Friday, April 22, 2011

1,894 miles, 2 RVs, 1 puppy and 4 Swedes: Our road trip to the Grand Canyon

With the arrival of our new puppy, Bailey, and Spring Break quickly approaching, we decided it was the ideal time for a road trip to the Grand Canyon.  I reserved an RV through Cruise America, started mapping out our course and consulted the RV park review website recommended by my uncle (Thanks, Uncle Vern!)

Imagine our surprise when the father of two of our younger kids' classmates announced one evening at a party that they'd heard of our planned RV adventure and their family wanted to join us!  Initially, we weren't completely sure he was serious (he has a very dry sense of humor) but in all fairness, we're good friends and they're easy going folks who are here for a couple of years from Sweden.  Their son & daughter are the other set of twins in our twins' grade at the local elementary school.  So we decided, why not?

We picked up our RVs on a Saturday, practiced driving a bit, packed up and set off a little later than we'd planned on Sunday.  Our first driving day was 8 hours long, taking advantage of the RV novelty and hoping the kids wouldn't mind too much.  Initially we drove as individual families in our own RVs but soon the kids started switching back and forth en masse.  One day, we'd have all 5 kids and the next day no one.  It was a nice balance.  Our first overnight was at the Barstow Calico KOA.  It was basic, but clean.

Next we skirted Las Vegas and made our second stop at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  (For all you National Park Service Passport aficionados, the Swedish twins are now the proud owners of their very own little blue books.  The usual Lake Mead Visitors Center was closed for renovations so we trekked to the temporary one in downtown Boulder City.)  The youngest four braved the cold water temperature for a quick dip in Lake Mead while we set up camp and cooked dinner.

The following morning, we drove a short distance to
Hoover Dam and the new Mike O'Collaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial BridgeTruth be told, we had tried to get a tour the previous afternoon, but we were too late. Touring Hoover Dam was high on the geek-of-a-husband's Bucket List so we got up and out early that morning and made it to the 9AM tour.  Did you know that the Colorado River divides the states of Nevada and Arizona at this location?  Stand in the middle of the dam and you can straddle the state line.

Afterwards, we headed toward the Grand Canyon stopping to drive a bit of the old Route 66 through Seligman, AZ.  The folks are mighty friendly at Historic Seligman Sundries and the coffee's good, too.  Don't forget to say hello to 'Mater out front.
We made it to the South Rim just as the sun was setting.  It was breathtaking!  And cold!  It had snowed three days prior so there were plenty of leftover snow piles which the kids used to make snowballs to heave over the edge. 

We spent two nights at the conveniently located, but not at all luxurious Xanterra Grand Canyon Trailer Village.   During our two days in the park, we did a little hiking, checked out the Visitors' Center and  Yavapai Geology Museum, saw the sunset each evening, dined one night at the El Tovar Hotel and we only lost the photography obsessed dads once.  Bailey was allowed on leash in all park buildings and on paved trails.  She was convinced that everyone we encountered in the park was there to meet her! 

We headed out of the Grand Canyon via the eastern "Desert View" exit, stopping at the easternmost Visitors' Center and replica Puebloans' Watchtower.  Prior to our trip, a friend had told me that the views were all the same no matter where you stand.  I disagree!  The eastern part of the canyon is drier and quite different from the South Rim vista points.  Next Grand Canyon visit, I'd like to take a mule ride to the bottom of the canyon and stay overnight at Phantom Ranch

We drove south on US-89 through the Navajo Nation toward the San Francisco Peaks and Flagstaff.  We stopped briefly at the Sunset Crater National Monument for a picture, a passport stamp and to make some sandwiches before continuing south again toward Flagstaff.

South of Flagstaff, we cut off onto State Highway 89A which runs through a deep red rock canyon.  It was beautiful!  We stumbled upon Slide Rock State Park and stopped for a quick swim.  This is my cool iPhone pic of the Swedes' RV in my side mirror. Pretty cool, huh?

Sedona is a quaint little town nestled among dramatic red rock formations.  We stayed overnight at the Rancho Sedona RV Park, the nicest, shadiest spot we found in all our travels. We found delicious ice cream and coffee at the Black Cow Cafe though I couldn't get anyone to try the Prickly Pear ice cream.   

