. Last week I booked two round-trip tickets for Paris! In slightly less than three months my 10yo daughter and I are leaving for Paris. Yes, PARIS. Paris, FRANCE.

!!!!!

(Ooh, sorry… that high-pitched sound you just heard through your computer screen? That was me squealing. With glee. GLEE I tell you!! Wheeeee!!!!!)

Seriously, I am almost vibrating with excitement. I honestly can’t get my brain to concentrate on anything else (I mean, c’mon! Do you really expect me to remember to pick up my kids from school, on time, or, and it gives me a headache just thinking about, do my taxes when there are photos of Paris to pin on Pinterest or style blogs to read about what is – and perhaps more importantly, what is not – acceptable to wear in Paris??). So far I have checked off the three biggest items on my planning to-do list: I found an AMAZING apartment for us to rent for our visit, and have even paid the down deposit; I woke up in the middle of the night the week before last to go online and nab (just barely, too!) our fancy-schmancy tickets to the Paris Opera Ballet, which, as a huge ballet fan, I actually built our entire trip around attending; and now I have two non-stop tickets (non-stop!! I’m sooooo in love with non-stop flights…), with confirmed seats and everything. The only thing left to do, now, is plot out the smaller, day-to-day details, like exactly what Paisley and I will be doing while we’re there… Maybe we’ll spend a delightful afternoon at, gasp!, the Louis Vuitton flagship store on the Champs-Elysees! And maybe we’ll take three whole days to explore the Louvre!! And maybe we’ll dine at Le Jules Verne, the legendary restaurant at the Eiffel Tower!!!

I’m sorry, but did you just SNORT with laughter?! You did!! Well. That’s not very nice of you… Honestly, can’t you just let me have my dreams for FIVE MINUTES?! I mean… I know. I do! I KNOW: I’m traveling to Paris, one of the most important and significant cities in the world, a veritable treasure trove of history and culture, the capital of Romance with a capital R, THE City of Lights… with my TEN YEAR OLD.

Not exactly a second honeymoon (or even a first honeymoon, for that matter, since Bill and I decided to move across the country from Seattle to North Carolina instead of booking a romantic getaway to Paris, or anywhere else for that matter; ahhh… someday)… I know, I know

Which leads me back to my husband’s trip with Paisley, to Iceland this last summer: the inaugural expedition in our family’s plan to travel with our three children around the world, once each of them becomes old enough to a) travel long distances comfortably (and without making me or Bill – or everyone else on the plane – want to commit ritual suicide; honestly, I don’t care how many times I hear or read about people who travel around the world with their youngest munchkins and have the absolute greatest time – bully for them, I say – I personally think traveling 12+ hours on a plane with a 2yo toddler sounds like a circle of Hell straight out of Dante’s Inferno) and b) to actually remember all, or most of all, the horizon-expanding adventures we wish them to experience (and just spent a whole lotta cash on procuring). Being the first international trip for both of them (Canada doesn’t count – sorry, Canada), we knew there would be quite the learning curve with this trip; and indeed, Bill was a wonderful guinea pig (or should I say canary in a coal mine?!), bringing back a wealth of fabulous lessons learned from his one week stay in Iceland – and which I have taken to heart while planning my upcoming trip to Paris.

