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C’était au Temps où Bruxelles Bruxellait

15 April, 2018 at 8:32 pm by belgianwaffle

We went to Brussels for a couple of days over Easter. This summer, it will be ten years since we left. It seems scarcely credible. We were curious as to whether the children would remember anything. Spoiler alert: they did not.

Day 1

I found us a loft in a bohemian part of town through airbnb. A lot of people were away over Easter and friends had kindly offered to let us stay in their house but Mr. Waffle said that we couldn’t possibly impose in that way. It’s possible I could have but he just couldn’t. It was pretty cool and absolutely enormous but, dear God, does sound travel in a loft where the bedroom walls do not reach to the ceilings.


We decided to go to Rue des Bouchers for dinner. It’s an extremely touristy restaurant strip near the Grand Place where we had never eaten before and probably won’t again. Not the most amazing food experience. We went around the Grand Place in the bucketing rain. The children were a bit underwhelmed. And though, in some ways, it was a very authentic Belgian experience, I can’t say I was absolutely delighted either.


By contrast the Galeries de la Reine which, as 19th century shopping arcades go, is quite a good one was viewed with mild enthusiasm. It was, at least, dry. We saw a 157sqm flat to rent in the Galeries for €1,600 pm which would get you a shoebox in the middle of nowhere in Dublin and reflected on the overheated state of the Dublin property market.


Day 2

We went for lunch with old friends of ours. I am sure they welcomed us like a hole in the head as they had just driven back to England the night before to collect their son from boarding school and they were off to Italy on holidays the next day and, unkindest cut, she had just had bad news from the Belgian authorities about citizenship and I think Brexit is likely to be awkward for them. However, we were delighted to see them and everything seemed unchanged except for the five enormous children we now have between us. Their son who attended our wedding as a three month old is now about 6 foot 6. It was very hard to stop saying, “You’ve got so tall” on a loop.

We then went into town and had some chips, looked at the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis, had a restorative drink in the Metropole (I used to go there with my father when I lived in Brussels in the early 90s and it is gratifyingly unchanged). The boys and I went home while Mr. Waffle and herself explored the excitements of the Rue Neuve (shops). It continued to rain.

Day 3

Herself did a very elaborate Easter egg hunt for her brothers in the apartment which they quite enjoyed even though Michael is not an Easter egg fan. Mr. Waffle and I went for breakfast in the pain quotidien in the Sablon and then we went home and dragged everyone to Easter Sunday mass in the Sablon (quite long, included an organ concert and Gregorian chant, children’s patience was tried high). Afterwards we went for lunch at the bottom of the Sablon – the Sablon must be one of the most expensive places to eat in Brussels but just at the end is the much cheaper flea market zone and we had lunch there which was both satisfactory and economical. I had the classic Brussels spag bol which always includes carrots. I was not disappointed. Then we explored the famous (for a certain value of famous) flea market at Place Jeu de Balle (herself fascinated, boys almost horizontal from boredom). We took the outside lift back up to the Palais de Justice which towers in a menacing manner over this working class part of Brussels and, indeed, was designed to do so. Mr. Waffle tells me that a local insult is “architecte”.

In an effort to entertain the boys we went next to the dinosaur museum. This is largely unchanged since we left 10 years ago and I spent much time there when we lived in Brussels so it was a real trip down memory lane for me. The children did not remember it at all but pronounced it moderately satisfactory which was really all I could hope for.

Day 4

We went to visit our old haunts, our old flat, the parks we used to go to. It lashed rain but we did get a chance to do some before and after photos. My favourite is this one from Rue de la Glacière which was around the corner from our house. We must have walked up and down it 1000s of times. The street is called after the ice factory which is still there (now supplying ice for sea food displays and the like rather than ice boxes as must have been the case in the 19th century). Just inside the door, there is an old cart which had previously been used to haul ice around and had been sitting there for about 100 years. The children always enjoyed climbing up and sitting in it. I was pleased to see that in the 10 years since we had last seen it, there had been no significant change. The children, on the other hand, have changed quite a bit.


The children and Mr. Waffle went to explore our favourite playground (Parc Renier Chalon, thanks for asking) and the Princess’s old school. On the way there, they met the optician who had supplied Daniel’s first pair of glasses. He is now in his 90s and very sprightly. They had a grand old chat and he revisited with Daniel the proper way to clean your glasses. Then we all went to lunch in a nearby bistro which Mr. Waffle and I were very fond of when we lived in Brussels. It was perhaps a bit elaborate for our needs but I was glad to see it has remained unchanged.