The next day, we continued south to Montezuma's Castle National Monument, a five story cliff dwelling that's over 700 years old.  It's the oldest structure in North America!  We then headed to Prescott, AZ for lunch at Kendall's Famous Burgers & Ice Cream.  Afterwards, we took a break and played baseball on the grounds of the Prescott Court House and did a little shopping along Whiskey Row.

Prescott was a last minute change of course, so I was navigating via my iPhone from there to Moon River RV Park in Mohave Valley.  Hadn't realized I was taking us over the treacherous Black Mountains AT DUSK via the Historic Route 66.  How else would we have found the ghost town, Oatman, where you can feed carrots to wild mules, see a live (staged) gun fight and eat buffalo burgers at the Oatman Hotel where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard secretly honeymooned in 1939?  I think that's called serendipity!
From there, we went back for another night at the Barstow Calico KOA.  We drove the long 8 hours home the next day stopping for a much needed break & lunch at Harris Ranch Restaurant south of Coalinga.  It was a great trip and we're already thinking about where our next RV adventure will be.  With the Swedes, of course!

These are the travel books I used for this trip:

Monday, August 9, 2010

Murals in the Mission

As follow up to our recent day in Chinatown, today we explored the murals and "comida" of the Mission District.  I had done a little investigating online beforehand, so our first stop was the Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center for a walking tour map.  The lady behind the counter was a wealth of information with near rabid enthusiasm!  She directed us to Balmy Alley which is just a couple of blocks away off 24th Street running toward 25th Street.  It's a series of fairly traditional murals on garages and fences painted mostly in the 1970's with a few more recent and even some cartoonish ones.  There are murals all over the Mission, but these you can actually walk up to and see up close.

If you have kids with you, be sure to find the Mini Park on 24th between Bryant and York.  There's a wonderful mosaic Quezalcoatl sculpture and an unusual playground swing for the kids to enjoy.  The playground is bordered on three sides with murals and mosaics painted in the mid-1970's to the early 1990's.  It's brightly colored, clean and a nice place to let the kids run around a little bit.

By that point we were hungry, so we made our way to La Taqueria on Mission Street for the best carñitas you'll ever have.  I have a Sunset Magazine version of their recipe but, as the youngest son says, theirs is the real deal.  Delicious!

Our next stop was the Women's Building on 18th Street between Guerrero and Valencia.  It's a beautifully painted building celebrating women from a variety of eras, civilizations, professions and walks of life.  We had planned to do a drive by, but it looked so incredible I found a place to park so we could get out.  When we walked around the building and turned the corner, we came across a woman suspended 2 stories up hanging from the roof in a harness.  I'm not completely sure what she was doing, but it looked like she was practicing for some sort of performance art. We noticed other similar trapeze-like apparatus hanging from the roof.  Wonder what they were up to...

From there, we went a couple of blocks away to Clarion Alley. Clarion has edgier, more contemporary murals with a fair amount of graffiti.  It was also much more of an "alley" than Balmy was (narrower and a bit smelly), but I enjoyed seeing some air brushed murals and what appears to be more modern ones.

Our last stop was Mitchell's for ice cream.  Our second cousin (thanks, Nina!) introduced us to their frozen dairy deliciousness, so we had to pay them a visit.  It was as good as we remembered!

Another lovely day in beautiful San Francisco!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Central Coast Driving Trip

We had a few days (and a tight budget) to get away last week, so decided to take a driving trip down the central coast of California between here and Santa Barbara.  We had a great time and saw some amazing stuff!

We spent our first night at Asilomar, a California State Park conference facility located in Pacific Grove, just north of Carmel.  The husband and I had both been there before, but the kids hadn't.  It's a beautiful collection of Julia Morgan designed Arts & Crafts buildings right on the beach.  Wish we had had warmer weather, but we enjoyed it anyway.  We had dinner that night at Peppers in Pacific Grove.  It was muy delicioso, especially the Blood Orange Margaritas!
From Asilomar, we drove down Highway 1 stopping here and there along Big Sur.  It's gorgeous!  I had packed a cooler with sandwich fixings, so we had a picnic lunch along the way.

Just north of San Simeon, we made a quick stop at Piedras Blancas to see the elephant seals.  The elephant seals gather there this time of year to shed their old fur and grow new fur.  The State of California has done a fabulous job of building boardwalks so you can get pretty close to the elephant seals without disturbing them.  We've been to Año Nuevo before, but this was a totally different experience and well worth the stop.