As I don’t want to make you feel like I’m forcing you through one of those slide-shows old Aunt Edna and Uncle Chester made you endure when you were in middle school and would rather be doing ollies on your skateboard or cruising the mall for the perfect pair of neon-colored hoop earrings to match your very trendy neon-colored jelly shoes rather than hearing about what kind of birds nest on the top of Teddy Roosevelt’s moustache on Mount Rushmore, I’ve broken this blog post up into several parts, or “lessons” if you will, which you can read at your leisure… say, in between Instagramming – is that even a word?! I’m making it one if it isn’t already; feel free to alert the OED – pictures of your adorable kids doing ollies (because, let’s admit it, when you do ollies anymore your knees kill and you can’t walk up the stairs for a week… unless you’re Tony Hawk, in which case your ollies, and knees, are just as fine and Instagrammable – another new word! – as your adorable kids’ ollies and knees…), or internet shopping for the perfect neon-colored clutch to match your very trendy neon-colored strappy platform sandals (so very retro, and absolutely necessary for the spring cocktail party to which you’ve just been invited!). Granted, these are lessons for my family, and we’re a bit crazier than most, so some – or possibly all! In which case I humbly apologize for taking up your time which could have been better spent reading about Taylor Swift’s latest conquest and/or breakup – of these “lessons” might not apply to you and your precious little angels… But, in the belief that a few of you have angels who sometimes occasionally act like MONSTERS normal old kids, over the next few days, or possibly weeks – I do actually have to pick up the kids, on time, from school (they’re so demanding!), and my taxes, as much as I’ve beseeched the folders of paperwork sitting on my desk to do themselves, are stubbornly not complying with my wishes (how very rude!) – feel free to peruse, adopt, and/or adapt for your own family vacation planning, Bill’s top four lessons about traveling with kids…

Spoiler alert: yeah, it’s looking pretty doubtful that three whole days blissfully meandering through the rooms of the Louvre is in my near future… And Louis Vuitton and Le Jules Verne?? C’est impossible, aussie.

Le sigh…

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak at the next few blog posts:

Lesson One: Context is Critical Everything
Lesson Two: Wherever You Go, There They Are
Lesson Three: Scale Back, Stay Longer
Lesson Four: Make Time for Playtime

And here’s a mini-slide show that would do old Aunt Edna and Uncle Chester proud:

What do you do when you get off the plane at 6 a.m., and your rental apartment won't be available for several hours, and neither you nor your kiddo has slept at all on the plane so you're both a little punchy from lack of sleep? Why, you make sure your first stop is at the local "hot pot," of course! Iceland is a geothermal wonderland, with an abundance of natural hot springs in which to soak away the afternoons; when in Rome, do as the Romans do, when in Iceland, do as the Icelanders do... and splash for hours in your favorite hot pot (Bill and Paisley recommend Laugardalslaug)!

What do you do when you get off the plane at 6 a.m., and your rental apartment won’t be available for several hours, and neither you nor your kiddo have slept at all on the plane so you’re both so punchy from lack of sleep you can barely see straight? Why, you make sure your first stop is at the local “hot pot,” of course! Iceland is a geothermal wonderland, with an abundance of natural hot springs in which to soak away the afternoons; when in Rome, do as the Romans do, when in Iceland, splash for hours in your favorite hot pot (Bill and Paisley recommend Laugardalslaug)!

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church and is one of the most impressive landmarks in Reykjavík; it can be seen from most places in the city. In front of the church is a statue of Iceland-born Leif Eriksson, who is considered to be the first European to discover America (sorry, Chris Columbus!) around 1000 AD. The steeple at the top offers an impressive view (there's even an elevator, so you don't have to worry about your kid whining on the way up)!

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church and is one of the most impressive landmarks in Reykjavík; it can be seen from most places in the city. In front of the church is a statue of Iceland-born Leif Eriksson, who is considered to be the first European to discover America (sorry, Chris Columbus!) around 1000 AD. The steeple at the top offers an impressive view (there’s even an elevator, so you don’t have to worry about your kid whining on the way up)!

For the most part, our family prefers vacation rentals, like this adorable second floor apartment where they stayed in Reykjavík, to hotels... For WAY less than a boring old hotel room, Bill got this flat where he and Paisley had their own bedrooms (meaning, Bill didn't have to turn the lights out when Paisley did; he could stay up and read and enjoy all the benefits of jet lag on his own), plus a kitchen where he could stock up on cereal (and other kid-friendly necessities) and his beloved coffee beans (and other parent-friendly necessities), and a dining table - with a chandelier! - at which to enjoy it all.