That afternoon we went to the toy museum. When the children were small, we went there all the time. Although they did not remember it, it was completely unchanged. We knocked an entertaining enough couple of hours out of it recreating scenes from the children’s youth. Even Michael was moved to concede that it was quite good.


After this I went in to the Grand Place, did some mild shopping in the environs and settled myself in front of the fire in the Rose Blanche, a cafe on the corner of the Grand Place where we used to go a bit when we lived in Brussels. In due course, herself and Mr. Waffle joined me but the boys stayed in the flat, unimpressed by the lure of the city centre.

Day 5

The Princess and I went to the pain quotidien for breakfast and then took ourselves to the Musée des Beaux Arts. The hours and hours I spent with her there when she was a baby – it was less bad than you might imagine because it was always very quiet. I was a bit worried because now everywhere seems to be inundated with tourists but, happily, the gallery was as gloriously empty as it had ever been. Herself is a great art gallery companion, she seems to be genuinely interested in the pictures and we passed a very happy couple of hours. I know sometimes, you can photograph something to make it look like it’s empty when it’s really not but these pictures do convey the genuine echoing emptiness we encountered. If you are going to Brussels, I cannot recommend the galleries highly enough.




While the Princess and I were enjoying our art extravaganza, the boys and Mr. Waffle went to look at the Botanique gardens adjacent to our apartment. Alright but, of course, damp, was the verdict.

We went for lunch in an Italian near the apartment which was a great success but the children were all disappointed that they did not meet a Madam Pipi. When we lived in Brussels, the toilets in many establishments were guarded by fierce older ladies wearing aprons and sitting in front of a saucer. They kept the toilets clean and you had to pay them on the way in and if you didn’t understand the rules and failed to pay them, the consequences were truly terrifying. However, they seem to have all died out while we were away and while it makes going to the bathroom in Brussels a great deal less unnerving, it feels like the end of an era.

In the afternoon we went to mini-Europe which was more entertaining than we expected but probably a visit once a decade is sufficient.


All in all, it was nice to go back although, very damp. It was strange but, I suppose not entirely surprising, that the children remembered none of our regular haunts. I wonder how long I would need to be back in Brussels for to forget I had ever gone away; not very long, I suspect.

Paris – Part Five (This is the End)

20 September, 2017 at 9:52 pm by belgianwaffle

Friday, 18 August

More rain.

Mr. Waffle and I went out early for breakfast. And then we went for lunch to a fish restaurant in Montparnasse. We left the children to their own devices. Likely to be electronic devices, but we shut our eyes to this.

After lunch Mr. Waffle, the boys and I went to an exhibition featuring dragons. Herself drew the line at going and was probably right as perhaps not quite what she would have liked. It turns out that our sons know an extraordinary amount about dragon lore and given that they are, you know, mythical animals, it’s surprising how consistent their information was with that in the exhibition. It turns out they do learn something in those fantasy games. As my mother says, “Knowledge is never wasted.” Though I am not sure that this was what she had in mind.




On the way home, we passed a group of boys playing football on a concrete pitch near our house and Daniel asked if he could join them. Off he went and I sat nearby watching the whitest boy in Ireland playing with 9 black kids from one of the more exciting Parisian suburbs. But Daniel was delighted with himself and they were very nice to him. I chatted with a 5 year old who was watching his elders and told me who everyone was and where they lived (large block of flats across the road) and also that he, the five year old, had just got a new cousin. I told him that Daniel had a new cousin too. “But my new cousin is in London,” said he. “So is Daniel’s!” I exclaimed and we sat there and marvelled at the delightful coincidence.

In one of the papers there was an article about the new French equality Minister who had fought her way up from one of the rough suburbs to Ministerial glory. “Which rough suburb?” you cry. Ah, Malakoff, of course. Maybe it was rougher when she was young but I didn’t think it was too bad at all.

Saturday 19 August

Herself and myself went back into town. We had breakfast together. We also went to HEMA. I love HEMA but this was not an optimal HEMA and I feel she still hasn’t appreciated its true wonderfulness. It’s a Dutch shop which is also in Brussels. I still have loads of stuff that I bought there years ago which has stood the test of time despite it’s cheap and cheerful ethos.


She spotted some cute bollards.