To add to the "I can't believe we just saw that" feeling, as soon as we got back in the car and headed toward our hotel, we saw a gen-u-ine, Marlboro Man quality cowboy lassoing cows in a field along the highway.  And a mile or two further south, we saw zebras grazing in a field with a herd of angus cows.  The husband always tries to imagine the conversations between cows and this particular interpretation had us in stitches!

We stayed at the Best Western Fireside Inn in Cambria because I couldn't get reservations at the Best Western Cavalier in San Simeon a few miles up the road.  Either fits the bill, although we enjoyed the easy access to Moonstone Beach from the Best Western in Cambria.

The next day, we headed to Hearst Castle.  I had booked tickets ahead for Tour #1 - the "Experience Tour."  It includes the Neptune Pool, some of the gardens, one of the guest houses and many of the larger public rooms in the main house.  (You can purchase tickets on the spot, but you may have to wait a couple of hours for available space.)  The tour includes admission to the 45 minute IMAX film about the building of Hearst Castle.
We all agreed that we enjoyed it so much, we could have done a second tour.

Our tour guide was incredible!  He did an amazing job of informing us about the Hearst family, including how George Hearst made his millions from silver during the Gold Rush and how his son, William Randolph Hearst, made his own fortune from publishing.  The tour guide could quote letters between father and son and put all of the wealth and opulence in context of California history, politics, the roaring 1920's and the Great Depression.  It was fascinating!  We also learned that the grazing zebras are descendants from Hearst's original animal collection. Then, on top of that, he detailed the design and construction process of the Castle between William Randolph Hearst and his architect, none other than Julia Morgan!  (Wish I could say I planned that tie in...)

I asked our tour guide for William Randolph Hearst biography recommendations and these are two of the three he mentioned:

After Hearst Castle, we continued south on Highway 1 to San Luis Obispo.  SLO is a small central coast college town with a cute downtown.  After settling into the hotel, we jumped back into the car and went in search of the beach.  The eldest son had camped with Boy Scouts at Pismo Beach, so we headed in that direction.  We had no idea they allow you to drive on the beach there.  Who could pass up such an opportunity?

The next day, we toured Cal Poly San Luis Obispo followed by lunch in a parking garage (don't ask).  We made a quick stop downtown for ice cream sandwiches at Cowboy Cookie before getting back on the road.  They were all delicious, but the daughter's was my favorite:  coconut almond fudge ice cream on an oatmeal coconut Rice Krispie cookie.  Yum!

Our next destination was Ventura.  Highways 1 and 101 merge at that point of the journey.  Unfortunately, we missed the San Marco Pass/Highway 154, but fortunately we ended up taking Highway 246 through Solvang.  (I've always wanted to stop in Solvang.)  We did make a quick stop at their farmers' market and the Christmas store.  I even bought a raffle ticket - wish me luck on winning the roundtrip for 2 to Denmark!  From Solvang, we continued south through Morro Bay and on to Ventura.

Our plan in Ventura was to go whale watching off the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands are a relatively new national park and the setting of a 4th grade core literature book that the younger two read earlier this year called Island of the Blue Dolphins. Our whale watching was thwarted by 8-11' swells, so we took an Island Packers ferry boat out to Santa Cruz Island instead. Luckily, we had packed a picnic lunch because there are next to no amenities on the island (read: pit toilets.)  Once on the island, we ate our sandwiches, stopped in the visitors center and stamped our NPS passports, did a little hiking, played cards, hiked some more, then headed back on the 4PM return boat.  It wasn't exactly the day we planned but enjoyable nonetheless.

The following day, we drove to Santa Barbara.  We have a good friend who lives there and also wanted to visit the Santa Barbara Mission and UCSB.  The mission is known as "the Queen" of California missions.  It is grand in mission terms.  The day before, the daughter had summarized the Island of Blue Dolphins story for us which included a sad epitaph for the survivor.  The young Tongva indian girl was left on San Nicholas Island with her younger brother by her people.  By the time the missionaries discovered her seventeen years later, her brother and all her people had died.  No one was left to understand her and so she lived her final days at the Santa Barbara mission, alone and lonely.

On a cheerier note, we particularly enjoyed our UC Santa Barbara campus visit.  Who wouldn't like a university with freshman dorms on the beach?   Our nowhere near college aged kids are now well versed in campus tours.  They ask good questions ("Can you tell me about the meal plan?"), pay attention and are particularly enthusiastic.  All three could see themselves at UCSB!