For the most part, our family prefers vacation rentals, like this adorable second floor apartment where they stayed in Reykjavík, to hotels… For WAY less than a boring old hotel room, Bill got this flat where he and Paisley had their own bedrooms (meaning, Bill didn’t have to turn the lights out when Paisley did; he could stay up and read and enjoy all the benefits of jet lag on his own), plus a kitchen where he could stock up on cereal (and other kid-friendly necessities) and his beloved coffee beans (and other parent-friendly necessities), and a dining table – with a chandelier! – at which to enjoy it all.

Þingvellir, or Thingvellir, National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of three major tourist attractions right outside Reykjavík called the Golden Circle. The tectonic plates that form North America and Europe actually meet here (and if you're not like Bill - visiting as a single parent with a non-PADI certified child who you don't feel comfortable dropping off with a complete stranger - you can actually scuba dive BETWEEN the two continents, if you're so inclined!), and Iceland's parliament was founded in Þingvellir back in 930 AD.

Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of three major tourist attractions right outside Reykjavík called the Golden Circle. The tectonic plates that form North America and Europe actually meet here (and if you’re not like Bill – visiting as a single parent with a non-PADI certified child who you don’t feel comfortable dropping off with a complete stranger – you can actually scuba dive BETWEEN the two continents, if you’re so inclined!), and Iceland’s parliament was founded in Þingvellir back in 930 AD.

After a few days in Reykjavík, Bill and Paisley drove to the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur where they rented a cabin for a couple of nights to explore Vatnajökull National Park (Europe’s second largest national park, covering approximately 13% of Iceland). Paisley loved her sleeping loft: if you look closely, you'll see her HUGE grin!

After a few days in Reykjavík, Bill and Paisley drove to the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur where they rented a cabin for a couple of nights to explore Vatnajökull National Park (Europe’s second largest national park, covering approximately 13% of Iceland). Paisley loved her sleeping loft: if you look closely, you’ll see her HUGE grin!

Jökulsárlón,  the glacial river lagoon found on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park, has to be one of the most majestic sights in the world. This photo doesn't do justice to the scale of this glacier-fed lake: a tourist boat (which you can take if you visit), literally looks like bath toys when compared to the size of the icebergs. Jökulsárlón is a 3-7 hour trip from Reykjavík, depending on how often you and/or your kiddo(s) need to stop for potty breaks!

Jökulsárlón, the glacial river lagoon found on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park, is truly one of the most majestic sights in the world. This photo doesn’t do justice to the scale of this glacier-fed lake: a tourist boat (which you can take if you visit), literally looks like a bath toy when compared to the size of the icebergs. Jökulsárlón is a 3-7 hour trip from Reykjavík, depending on how often you and/or your kiddo(s) need to stop for potty breaks – or just to see all the pretty waterfalls along the way!

With all the waterfalls, you might think Iceland is a tropical paradise... Paradise? Yes. Tropical? Not so much! Bill and Paisley visited at the end of August; while the kids and I were happily splashing in the kiddie pool on the deck in the sun, Bill was wishing he'd brought their winter jackets instead of their light weight rain coats, and I don't think Paisley took her fleece hat off the entire time they were in Iceland. If you go, dress warm! (Here, Paisley and her hat are at Skógafoss, a beautiful waterfall carved out of a cliff which was once located on the coastline, but is now about 3 miles away from the sea!)

With all the waterfalls, you might think Iceland is a tropical paradise… Paradise? Yes. Tropical? Not so much! Bill and Paisley visited at the end of August; while the boys and I were happily splashing in the kiddie pool on the deck in the sun, Bill was wishing he’d brought their winter jackets instead of their lightweight rain coats, and I don’t think Paisley took her fleece hat off the entire time they were in Iceland. If you go, dress warm! (Here, Paisley and her hat are at Skógafoss, a beautiful waterfall carved out of a cliff which was once located on the coastline, but is now about 3 miles from the sea!)