She’d been keen to go to the Monoprix for a while and we finally went. Fantastic, I have taken to the Monoprix with the zeal of the convert. We even got the boys’ school tracksuits (plain navy, no logo on pain of death, impossible to find). Then we went to Mariage Frères and I bought some very expensive Earl Grey and confirmed what I had heard from another expensive tea merchant that Lapsang Suchong is now no longer available. The woman behind the counter was a bit cagey about why EU regulations banned it but I feel I now have a complete explanation for Brexit and post-2019, I guess we all know where we can go for our illicit Lapsang.

We went to Place des Vosges for lunch.




Food was a bit indifferent but the setting was delightful.

After lunch we went to get the metro home. When we got there, the metro station was closed and two policemen with semi-automatic rifles were standing at the entrance while Parisians hung around impatiently. I suddenly felt a bit nervous and I said, “Let’s get a taxi.” It was a bit depressing and I suppose it was nothing really but I was definitely unnerved. Our taxi driver home was full of personality he had views on big pharma (against), tourists in August (for, numbers back to normal this year as I knew to my cost), terrorism (against), Mélenchon (strongly for) and cyclists (against). It was a long journey.

When we got home, Mr. Waffle asked whether I wanted to go out on the electric bicycle to the Monoprix. An irresistible combination of thrills. Sadly, I am not even being sarcastic here.

Later in the evening, Dan went out to play football with his new friends and the rest of us went to the local pub for an aperitif.


The credit card company called me to say that my card had been compromised. Alas. It was compromised in an unlikely way. About €50 spent in a suburban Parisian DIY shop. Not a credit card fraudster who thought big. I went back to the house with herself and later was able to send her out for the others saying in a timeless fashion, “Tell your father and brothers to come home from the pub.”

That evening we searched for a film we could all watch. We made them watch “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. It was a surprise success everyone was amused; it stood the test of time really well though I still think Andie McDowell is dreadfully miscast and there are some ethically dubious choices which I felt it was hard enough to explain. However, I covered up by saying things like, “Is that Mr. Bean?”

Sunday, 20 August

We went to mass in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The priest said we were all so lucky to be in this beautiful church but since most of it was shrouded by sheets and scaffolding, it was a little hard to agree. He said a good long mass including singing the gospel which is not something I’ve ever come across before. Clearly not catholic enough.

We had lunch nearby and then had an exhaustive search for an open pâtisserie. In the course of our search, a very kind woman, who led us to the only open pâtisserie in Paris asked Mr. Waffle whether he was Belgian, because of his accent. I love the Belgians, but that’s not what you want to hear. We went for afternoon tea, with the cake, at my friend’s house. She and her family had just come back from a holiday in America the previous day but they were ready and, apparently willing, to have us round. She and I shared a number of flats together in Brussels years ago and we are now exchanging our daughters on a regular basis. She lives in the 16th which is leafy and beautiful, though pretty quiet in August.


I was dying to see her flat and I was not disappointed. It is just beautiful. Parquet everywhere, big beautifully decorated rooms in an old residential building. Her children 13,11 and 9 got on reasonably well with mine.

Spot the Irish limbs:


We had tea and then we went to the park where the children played and the adults caught up on all our news. It was lovely.


We went home and had a last Parisian dinner in the pub around the corner.

Monday 21 August

I dreamt I was working for Macron. I knew at that point, it was definitely time to get away.

Packing up was quite painless. Although also, I discovered subsequently, pretty ineffective as the French people had to post back to Dublin a pair of sandals and two dresses I left behind.

Daniel and I went down to the park and had a ferocious game of table tennis. I have no idea when he improved so much. Last time we played, he could hardly get it over the net. Then we hopped into the taxi and arrived in CDG two and a half hours before our flight was due to depart. We queued up at the check-in. “Where are you going?” asked the woman. “Dublin,” we said. “You are much too early, you will have to wait and [the unkindest cut] you are delaying the people travelling to Cork.”

At the airport which was quiet, it was definitely starting to feel like home. We saw: a man going to Cork whom Mr. Waffle knew but couldn’t quite place; a man I had met at a work meeting; and sitting opposite us on the plane Mr. Waffle’s French teacher from school. Once we got to Dublin, the French people were in departures waving frantically at us. We waved back, passing them like ships in the night. I met a former colleague in the bathroom. Note for people from larger countries, this is what being Irish is like, all the time.

We arrived home and collapsed exhausted. Herself piped up, “OK if I go to a party this evening?” And that was it for another year.