We then had two fun-filled days with our dear friend, including two delicious dinners at Pascucci and Zia Café, an unbelievable dessert at Live Culture and a completely satisfying brunch at Boathouse.  Again, wish the weather had been better but we still had a wonderful time!

We made the long 5 hour drive back to the Bay Area during a SF Giants' 15 inning heartbreak of a game, stopping at the daughter's mission, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, along the way.  It's a little mission that could in the Salinas valley that has been devastated by flooding since it's beginning.  It's only been partially rebuilt but we walked around the site and she told us all about the indians, missionaries and padres who lived there.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Day Full of Fun in San Francisco

What to do with three kids who don't start summer camps until July? Play tourist in San Francisco for the day!  We headed up to the city yesterday and found beautiful weather and lots of adventure.  I had booked a walking tour with All About Chinatown.  We parked under Portsmouth Plaza and met the guide a couple of blocks away on the corner of California & Grant.  She walked us around the neighborhood, pointing out the architecture and explaining the history of Chinatown.  We visited an herbal pharmacy, Buddhist Temple, food markets and the Fortune Cookie Factory.  The tour company will include a Dim Sum lunch after the 2 hour tour, but we opted to have kid friendly Chinese food at Four Seas on Grant instead. 

From Chinatown, we drove toward Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge, getting temporarily misplaced in the Presidio along the way.  (If you've joined my National Park Service Passport bandwagon, there's a Visitors Center in the Presidio where you can stamp your book.)   Fort Point has been standing guard at San Francisco Bay since Gold Rush times.  Tucked under the Golden Gate Bridge, it's modeled after Fort Sumter and is the only brick fort west of the Mississippi.  You can tour the enlisted barracks, officers quarters and the magazine room.  We headed straight up to the roof just under the bridge in time to see a cargo ship pass and two military helicopters fly overhead.  Then, to our amazement, we watched a pod of 5 or 6 dolphins play just off shore amongst the surfers waiting to catch a wave.  It was a sight to behold!  Oh, yeah.  Don't forget to stamp your NPS Passport in the gift shop before you leave!

How could we possibly top that??  The kids wanted ice cream and our nephew's girlfriend who had joined us for the day suggested a place called Bi-Rite Creamery on 18th and Dolores.  So, we headed across town in search of frozen dairy treats.  Bi-Rite has unbelievable flavors like Salted Caramel, Malted Vanilla with Peanut Brittle, Honey Lavender, Balsamic Strawberry and Rincanelas (cinnamon with Snickerdoodle.)  It is well worth the drive!  We made a quick stop in the Mission Dolores two blocks away before heading back to the nephew & girlfriend's apartment in North Beach to hang out and wait for the husband and nephew to come from work.  We all had dinner at Calzone's on Columbus, then the Palo Alto crew boarded the bus and headed home. 

A very fun day, indeed!

Filmed in Chinatown:    Good planning book:     Set in Chinatown:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

San Juan Islands - Roche Harbor

A couple of years ago, our family spent Labor Day weekend at Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands in the state of Washington.  My MIL lives in Seattle, so we were looking for a place to gather that would accommodate our family plus the in-laws.  Roche Harbor was perfect!  Friday Harbor is the largest city on the island of San Juan and is an easy <3.5 hour ferry ride from downtown Seattle.  The ferry leaves early in the morning, but there's a snack bar on board and we brought along books and a deck of cards for entertainment.

Once we arrived in Friday Harbor, it was an easy shuttle ride on the island bus to Roche Harbor.  Be sure to look out for Mona the Camel along the way!  There's also a lavender farm on the island and an alpaca farm both reachable via the island shuttle.

Roche Harbor Resort is located on the site of a former mine.  Lime was discovered at Roche Harbor in 1884 and at it's height, there were 800 people living there working for the Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Company. The De Haro Hotel was built in 1886 to house visitors to the mine.  That's where the in-laws stayed.  The husband, kids and I stayed in a "company cottage," a small, 2 bedroom cottage a short walk from the marina.

What is there to do in Roche Harbor?  Hiking, kayaking, whale watching and more!  We spent the first afternoon on sea kayaks, making our way through the harbor and along the shore, finding lots of sea life and beautiful scenery.  The two person kayaks are easy to maneuver and great for first time kayakers.  We paired kids with adults and had no trouble at all.  That night, we had dinner at the Madrona Bar & Grill on the dock overlooking the marina.  It was the perfect viewing platform for the daily Ceremony of Colors.