The Blue Lagoon (and no, I'm not talking about the 1980 Brooke Shields/Christopher Atkins movie!) has to be one of the most amazing "hot tubs" in the world - an industrial accident that has become the country's most popular tourist destination. In 1976, while searching for a new, reliable, geothermal energy source, a local heating co-op drilled deep wells in a lava field for a new power plant, and let the factory excess runoff back into the ground. But, surprise!, the runoff had a super high silica content, which sealed up the rocks with a slippery white coating and created a natural reservoir of 104˚F water, just perfect for soaking in... even with your kiddos!

The Blue Lagoon (and no, I’m not talking about the 1980 Brooke Shields/Christopher Atkins movie!) has to be one of the most amazing “hot tubs” in the world – an industrial accident that has become the country’s most popular tourist destination. In 1976, while searching for a new, reliable, geothermal energy source, a local heating co-op drilled deep wells in a lava field for a new power plant, and let the factory excess run off back into the ground. But, surprise!, the runoff had a high silica content, which sealed up the rocks with a slippery white coating and created a natural reservoir of 104˚F water, just perfect for soaking in… even with your kiddos!

It was hard to leave, but a long soak in the Blue Lagoon before boarding the plane for the 8 hour flight home was a pretty great way to say good-bye. Both Bill and Paisley are planning on going back... I just hope they'll bring me and the boys with them!!

It was hard to leave Iceland, but a long soak in the Blue Lagoon before boarding the plane for the 7 1/2 hour flight home was a pretty great way to say good-bye. Both Bill and Paisley are planning on going back as soon as they can… I just hope they’ll bring me and the boys with them!!

They Left on a Jet Plane…

And they took my heart with them.

Actually, they took two pieces of my heart with them… Two important pieces. And they actually smiled while doing so…

Bill and Paisley leave for Iceland

Bill and Paisley at the airport. Today. On their way to ICELAND. 3,610 miles away from ME. Could their smiles be any bigger?!

That’s right. My amazing hubby and my adorable 9yo daughter are off on their Big Adventure: they are Iceland Bound. Right. This. Minute.

Yes, today is THE day. THE day that Paisley has been counting down toward for the last, I believe, 68 days, when she made her own little calendar and drew a large X through each day every night before bedtime – well, until she lost the calendar, which I honestly think the dogs ate. THE day they – well, really we, because it was exciting for all of us (and why yes, I am feeling rather bah humbug; my heart is in tatters here!) – have been talking about almost incessantly for the last four months when Bill came up with the brilliant (and now bittersweet) idea that, okay, it might be rather (or really insanely) cost-prohibitive to travel with all five of us to the distant corners of the planet (heck, it’s expensive to even travel to the next state over), and okay, taking a 2yo toddler on an airplane for much longer than an hour is our idea of war-criminal-worthy torture (and even an hour can feel like twelve when trying to keep the cross between a wiggle-worm and a butterball that I call my youngest offspring from slipping out of my headlock – I mean warm embrace – to run pell-mell and shrieking with glee up and down the aisles; or, once back in my vice-like grip – I mean loving arms – to toss  with amazing accuracy his half-eaten Goldfish crackers into the hair of the elderly woman sitting in front of us who clearly doesn’t have grandchildren of her own – or if she does, she really doesn’t like them; or, when done with that delightful activity, to springboard himself from my lap in shockingly successful attempts to body-slam his finally-content older siblings who are simply trying to quietly watch another Pixar film he’s not yet old enough to appreciate; and don’t even get me started on trying to change diapers in those tiny nooks they call a lavatory…), but travelling one-parent-one-child might, just might, make our dreams of international globetrotting a more affordable and realistic possibility.

So, one week later (and in hindsight, what possessed us to move so quickly?? Were we really in such a hurry to rip my heart apart?!), two tickets were purchased for Iceland. And now those tickets have just been redeemed.