Paris – Part Four

19 September, 2017 at 6:47 pm by belgianwaffle

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.


Wednesday, August 16

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?

Paris – Part Three

18 September, 2017 at 8:27 pm by belgianwaffle

Saturday, August 12

Herself and myself went for a wander around town. We went to the Galeries Lafayette. We went to Printemps. We went to H&M. We had a cup of tea on the quays and went to the bouquinistes where we had a great time poking around for hours and bought many pictures. She’s hung hers up but mine are still stacked up on the mantelpiece.

I’d left my phone back at the house so I was slightly worried that the others would be wondering what had become of us. I need not have worried. They seemed to think that we were well able to look after ourselves.

Sunday, August 13

We contemplated going to mass in Notre Dame but we were just too scared that we might have to queue to get in so we went to Saint Eustache in Les Halles instead. It’s an odd church. It is described as gothic and it is kind of gothic but it’s the first gothic church I have seen with Corinthian columns. Stand out sight was undoubtedly Louis XIV’s Minister for Finance’s monument. He was so successful at raising taxes for Louis XIV that his funeral had to be held at night so there wouldn’t be riots. The locals appeared to have noticed that he lived pretty high on the hog himself.

We went for lunch in Les Halles and then wandered down to the Pompidou centre which could be seen from the outside without queuing. While we had a cup of tea, Daniel befriended a young French child with a ball and he and Michael played happily in the square with him.


I decided we would round out our day by taking in the view from the Arc de Triomphe. Not a super spectacular view but, presumably, less in demand for that very reason. No, that is not the case. It turns out that there is a grand big queue to get up the Arc de Triomphe as well. We wandered around the bottom instead. To be honest it’s not really quite the same.

When we got home, Mr. Waffle suggested that he and I could go out for a cycle on the French people’s bikes. He offered me the electric bike. I loved it. I always thought that I would get an electric bike for my 50th birthday but now I know that I can’t as if I did I would get no exercise whatsoever. I sailed around the suburbs taking any inclines in my stride. It was just delightful. Mr. Waffle took us to the Cité Universitaire which was nearby (on my super electric bike anyway). I’d never heard of it before but basically all sorts of countries built residences there for their students studying in Paris. Lots of countries represented with a bit of an emphasis on former French colonies. The whole area was green and pleasant with lots of paths for me to test the full power of my electric bicycle.


I was so pleased with my bicycle ride that I insisted on prolonging it to inspect Leon the lamp post which is, you know, fine but still a lamp post. As the lamp post in Narnia, it burns day and night but you really can’t see that very well in day time.


Monday, August 14

To their great relief, Mr. Waffle and I left the children at home alone and went into town together for a wander. We had a nice breakfast and then went to the Orangerie where put off by the queues for the gallery we sat, instead, under the shade of the trees on those nice green municipal chairs and looked out over the Place de la Concorde [fountains to wash away the blood and all that] and chatted.



It was peaceful, it was sunny. We reminisced on the last time we had been in Paris together which was when I was pregnant with the boys and, daringly, we left herself with our lovely Polish cleaner for the weekend. It all went very well and when we came home, she could recite a number of Polish nursery rhymes (we were assured they were nursery rhymes, we weren’t really in a position to know).

It was as well that we had had an enjoyable morning. That afternoon we went to Aquaboulevard. Herself had been there before when she was in Paris and recommended it. It turns out that it is much more enjoyable during term time than on Monday 14 August when everyone left in Paris is on holidays (the 15th being a bank holiday and everyone “making the bridge”. If you are unfamiliar with this French term, you haven’t lived.) We pre-booked our tickets. As requested by management the gentlemen of the party bought speedo type togs, as shorts are not allowed. We were ready. In a daring move, we took the tram (public transport abroad other than metros is..exciting). When we arrived, the man at the door asked to see the boys’ swimsuits. They were wearing them so opened their trousers and showed him. We moved on. “Hey,” he said to Mr. Waffle, what about yours?” Hilariously, he too had to show his swimsuit which he was wearing. An auspicious beginning. When we reached the top of the stairs, the man guarding the entrance yelled down to his colleague “Have you checked the English people’s togs?” We ignored the error on nationality. Clearly they had been stung previously by hordes of English people descending in their Hawaiian shorts.

The pool itself was heaving. It was barely possible to stand in it, let alone swim in any direction. There were long, long queues for each of the slides. The pools were generally up to my shoulders so too deep for the children to stand in in comfort. Every time I lost sight of one of them (extremely easy to do in the mass of humanity wedged together in the pools notwithstanding the fact that they were several shades whiter than the whitest French people), I was terrified that they had drowned. There was a big sandy outdoor area and an outdoor pool as well as the indoor ones and it was a bit warm outside – this was one of the warmest days we were there which was why we had selected it for our pool day; clearly half of Paris had the same idea. It was pretty hideous. Alas.

We returned home and to cheer myself up after our swimming trips, I took another cycle on the electric bike around the mean streets of the suburbs. I amused myself by looking at the price of houses in Paris. Unsurprising: Paris is dear. Even Malakoff is dear; well over a million euros for a medium sized 3 bedroom house.

That night, I discovered that the Princess was obeying the letter if not the spirit of the ban on electronic devices in the bedroom. I noticed that the light in the basement (storage spot for spare pasta, pulses, water, milk and various other essentials) was on and, when I turned it off, there was a shriek of indignation from the bottom of the stairs. Herself was on the phone to her friend. At regular intervals for the remainder of the holiday, I would see her haring down the stairs to talk to some friend or other. The washing machine was there as well and Mr. Waffle frequently ran into her while rescuing the laundry.

Paris – Part Two

17 September, 2017 at 1:07 pm by belgianwaffle

Wednesday, August 9

I got a message from my sister about an incident in west Paris to which I forgot to reply. By the end of the day she was worried we were all dead and buried.

We were not. We were wet and, to varying degrees, bored. It lashed again. We went to the Musée des Arts et Metiers which I dimly remembered visiting years ago. I remembered that I liked Foucault’s pendulum. Our guidebook (treacherous Routard) recommended it for children.

Things began positively enough. The reception staff were charming (all of the people left in Paris in August seem to be delightful, I cannot imagine why, as working when almost everyone else is on holidays is, surely, very distressing). The lady who gave us our tickets asked where we were from and when we said Ireland she said that of course we must be as we were wearing green. Coincidentally, we were, and I couldn’t be bothered disabusing her from the notion that all Irish people wear green abroad for identifying purposes. “What’s your favourite episode of Father Ted?” she asked. After some consideration, Michael suggested that it was the one where Mrs. Doyle fell in love with the milkman. “I love Fr. Ted, “ she said and, pointing at her fellow ticket desk operative, she added, “I’ve got him into it too.”

We started off by visiting the pendulum. It’s housed in an old church and there are also various interesting old airplanes and cars. That’s the most exciting bit. Don’t start there. The museum is really a hymn to the cog and, if engineering is not your thing, possibly best avoided. I was mildly impressed by the recreation of Lavoisier’s laboratory but the children were not. Many of the interactive displays which, in and of themselves were not exactly fascinating, were broken which didn’t help.

Here are some of my children enjoying their visit.

IMG_2498The highpoint was meeting a charming French toddler whose parents were also looking for something to do in rainy Paris in August. Frankly, not a success. The Metro station was pretty cool though.

Thursday, August 10

We awoke to further torrential rain and, leaks everywhere. We were veterans at managing the various buckets required at this point and worked like a well oiled machine to catch drips. It reminded me of primary school when the pre-fabs leaked.

We decided to go to the Louvre. To avoid queuing, Mr. Waffle booked tickets online. Sadly, we couldn’t find a printer in the French people’s house and he had to comb the mean streets of Paris in August to find someone willing to print out the tickets.

The pre-booked tickets did the job. Although there were millions of people and we did have to queue for ages for the toilets we sailed into the gallery itself. We did a highlights only tour:

– the Mona Lisa

IMG_2524-the winged victory of Samothrace (for some reason, no picture, maybe she was submerged beneath the hordes)

– the Venus de Milo

IMG_2537I always feel that art is wasted a bit on galleries like the Louvre. If the National Gallery in Dublin had David’s “The Oath of the Horatii”, Vigée-Lebrun’s self-portrait with her daughter or Ingre’s “Grande Odalisque” all of which we noted in passing, you can bet they would get a lot more avid attention from the visitors than they do in the Louvre.

There was active interest in looking at the ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian stuff and these rooms were a bit quieter.

IMG_2531We were exhausted at this stage and found ourselves near an exit so I suggested we might go out and come back in for our coats. Mr. Waffle was dubious but he was right. Once out, they weren’t letting people back in whether it was a suspicious parcel or overcrowding, we weren’t getting in for a while. Happily the rain had stopped.

I said that I would take them all to Café Marly, my treat. It’s a lovely café with a view over the pyramid of the Louvre and quite eye-wateringly expensive. I have been there before only in circumstances where all parties paid for their own fun. It enjoys a special place in our relationship also as it is there that I discovered from Mr. Waffle and the French waiter that I had been pronouncing mille feuille wrongly for years (ah, happy memories, it is particularly hard to pronounce, Cork people have got around this by saying milly filly, my variant on this was entirely unintelligible to the waiter and Mr. Waffle had to leap in and help me out with his smooth knowledge of the pronunciation of French vowels – particularly challenging).

Here are some of my children enjoying the exquisite setting of the Café Mary.

IMG_2549Our bill for three slices of cake and a drink for everyone in the audience was €76. Even the waiter was slightly appalled. Frankly, for €7.50 for a pot of tea I would have hoped for more than one cup in the pot. I hoped in vain.

Herself and myself went back into the Louvre for the coats. “Let’s look at one thing before we go,” I said, “whatever we see will be amazing.” We found ourselves wandering among priceless Gobelin tapestries but, it takes a certain kind of person to be amazed at tapestries and we were not that kind of person. We did some damage in the gift shop though.

IMG_2550We then went to join Mr. Waffle and the boys in the Tuileries funfair which was a great success and not shockingly expensive given its location. Mr. Waffle tells me that the Canard (French satirical magazine) is much preoccupied by the tendering process and how one person has a stranglehold but, to be honest, it’s not really much dearer than any other of these things.

We enjoyed it. The view from the Ferris wheel was great and there was no queue for anything. A big plus for any attraction in Paris in August we were rapidly discovering.

IMG_2556IMG_2561The sun was out for most of our trip to the fairground and once it started to rain, we decided to pack up and head home. As we were tramping along the Rue de Rivoli we passed the English language bookshop and picked up a copy of a book that day published by a family member. The glamour, the excitement.

Friday, August 11

Having consulted with the children, they said they would like to go to the aquarium. We went. It was grand as aquariums go.

IMG_2613IMG_2643IMG_2607We were adjacent to the Eiffel Tower so we decided to go up without booking tickets in advance. Can I emphasise how unutterably stupid this was? At least it wasn’t raining or too warm. We waited 2 hours to get through security. We waited a further good hour at the foot of the Eiffel Tower to get the lift up as we decided that we couldn’t face walking up. We had ample opportunity to regret this decision. We eventually got up to the second floor but the top was closed, due to numbers, I think. Although it re-opened while we were on the second floor there was zero appetite from my queue weary family to queue further for tickets to the top. We went back down by the stairs and Mr. Waffle bought me an overpriced cup of tea and we sat and looked at the view on the first floor while the children explored which was mildly pleasant but, overall, frankly, not a success.

IMG_2670IMG_2707By this time it was late and we were all starving. We decided to go to Leon which is a Belgian chain specialising in mussels and chips. Using the amazing free roaming (heartfelt thanks, European Commission, heartfelt thanks) we looked up the handiest branch and I rang them to book a table. “No need,” they said cheerily, “there are always tables available”.

We marched to Pont d’Alma, which is further than you might think from the Eiffel Tower (everywhere looks close when you are up high), only to discover that the RER was closed and a replacement bus service was laid on. We gloomily took the replacement bus service and eventually arrived at our mussels and chips destination after 9 to find a queue out the door. We were down hearted. No need to book, indeed. Mr. Waffle went off to inspect some neighbouring brasseries and the children and I dolefully joined the queue. It moved fast and in 5 minutes we were sitting at a table with menus in our hands. When we needed Belgium to feed us, it did not let us down. Quite honestly, it was, I think, the most successful dining out experience of the holiday.

Still more to come. Oh yes.

Paris – Part One

2 September, 2017 at 9:04 pm by belgianwaffle

Monday August 7

In view of the positively apocalyptic warnings about airport waiting times, we followed Aer Lingus’s advice and arrived at the airport two and a half hours early. It was not necessary. In fact, everything was extremely smooth and we could easily have been at the gate within half an hour of our arrival at the airport. When we arrived in France, we took a taxi our destination in the southern suburbs of Paris. Mr. Waffle had been going to make us and our luggage take the RER and then change to the metro but happily this would have cost nearly €50 and the taxi set fare was €55 so he relented.