Sunday of Labor Day, we went whale watching.  The San Juan Islands are host to both transitory and resident orca (killer whale) pods.  There are rules about how close boats can get to the whales, but you will still see lots of orcas.  I was amazed that the tour operators could identify the individual whales by the shape and size of their dorsal fins!  The day we were on the water, there was a "poop patrol" following a pod of whales trying to collect samples for research.  How's that for a job?

After our whale watching expedition, the in-laws stayed back at the hotel to nap and the family and I headed over to English Camp in San Juan National Historical Park*.  You've heard of the Pig War, right?  Me, neither.  The Pig War was a confrontation in 1859 between the U.S. and Great Britain over the exact division of their territories.  An agreement between the countries had been negotiated in 1846 specifying the division as "the channel at the 49th parallel."  Unfortunately, the U.S. thought that meant the western channel between Vancouver and the San Juan Islands and the British thought it meant the eastern channel between the San Juan Islands and mainland Washington.  

British and American settlers occupied the island and a confrontation occurred when an American farmer shot and killed a free roaming pig owned by an Irishman.  Tensions between the countries escalated and as a result, each party built up military camps on either end of San Juan Island (hence American Camp and English Camp.)  Twelve years later, the matter went to international arbitration and Kaiser Wilhelm I ruled in favor of the U.S.  The pig, by the way, was the only casualty.

*Don't forget to stamp your National Park Service Passport!  We hear San Juan National Historical Park is one of the most difficult to collect since it's so remotely located.
Our final day on San Juan Island, we packed up and headed back to Friday Harbor.  There, we visited the Whale Museum and did a little window shopping.  We hit a slight glitch when the Clipper ferry broke down, as we had to travel to Anacortes via the Washington State Ferry.  From there, they bussed us to Seattle.  It was a shorter ferry trip, but a longer return overall.  

All in all, a very fun trip!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

National Park Service Passports

A few years ago, I picked up National Park Service Passports for our kids. The passports are a way to "record" your visits to national parks, monuments, recreation areas, etc. Visitor centers and park gift shops usually have passport stations where you can stamp your books with their specific stamp and it'll record the date. My kids say that I'm more excited about the passports than they are. That's probably true, but I know I'm helping them create memories and someday they'll appreciate having this record.

When we're traveling, I carry them in my purse (you never know when you might stumble upon something) but usually they reside in my car's glove box. When we were walking down the street in New Orleans recently, I announced to the family that there was no need to panic since I was carrying the passports in case we stumbled upon something. You should have heard the ridicule I endured until I pointed out the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve visitors center we were walking by.

You can buy them online here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010



What a comfortable way to travel! We hopped on a Eurostar train for a quick 2-1/2 hour ride from London to Paris. The kids read, played cards and chatted with a little French boy seated behind us. Do you already know about the Chopsticks finger game? Saved us many times while in line on this trip.

I had booked two adjourning rooms at the Hotel Residence Henri IV which is located at the dead end of a one way street on the left bank just below the Pantheon. Great hotel! It's walking distance to Notre Dame, several Metro stations and most importantly, an Eric Kayser bakery. We breakfasted at Eric Kayser each morning but one. I cannot describe how unbelievably fantastic their goodies are - I still dream about those almond croissants! No other pastries compared to the buttery, flaky ones from Eric Kayser.

Our first full day in Paris, we took Metro to the Eiffel Tower. Boy, were the lines long! We had slept in a bit, lingered over our lattes and arrived with not a lot of time to spare before our 11AM Fat Tire Bike Tour appointment. We decided to explore the Tower later that day after our bike tour.

Fat Tire Bike Tour is an American company that employs recently graduated art history majors, architecture students and France aficionados. Our tour guide was a Rice University graduate who double majored in Economics and Art History and was filling a 9 month gap between college and a job in Beijing. He particularly connected with our older son. ("Hey, ride up here with me.")

We met at the Eiffel Tower, walked a few short blocks to their shop, saddled up and headed out. (BTW, they had helmets for all of us, a backpack for my purse, water bottles and tag-along bikes for our then 6-year-old twins.) There were maybe 20 people in our group. The tour took us to the Tuileries for lunch, passed the Louvre and back in 4 hours with lots of stops in between. Great opportunity to get the lay of the land!

