Tuesday, August 15
The 15 August represents the pinnacle of, absolute max, August shutdown. We were braced for it. Notwithstanding this, the Sainte Chapelle was open. We booked online (slowly, we were learning; inevitably no queue, booking unnecessary) and turned up early in the morning as the French people’s cleaner was coming at 9 (15 August or no). We went in to the lower chapel which was busy, but not impossibly so.
Then we went upstairs and even Michael said, “This is impressive.” It definitely was.
Weirdly it’s inside the complex of the French courts so we had to be let out by soldiers with guns. I can’t really feel that this arrangement is entirely satisfactory from a French judicial point of view. Afterwards we went to the Conciergerie (tickets also booked in advance, also no queue). It was interesting and the exhibition space was really well laid out. We saw where the flood waters had risen to in 1910.
Some of us perhaps more fascinated than others.
We were all pretty much on top of the French revolution and the Terror when we came out. A triumph as this is a pretty complex period of history, I think you will agree. We bought Michael a horse and knight in the bookshop.
We went for lunch in town – some places were open – rejoice. It was pleasant, Michael got some mileage from playing with his Dark Rider. We all enjoyed our lunch in a mild way and then we went for a stroll to have a cup of tea elsewhere. As we were enjoying our cup of tea, I said to Michael, “Where is Dark Rider?” Alas he had been left in our lunch venue. Michael and I ran through the streets of Paris to rescue him. When we got there, the man behind the bar said that no, they had found no Dark Rider. Then I saw the waiter who had served us. “Was Dark Rider in a paper bag?” he asked. He was. The waiter went through the bin and rescued him. See what I mean about the nice Parisians left in Paris in August? There was great rejoicing among our small party on the return of Dark Rider.
The children and I returned alone on the metro to our distant suburb leaving Mr. Waffle to wander about on his own reminiscing on his student days. The whole thing was fine and, as my sophisticated children hoped from metro to metro, I couldn’t help feeling very smug and remembering how stressful it was travelling with small children and thinking how much more satisfactory it was to travel with older children.
Since we were staying for a fortnight in Paris, we were resigned to a trip to Eurodisney [incidentally autocorrect is suggesting that I change the word “Eurodisney” to “neurosis”, just saying]. Herself, however, had been with school as part of a school tour in April and was not very enthused. I, extremely nobly, offered to take the two boys and spare Mr. Waffle from this ordeal. In return, he booked the tickets online over his phone (in itself, a mammoth undertaking) and went into Montparnasse with us to print them out, the local printing place which had served us well earlier in the holiday clearly decided that the staff had suffered enough and it had closed up for the fermeture annuelle.
The boys and I took the RER out to Marne La Vallée and arrived about midday. It was quite warm and we were a bit confused by the Eurodisney layout. We got in reasonably speedily and took ourselves to a Jedi training session which I found distinctly underwhelming but the boys quite enjoyed.
I totally failed to understand the fastpass system (kind of a way to jump queues) and got us tickets for Buzz Lightyear. We finally got on our first ride at 3.10 after 70 minutes queuing. It was the Indiana Jones ride and it lasted about 5 minutes. I found it deeply unpleasant but the lads quite liked it even though Michael’s head bounced about which he, understandably, did not enjoy.
We went to get another Fastpass ticket before going to the Buzz Lightyear experience. Alas, there were no more fastpass tickets to be had. The park was too full and all of the dispensers were closed. Given that we got our first ticket at midday and our next was only available after 3.20, this wasn’t great. We had some sustaining chips to help us deal with the pain. Did we queue for these? Yes we did.
Then, to my horror, I realised that I had only got two fastpass tickets. I needn’t have worried, the boys were fine on their own. While they were jumping the queue and enjoying the ride (only ok, they said), I was enjoying my own queuing experience outside the bathroom.
The visitors in the park were mostly English, Dutch and German. I didn’t see any French visitors at all. The only French people were the staff struggling to show American levels of enthusiasm while being French. It was, frankly, an unequal battle. They were pathetically grateful to us for speaking French (pathetic in the sense that normally French people are not grateful at all and regard it as only right and proper that everyone speaks French). On one of the stalls the woman wearily addressed me in English (understandable, I look English, I do not look like a chic French person or even, lower bar, a chic Dutch or German person). I replied in French and she smiled warmly at me and apologised saying in a lowered tone, “Sorry, I thought you were English”. I only spoke to her in monosyllables afterwards to preserve the flattering illusion.
It was pricy. It was about €8 for a couple of ice pops and I felt considerable sympathy for English tourists paying out given that sterling was in freefall.