Yes, four months later, and I dropped off two necessary-for-my-life pieces of my heart at the airport (two REALLY excited and near-giggly pieces of my heart, by the way), to fly from our home in Seattle to Reykjavik, the farthest-northern capital city of the world. I dropped them off, hugged them tightly, forced them to take some pictures (okay some more pictures), hugged them tightly again, and watched them walk into the airport. Without me.

Father and Daughter

My two devastatingly cute, and now missing, pieces of my heart. Taken right before driving to the airport. Where they continued smiling, together, all the way into the terminal…

I got back in the car and cried.

Of course, I cry at Kleenex commercials, but still… this temporary departure of two of my most favorite people, two souls who are so profoundly important to my life, is shockingly hard on me. What was I thinking??!! This isn’t a good idea!! This is a BAD idea!! This is two precious pieces of my heart flying further and further away from me every single minute for the next seven hours and fifteen minutes! And then STAYING away from me for SEVEN whole days! And six nights!

How do I live that long without the one piece of my heart that keeps me grounded and sane when I start spinning with all the craziness in my life (like RIGHT NOW?!), the piece of my heart that knows laughter is the secret to enjoying life, the louder and more heartfelt the better (and who will tell me the inappropriate jokes that I shouldn’t find funny?!)? How do I live that long without the other piece of my heart that motivates me always to fully revel and delight in the moment, this very moment, (rather than mope in the sadness of goodbyes), the piece of my heart that knows no bounds to the joy her body can hold or her voice can express (and who will spontaneously hug me so tightly my ribs hurt when I clearly just need a hug to get out of the doldrums?!)?

For the record, I’m thinking all this one-parent-one-child adventure mumbo-jumbo can take a flying leap. Who needs airplanes? Who needs foreign travel? All that soul-enriching, horizon-expanding, relationship-strengthening, character-building NONSENSE can just take a backseat to my need to be complete. My need to be WHOLE.

Because I won’t be WHOLE again until all the pieces of my heart are back together. Back talking and giggling and exchanging pleasantries and news about the day TOGETHER.

All that to say, if I don’t get a Skype call from the devilishly handsome piece of my heart with the wicked sense of humor, and the adorably precocious piece of my heart with the grin that can turn a frown upside down in 0.23 seconds flat, within exactly two minutes and twenty-eight seconds of him being able to check into their rental apartment (hey, I’m being more than generous here – how long can it really take for them to log in to the wifi?!), I will either bite my lip off, melt into a puddle of worry and tears, or simply take matters into my own hands and contact the Icelandic Coast Guard (all four ships, one survey boat, three helicopters, one plane, and all 165 officers and crew of it).

Wait. Reykjavik is seven hours ahead of Seattle… And Bill and Paisley can check in to their flat at 1pm their time… which means, plus the two minutes and twenty-eight seconds I’m allotting for wifi-login-time… that’d be 6:02:28 in the morning my time.

Huh.

I think my heart can stay incomplete until at least 7am.

But rest-assured. The countdown? It’s ON.

And after our little Skype chat? I’m going to draw up a paper calendar and mark an X through each day until my heart is TRULY whole again (because a phone call, even a free video phone call from overseas*) just isn’t enough.

Six nights and counting… (and the dang dogs better not eat MY calendar!)

 

*Okay, I do have to take a quick minute out of my self-absorbed whining to fully admire how far technology has come. I mean really, it was only 18 years ago that I was on the CUTTING EDGE when I could email – ooh! email! – my then almost-new boyfriend from my university in England, and the one hour-long phone call we made to each other cost more than $100 (!!). Now? Now we can just Skype – for FREE – between our cell phones (or computers, but really, I love my phone), and I can actually SEE as well as HEAR all about what’s happening, clear on the other side of the PLANET. Okay, whining over. Life is cool.

Self Portrait with Daughter

I couldn’t resist adding this photo, it’s so sweet – I took it right after the first heading-to-the-airport photo shoot. I expect – I BETTER – see lots of these types of photos from their travels in Iceland on Facebook in the next few days. Luckily, Bill is MASTER of the self-portrait.

Iceland Bound

Bill & Paisley

Bill & Paisley, busy plotting out how they will take over the world, one unsuspecting country at a time.

Research, research, research…

Library books, purchased books, maps, websites, blogs, and more books. All in the name of research.

That’s what my husband’s been doing, every free moment he has had for the past three weeks… Yes, three weeks ago we spontaneously – and really, I mean rather impulsively and totally-out-of-the-blue – decided that he and our 9yo needed to start our family’s world travels (well, we’ve been to Canada, and it is wonderful, but why don’t I think that counts?) without further ado. He bought their tickets to Iceland exactly one week later (that’d be two weeks ago for those of you who don’t care much for math), and off they’ll go in exactly four months (well, four months from yesterday, but I’m one of those who doesn’t care much for math – my apologies to my brother the physicist and all the math-loving mathematicians out there!).

That’s right, in four months the two of them are off to explore ICELAND.

They are going to have SO much fun. And I am jealous. Excited for them, but jealous…

The thing is, I’d love to go myself, and I’d even love to pack all five us up and go, even though I think the youngest – currently 22mo – is at the absolutely most challenging age to travel with: he can walk and run and climb, and insists on doing all three, regardless of any fasten-seat belt signs that might be alight; as of yet, he has no patience for watching three movies in a row on what I believe to be the most essential travel item to own with kids, the portable DVD player (the iPad and iPhone work as well – it’s all about giving them endless amounts of the “screen time” that is strictly regulated at home); he doesn’t care a jot for art museums or restaurants, or the need to stay quiet within either; and he carries with him (or rather, we serve as his personal Sherpas) five times as much luggage as I do (and for the record, I like my shoes, which take up a lot of space). No, I’d love for us all to go to Iceland, but have you checked out the price of tickets to anywhere lately?? Multiply that by five (because Broder will have crossed over into that over-2yo status requiring his own seat, even if there is no chance whatsoever of him actually sitting in it when there are two siblings to tackle and two parents’ laps in which to bounce), and all the work we’ve done in getting rid of our credit-card debt goes right out the airplane window.

But even before we were married, Bill and I have planned on travelling the world with our kids. We have always believed that international travel (or even just travelling out of your hometown, but what a gift to be able to journey to far-off destinations that truly challenge your assumptions of what is normal or expected or routine) is vital to our children’s education. Our goal is to raise children who will grow up to be open-minded, socially-conscious, citizens-of-the-world. In this vein, we’ve long hoped to take the kids out of school and travel to one new country a month for twelve months in a row in some future year where all three kids are just old enough to appreciate such an opportunity, but also young enough that taking them away from their peer group back home (aka, high school) won’t make them despise us until they reach 21yo (at which time they will, we hope, come back to their senses and appreciate we had provided such an opportunity). But with such a wide age-spread between our kids (our eldest is seven and a half years older than our youngest and will be a junior in high school by the time he’s her age now), and also really, truly, and finally recognizing what a frightfully expensive proposition it would be for both of us to take a year off work and travel around the world (unless someone wants to give me a book contract for chronicling such an adventure right now?? I’m more than willing to negotiate…), we started realizing that perhaps, just perhaps, we could instead take one of the kids, when they’re ready (age 9 anyone?), on shorter (1-2 weeks, say), more cost-efficient trips (read: we don’t have to pawn any non-existent family heirlooms to afford our travels), once a year from here on out?

I’m not sure why we hadn’t thought of this before. It’s not ideal, of course, but eventually all five of us will travel together, and it’s true: NOW is really the best time to start travelling with Paisley. She’s so engaged, and open to new experiences, and ready to have her horizons expanded; she is still absorbing everything around her like a sponge (and will happily talk the ear off of any stranger that comes across her path). She’s able to pack her own bags and can sit on a long flight as well as any grown-up (no one likes long flights, but a good book, a good movie or four, and a bag of Goldfish crackers are her Nirvana). And as Bill noted (not knowing he was completely selling me on his taking her off on the first leg of their global domination tour), if we start travelling with her now, by the time she’s in high school (and possibly not wanting to spend any time with us at all, as high schoolers are wont to do), she’ll probably be insisting that we go on our yearly family trips abroad. Heck, she’ll probably be thrilled to plan the trips herself, by then (And hey, parents of teenagers: don’t burst my bubble here! A mama can dream!). So even though we’d rather all travel together, isn’t there some value in at least one of us starting to take the kids out into the wide world when they hit that age-ready age? SOLD!

So, now that we’d decided the when (NOW!) of one parent taking one kid off to one new country a year, we needed to decide the where. The most logical decision was to visit our fantastic and beloved neighbors who are currently living in Beijing for the next year and a half (we miss them, AND they have an insider’s perspective to travelling in China). But… And this is a BIG but… that meant our 5yo (who absolutely adores our neighbor’s 5yo and 7yo boys) would not be able to visit Beijing (as he won’t reach the age-ready age of 9yo, or even 8yo, by the time our neighbors return to the States). And if you think for one minute that he wouldn’t be devastated by this, and would let us have one day of peace until his first excursion abroad, you haven’t yet experienced one of my son’s epic temper tantrums (I take full responsibility for the drama-gene my kids seem to have inherited), and just how LONG he can throw them for… Just ask my neighbor: she heard more than a few through the open (and closed) windows. Because I just can’t cope with a year and a half long tantrum (can you see me shudder?), we had to think of somewhere else.

After perusing several travel websites, Bill discovered that, hey!, did you know that there are some great deals on non-stop flights between Seattle and Reykjavik?? And hadn’t one of our other neighbors travelled there with her kids and had a good time? And, how cool is this?? There are HOT SPRINGS all across the country that you can soak in all day long!!

Well, that was easy… Now how about the when? Spring Break? Nah… for some crazy reason, three days didn’t seem quite enough time to plan (the kids’ Spring Break was last week). How about as soon as Paisley gets out of school? Tickets are still available. Cool; we’ll buy them in the morning. [Cut to the next morning.] Wait! The tickets are gone?! Well, how about the end of summer? No, don’t wait! Book now!!! That’ll be four months to plan.

Research, research, research…

Where to stay? A rental apartment owned by a sweet family with a young baby – check. Where to go? The Blue Lagoon every day, or at least several days, to soak away all travel fatigue – check. What to do? A ride on indigenous Icelandic horses through ancient Viking ruins – check and check!

Though Bill’s tried to include Paisley in some of the planning, so much of it is done late at night after everyone is in bed that that’s one of several lessons we’ve already learned for when I get to take her on a trip somewhere next year. In addition to needing more than four months to plan, it looks like eight days (two of which are travel days), just aren’t enough – Bill recommends at least 10-14 days. Fine by me! But where will I take her? Bill: “I bet you take her to Paris.” Me (guffawing): “No, I will always be taking the kids somewhere warm. And with a beach.”

Of course, the 5yo believes he should be able to go to Iceland first. Or anywhere first, really. But he’s finally come around; a couple of days ago I asked him where he wanted to go on his first trip abroad: “Beijing!” When I explained our neighbors wouldn’t be home by then, he quickly replied, “The desert.” Hmm… At least it sounds warm. Then I asked Paisley where she thought she and I should go on our first trip together. She thought for a minute, then shouted (really, she shouted, that’s how we talk in this house): “PARIS!” Me: “Really?? Paris??” Her: “I want to see the Mona Lisa. And I want to climb the Eiffel Tower. And I want–” Wait, how did she already know this much about Paris?? So much for the beach…

So, Paris it is…

Mais, où est la bibliothèque? I need to do some research.