Our second full day in Paris was the 4th of July. We usually attend an annual barbecue at our friends' house on the 4th, so my objective was to distract the kids from missing that party. We had pre-purchased tickets for a Star Wars exhibit at the Cité des Sciences des Industrie. How American is that?

The next day, we ventured to the Musée d'Orsay. Housed in a former train station, the d'Orsay has the largest Impressionist collection in Paris. Be sure to purchase a Paris Museum Pass (available at larger Metro stations and some museums). While it's no big financial deal and kids under 18 get in free almost everywhere, many attractions have separate entrances for pass holders. That's the case at the d'Orsay where they let pass holders in a half hour early. Our Fat Tire guide had clued us in to head upstairs to the 5th floor first to see the Renoirs, Monets, Manets and Degas. It was practically empty (we returned later in the morning and couldn't get anywhere near the paintings.) It was amazing!

The d'Orsay is currently under renovation and many of their most famous paintings are on exhibit at the de Young in San Francisco. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see these paintings outside of France. I hear it will also travel to Nashville, TN, Madrid and Australia.

After visiting the d'Orsay, we went to the Jardin du Luxembourg for lunch and some fun at a big playground. My kids had already figured out about Croque Monsieurs and baguette, butter & ham sandwiches, so they were content. The husband watched the kidlettes while the niece and I headed a couple of blocks away to the Pantheon to see all we needed to see there. A little running around and then the kids were ready to sit and watch the marionette show. Not sure they totally appreciated the French humor, but oh, what cultural flavor!

Midway through our week in Paris, we took the train to Versailles. Fat Tire does a bike tour to Versailles, too. Our friends did it and loved the access to the gardens. When we first arrived, I remember rounding the corner and seeing a HUGE line to enter the palace. Then, I noticed a small sign to the left signaling the entrance for museum pass holders and we walked right in.

What can you say about Versailles? It's absolutely over-the-top and more than you can ever imagine. So glad we made the effort to get there. It was the first time I saw someone wearing a burqa and marveled at how she managed the heat and the less than ideal (read TINY) restrooms.

That evening, we took a sunset boat tour on the Seine from the Ile de la Cite. We couldn't have planned it better - we saw a fashion photo shoot, beautiful architecture and romantic couples on the banks all while traveling the Seine at twilight. The boat turned around at the Eiffel Tower and we enjoyed the City of Lights as we headed back. After we arrived at the dock, we made our way to Creperie des Arts for dessert.

That's our friend, Cherry Man, who worked at the corner fruit stand down the block from our hotel. He spoke not a word of English, so we did a lot of pointing and relied heavily on what little French the husband could remember from high school. We stopped there nearly every day on our way back to the hotel. A couple of evenings, the niece stayed in with the kids while the husband and I enjoyed adult dinners out. Both restaurants were delicious and within easy walking distance from the hotel: Degres de Notre Dame and Les Vignes du Pantheon where they quite literally handed us an French/English gastronomic dictionary!

Our final day in Paris, we started with a quick visit to the Louvre. We had decided ahead of time to try to see only three things: the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo (affectionally known in our family as the "Cinco de Milo") and a Vermeer or two since I had just read Girl with a Pearl Earring and Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Someday, I'll go back to the Louvre to see everything else.

Even though we had a plan, the museum as packed. When we got to the Mona Lisa, there was a huge crowd. We walked to one side of the roped barricade to try to catch a glimpse of the painting. The guards noticed our short little kids and escorted them behind the barricade and directly in front of the painting. I stood behind them and said things like "Do you think she's smiling? What do you think she's thinking about? Look at the background..." Knowing what an amazing experience this was, they turned to look at me. "Don't look at me! Look at the painting!" I know it's a memory they'll have for the rest of their lives.

From there, we headed over to L' Arch de Triomphe and climbed the stairs to the top. What an amazing view! That's where the husband took the Eiffel Tower picture posted above. Afterwards, we walked a couple of blocks away and ducked into Le Do Re Mi cafe for hot chocolate and to escape a sudden downpour.

Finally, we took Metro back to our neighborhood to visit Notre Dame. We were too late to climb the tower (something else for the next trip to Paris) but we did tour the cathedral and enjoyed all the beautiful stained glass.

The next day, we packed up and headed back on Eurostar to London. We made our way from Waterloo station to Heathrow Airport, stayed overnight at the Sheraton Skyline (the kids loved the indoor pool) and flew home the following day.

What a great trip!

Travel books I used for this trip: