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;
to explore the seawall in Stokkseyri…
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?!);
AND to hike around Seljalandsfoss (one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls).
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…
…but seriously empty empty empty landscape…
…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.
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