We then queued for 100 minutes, as timed on my phone, to get on to the Big Thunder ride. Partly we queued in shade but often in blazing sunshine. A real taste of the American west. The ride lasted about 10 minutes which is a long time in ride life and, I must say, it was really enjoyable. Not so enjoyable that we were prepared to queue again but pretty good.
We had pizza for dinner; quite vile but the boys liked it. Did we queue for it? Yes, we did. Then we began to wend our way towards the exit. I said they could each buy a thing in the shops. Daniel found a glass and I queued up to pay. I found a queue with only one person in front of me (the thrill). 15 minutes later I was still there and the assistant had rung up €294 worth of Disney merchandise for this woman and it showed no sign of ending. I joined another, longer, queue and even though it was delayed by the woman in front of me deciding she did not, after all, want Simba, if he was that price and the cashier’s supervisor having to be called, I was still finished before the one person at the other queue was. I saw some poor fool take up a place behind her. He’s probably still there. Seriously, she must have spent well over €1,000 on Disney tat. Extraordinary.
The boys were delighted with the trip. Even though we spent most of the day queuing, they seem to have really loved it. In the evening, it was much more pleasant than in the middle of the day although still heaving with people. I might even have stayed a bit longer and used the movie lot ticket (bought but never used, alas) but the boys were exhausted and wanted to go home.
We got slightly lost on the way to the train station on the way out. Harder to do than you might think. No, really. But soon we were speeding back to Paris. When we got off the RER, we had to go almost from one end of the metro line to the other. To pass the time on the metro home, we started playing various guessing games. So successful were these that it was not until Michael yelped, “We’ve missed our stop!” that I realised we had gone four stops too far. We hopped off. I was kicking myself as it was nearly 11 at night at this stage and I was wondering what time the metro stopped. Spoiler, some time after 11. We got safely home eventually and Mr. Waffle and herself were dutifully waiting up for us to ask about our day and to mock my inability to get off the metro at the right stop (her only, he was too grateful/tactful).
The bank told us Mr. Waffle’s credit card had been compromised. I blame Eurodisney.
Thursday, August 17
It was lashing, of course.
Earlier in the week we had booked in to a funfair museum for Thursday morning. Bitterly did I regret it as I dragged my exhausted sons from their beds. We took the tram – it was in Bercy and we ended up having to traipse through an old railway and for the first time saw rubbish in Paris.
But once we got to the museum itself, all was delightful.
The museum had been recommended by my Parisian friend. The children were dubious. Happily, it was, hands down, the best thing we did in Paris. The guide was superb. The children were allowed to play on the old merry-go-rounds and use the old games.
I would seriously recommend it to anyone with children planning a trip to Paris. We all loved it. Michael won the first horse race and was delighted with himself. Then Daniel won one.
We all got to go on a carousel made of bicycles which was powered by the people on it and was surprisingly speedy and great fun.
Herself and Daniel made friends with an American girl and boy about their own ages and they went around together. The Princess discovered that her American friend was not allowed to have her own mobile phone and her life was a misery. On the other hand, her friend was going to start learning to drive from the following February when she turned 15 and herself nearly expired from envy when she heard this. Michael meanwhile was bonding with the tour guide, who pronounced him the best visitor she had ever had, and a lovely older couple from California. A part of me died when I heard him asking them what they thought of Donald Trump. I rushed up and said, “Michael, Irish people like to talk about politics a lot but I think for Americans and French people, it’s considered quite rude.” The woman said kindly, “It doesn’t matter and explained to Michael that she thought that any Americans he met in Paris were unlikely to be Trump supporters.” She turned to me and said sadly, “Of course, we came on holidays to get away from that but it’s the first question everybody asks us.” I did feel bad.
We went for lunch nearby. Apparently Mitterand was outraged that the Ministry of Finance was housed in the Louvre and turfed them out to Bercy. I am sure that they were outraged in their turn. I find it hard to imagine any individual in this State having the power to dislodge the Department of Finance from Government buildings but that’s the French presidential system for you, real, concentrated power, ability to move Finance officials to the middle of nowhere. The whole thing looked up in the air for a while when there was a concern that the Minister mightn’t be able to get to the Assembly in time for votes but then some smart person suggested that he could get a barge.
That evening Mr. Waffle suggested we should cycle to what is known in family lore as his “hellhole suburb” and on the map as Arceuil. This is where he lived when he was a student in Paris. It was within easy electric bike reach. Although his house, once found, did overlook a railway line, never really a plus, I didn’t think it was that bad. Not as nice as the student residence I enjoyed in Modena when I was doing my Erasmus year, but you can’t have everything.
Still not at the end. Are you exhausted yet?