We are home!! The laundry has been done, the piles are beginning to be put away and we are almost back to normal leaving the cobwebs of jet lag behind us. It was a fabulous trip and the kids were so very well behaved. It always makes me proud and pluffs up my feathers a bit when a nearby traveler comments on how well behaved the children are.
Despite all the concerns over snow and foul weather, all of our travels went smoothly with no hiccups. Michael claims that our having purchased trip insurance was the talisman ensuring smooth sailing (or flying)...Had we not had that, we likely would have been stranded in some airport somewhere. There was many a worry and many a fretful phone call with my Mum however about our trip from Manchester to Wales. Much research was done and we were provided a route along the coast that got us there safe and sound. Driving on the "wrong side of the road" in a foreign country in the snow was likely NOT the highlight of Michael's trip! Thanks Michael for taking that on!
Our accomodations in Paris were very centrally located making it incredibly easy to get any where we wanted to go. It took little effort on our part to acclimatize to the Metro and other forms of public transportation. In fact, we don't understand why it has received such negative stigma from others, we thought it easy to negotiate. We did all the touristy things; Arc d'Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Pompidou, etc.. We were spared the hour wait in the drizzle at the Monet exhibit thanks to having children (they do pay off after all!!) and walked right up to security. We learned that the children aren't huge fans of modern art either (though somewhat biased by there parents) though we did see an interesting special exhibit by Arman while at the Pompidou. I lost a days worth of pictures, sadly. Of course, they were all the pictures of the only blue sky day we had in Paris... I was able to re-shoot some of them but others are just memories, like the roof of the Arc d'Triomphe and our first trip up Notre Dame.
We climbed many, many, many stairs on this trip. 300 some at the Arc d'Triomphe. Multiple flights up to and down from our Paris apartment in the Marais. 660+ up and down to the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower then the elevator to the top. 360+ up and down to the top of Notre Dame. The boys did that twice so that they could recapture some of the lost pictures while Mia and I redid the indoor shoots. Many a windy castle turret and rampart stair while in Wales. The stairs up and down the mountain at Harlech as driving on the ice was out of the question. Stairs, stairs, stairs and more stairs!!
The cottage in Wales was fantastic! Michael did a great job (again) of chosing us the comfiest "home away from home" for Christmas. The decorations were above and beyond anything we expected. There was a real Christmas tree and outside lights that aided the reindeer and Santa in finding us. We hadn't chosen the best time for the seeing or doing of things are there were 4 days of bank holiday in our 6 days there. And those who know anything about the UK know that everything shuts down on bank holidays. We were able to visit a slate mine but we did walk upon a beach or two (or 3 or 4) and visit a castle or two during our time there. GG (my Gran, the kids' great-Gran) is doing well given her age and it was great for the kids to see her for Christmas.
Our first day we took 45 minutes naps to power up before heading out. We saw the Monet exhibit and walked down the Champs-Elysees Christmas market to this giant Ferris wheel (it's portable!). Along the way we sampled our first of our daily Nutella crepes!
Most of the Christmas markets have Christmas carousels as well. The kids rode a fair number of them as well. After about two the novelty wore off and we were able to walk right on by. The slide along the Champs-Elysees was unique. They were permitted a second trip down as the first time they didn't put their shoes on the rugs and had a rather slow trip down. Apparently they spray the slides with Windex to add some speed. I think the cold weather hampered that too though!!
The following day, Friday, we went to Notre Dame and wandered around there. The rooftop was closed until 1pm due to unsafe, icy conditions. Michael waited in line while we sipped our hot chocolates in a nearby cafe. We were privy to some excitement as people unfurled a banner that they hung at the top and were later arrested for doing. This was our one blue sky day. Pictures were later lost... That evening we were to ascend to the top of the Eiffel Tower, tickets had been purchased ahead of time on the internet. Unfortunately, that was the same day that the employees decided to strike. We got a refund and headed to the number 69 bus home. Nikolas had to pee five stops into it so we hopped off and let him pee on a bridge near the Seine. Then walked the remainder of the way home, in the snow! My Louvre pics from that day lost as well. We went to the nearby Christmas market and enjoyed more crepes and roast chestnuts. I bought a purple hat to replace the one that escaped from my pocket while kneeling down to take pictures.
Nikolas and I went back one night to replace the Louvre pics. In taking the Metro there you exit into this maze of an underground shopping mall. That was the most we saw of the Louvre. The day we had no plans for and thought we might go also happened to be the day that the Louvre is closed.
Surprise! A trip to Disneyland Paris! I balked at the idea of this initially. Why go all the way to Paris to do something so American? To do something we can go to CA or FL for? Because the kids had been so good doing all the grown up touristy things that they needed some fun and entertainment too. And, who can pass up Disney at Christmas? In the snow nonetheless. The snow definitely added to the magic. All four of us rode the Hollywood Tower ride! We discovered that Mia was tall enough so rather than split up, we toted her along. Michael explained that it was an elevator ride that went up and down. He didn't elaborate much further. She and I are the only one's with our eyes open in the picture (will have to scan it later). Nikolas about twisted my thumb backwards and screamed like a girl!
Back to Eiffel Tower. We had revisited Notre Dame that morning so by the time we got to the tower the lines were rather long. We had two options; wait over an hour and a half to ride the elevator or wait just under an hour to walk up the 660 plus stairs to the second floor then take the elevator. We opted for the shorter wait with the added bonus of it being only about 30 minutes. Mia walked both up and down the stairs all by her very self! She was extremely proud of the fact that she beat Nikolas and I up and down. Nikolas is not so good at descending stairs for the very same reason breaststroke is so difficult for him; lack of hamstring and gastroc flexibility! The fog was rolling in so we were lucky to see what we did from the top. Not long after our return to terra firma the top of the tower was enshrouded in dense fog.
The writing in the first of the 2 Eiffel pictures is the Peace wall at one end of the esplanade. Dusk wasn't far off so we wrote some postcards and waited for the lights. The French are very punctual and we almost missed the lights as we had begun to walk away at 6:10pm and the lights still hadn't been turned on. No twinkle light pictures... They were lost...
On to Wales!! Dec 23rd my Mum had organized a trip on a steam train with a special visitor. The snow in the countryside was spectacular. We were treated to mince pies and sherry on the way home. Just as we ate crepes every day in France, we had mince pies every day in Wales!
Christmas Eve we had hoped to visit the nearby castle (Harlech) only to discover that it was closed due to inclement weather. And rather than risk the rental cars on icy roads, we walked down 25% incline twisty roads to the beach and dunes below.
Merry Christmas!! The Motley crue on Christmas morning after opening stockings and Santa presents, before our Christmas service. The most accessible church was not going to be very accessible to Gran and the kids due to the ice rink in the parking lot so we opted to do our own thing at home. We all paraded in in height order while singing the First Noel and then Nikolas did the reading for us. We later went for a drive in the name of charging the DS' and found ourselves at a beach. The boys and I did a few caches then Christmas dinner!
It is customary in the Lee family to go for a walk on Boxing Day (the 26th), another bank holiday (ie shops closed). So we piled into the car and went off to Barmouth where we walked across this bridge (that isn't a bridge) and back. We kept heading down the coast and found someplace open for a late lunch. We were able to check our e-mails on the hotels Wi Fi for the first time since arriving in Wales!! It's amazing how much one relies upon Internet... The one downfall of the cottage; no phone or internet.
Monday, Dec 27th off to the slate mine!! Only to discover it's not open again until the 29th! Bummer... We continued heading over the mountain to Betws-y-Coed were we had tea at another Royal hotel. After a quick lunch back at the cottage we scuttled off to Harlech hoping it would be open - success!! Our knight in shining armor and royal princess had fun climbing the many stairs and exploring all the nooks and crannies!
After a leisurely breakfast and some final packing we bide our farewells and began the trek back to Manchester. First stop; Caerfarfon castle!! Michael refueled on some highly anticipated fish and chips before hitting the road again. We made several failed attempts at scrapbook shops before finding the hotel at Manchester airport!
Back home!! We had to work hard at keeping the kids awake to try and get them over that jet lag hump!! The excitement of discovering that Santa had visited twice with a stop at our house as well was more than sufficient to give them that last boost they needed!!