As we drove at great speed into our suburb I noticed a sign saying it was twinned with Ballymun (one of Dublin’s more exciting suburbs) and my heart sank, however, Mr. Waffle who has better eyesight than me reassured me that it was Ballymoney in Northern Ireland which, I am sure has its own problems, but I did find that reassuring. The house was down an alarming lane. I was a bit alarmed. When we got in it was very bohemian but not bad with a small yard.


Mr. Waffle’s phone pinged as we arrived. They had found my wallet on the airplane (thank you Aer Lingus). On the plus side, it was found before I knew it was lost. On the minus side, it was a €55 one hour taxi ride away. A problem for the following day we decided. The more pressing problem was where everyone would sleep. Michael has the smallest room at home and last summer he was promised that this holiday he would get his choice of bedrooms. Despite the French people saying there were four bedrooms, there appeared to be only three. For quite a while the prospect loomed that Daniel and herself would have to share. It’s hard to say which of them was more horrified. Happily it turned out that the couch in the television room could be turned into a bed and Daniel holed up there.

The house was two small artisan houses knocked together and it had more staircases than would be normal in a small house and the layout was a bit baffling.



The lighting was confusing – we feel they may have done the wiring themselves. Each room boasted a lamp which was turned on in its own unusual and slightly perplexing fashion. In true bohemian fashion most of the rooms did not have doors. Call me bourgeois all you like but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a bathroom with a door. There were three bathrooms. Two did have doors, to be fair but I feel that they could have gone the whole hog and put in a door to the third one and to the bedrooms as well. There, I’ve said it.

They had a jukebox and an anxious note that we were not to use it as to do so would cause the electrical difficulties. We all internalised this message so when we heard noise coming from the jukebox each of us said anxiously to Mr. Waffle, in turn, “You’re not supposed to use the jukebox.” It turns out that the speaker for the stereo was right beside the jukebox. He had read the instructions. Of course he had.


We looked for places to put our clothes but every cupboard was filled to the brim with books and all sorts of things. We eventually found some room but not very much. It was a very full house though, I have to say, rather charming and filled with interesting things. I think they may have found our house in Dublin a bit bland. On the other hand, we have cupboard space.

Tuesday, August 8

When we woke up it was lashing. The glass extension roof in the kitchen leaked in three places.

IMG_2513 (2)

The window in the roof over the sofa leaked also in particularly wet weather. It was particularly wet weather.


In fairness, I assume the French people were not expecting torrential rain in Paris in August.

Notwithstanding the awful weather, Mr. Waffle went out to inspect Malakoff (name of our suburb, named after something in the Crimean War, I think). It’s most famous sight is Paris’s only remaining gas lamp. The lamp is called Léon and it has its own society (Les Amis de Léon) who drop by to check that all is well every morning. I was inclined to scoff at Léon the lamppost, philistine that I am.

If all France voted like Malakoff, France would be communist. The commune has always been pretty left wing. The French people had a book on the Colonies de Vacances owned by the commune. These are basically houses in the nicer parts of France where the commune would ship poorer children from the commune (I think that was traditionally most of them) to enjoy summer holidays. This is one of the things I really love about France; the acknowledgement of the huge importance of holidays for everyone.

Anyway, my rainy day task was to get myself across Paris to pick up my wallet from the airport. It took forever. I had to change in the Montparnasse-Bienvenüe Metro station and I was charmed by a huge advertisement about couples who had met on Erasmus programmes and married. The poster featured couples who were half French (obviously) and half-something else (including Irish) and their beautiful young children. I thought it was lovely and if only the British had done similar kinds of things maybe more people would have seen the advantages of the EU. However, I did not then know that every day for the next fortnight pretty much I would be changing metros in Montparnasse-Bienvenüe and I have to say the advertisement began to pall over time. Also, I am willing to bet that the Franco-Hiberno couple’s daughter is not actually called Aoiffe.

When I got to CDG, I could have kicked myself. I had left my passport back in Malakoff. I persuaded the official guarding the entrance that all my papers were in my lost wallet. At the desk that had my wallet, I asked them to pull out my photo id from my wallet and confirm it was me. They did, it was. I took my wallet and ran. All the money was gone (maybe €100), sadly but cards in situ (thanks slightly less Aer Lingus).

I went for a wander round the Île Saint Louis on the way back. The rain had stopped and it was pleasantly cool.


I noticed that faithful to the fermeture annuelle programme even Berthillon on the Île Saint Louis, possibly the world’s most touristy ice cream shop, was closed for August.


In fairness, they were in good company. Here’s a little montage I put together. A homage to the French love of holidays.


Mr. Waffle and the children came in to join me and we had dinner in a pizza place on the Île Saint Louis and saw a barge called Titantic [no hubris, thanks, we’re French]


I was keen to do further sightseeing but both herself and Michael were feeling a bit unwell so it seemed a bit inopportune. We cut our losses and headed back to the suburbs.

More to follow. Hold your breath out there.

Island Living – Part Two: The Adventure Continues

27 August, 2017 at 9:55 pm by belgianwaffle

Wednesday, 2 August

Mr. Waffle and the children got the ferry to the mainland, I came back from Cork and we all met in Baltimore where we had a delightful breakfast. I brought them all UCC tat – hats and t-shirts which went down surprisingly well but Mr. Waffle, who was not fortunate enough to go to college in Cork, now has about 5 t-shirts and feels that this may be enough.

I forced everyone to go pony trekking near Ballydehob which was reasonably successful. Mr. Waffle had never been on a horse before in his life and I had hoped there would be some amusement to be got from this but, although, he mounted quite nervously all passed off peacefully.

My oldest friend (we first met as babies – our parents were friends) has a house in Ballydehob and we met her and her partner for lunch and then they took us to the fete which was a huge success. The children loved smashing crockery, throwing wellies and bouncing on the bouncy castle. Then we went round for tea to my friend’s father and step-mother who live in a beautiful house and they were very kind to us and had a lovely afternoon tea. Daniel particularly enjoyed the scones and, I think, ate 7, helped to this feat by my friend’s father, who was sitting beside him, keeping him generously supplied.


On our way back, in memory of my youth, we went to Field’s (famous bakery) in Skibbereen. It has become a Super Valu. I’m unsure how I feel about that.

Then back to Baltimore where we inspected the castle which was well worth a visit and covered in great detail the Sack of Baltimore where in the 1600s about 100 villagers were captured by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery. Undoubtedly the single most exciting thing ever to happen in Baltimore.

We were a happy bunch boarding the ferry home. Then the ferry was very late due to an inspection. The crossing was really rough. At first the children enjoyed standing at the front of the boat bouncing up and down and getting soaked by the waves but this palled and by the time we got to the island, they were all miserable, sodden and sick as dogs. Poor Daniel actually was sick just as we pulled into the placid waters of the north harbour. Alas for the seven scones.

We did see a beautiful rainbow which in some way made up for the pain.

IMG_2254Also, we finished our jigsaw so, all in all, pretty satisfactory.IMG_2261

Thursday, August 3

The children dug their heels in and refused to leave the house. I eventually persuaded Michael to come out and inspect the library which was housed in a tiny pre-fab but had a surprisingly excellent stock. Also, I was able to leave back the library books we had brought down from Dublin and the books we took out in Cape Clear could be returned to Dublin. Is this not a superb service? I love the library.

Mr. Waffle and I went to see the lake which was a bit eerie. My father said that years ago when he had been on the island he planned to go there for a swim but when he got up to his knees, he just didn’t fancy it and waded out again. Just as well, I suppose as it is now festooned with signs warning against bathing there.

IMG_2271We strolled up to the castle then. We arrived in the late afternoon and it looked wild and remote and extraordinarily romantic. It was clearly built on the end of the peninsula and over the centuries the cliff crumbled away and now it is inaccessible on a small lonely island.IMG_2284

IMG_2286You have to hand it to the O’Driscolls, they know how to site a castle.

High on my successful touristy activities, I went to the craft shop and bought some local pottery. We also followed up on cross-questioning about school with the local teenager managing the shop (there’s a primary school on the island and for secondary, since the boarding school closed down, they go over to the mainland and stay in digs for the week and then come back for the weekend).Friday, August 4Herself was feeling a bit under the weather so she decided not to come out with us on a boat tour. We hoped to see whales and dolphins and all kinds of exotic birds. Alas, it was not to be, we saw seals alright but they are not exotic if you live in Dublin. We also saw arctic terns, shags and cormorants which we identified with varying levels of enthusiasm with the aid of binoculars and a bird book we had liberated from my parents’ house in Cork.IMG_2304

Michael spent much of the trip in this attitude. A downside, perhaps to our visit to the library the previous day.

IMG_2298The poor boatman was gutted. He made tea on his primus stove and we had tea and biscuits on the small boat rocked by the sea while he lamented the lack of more exciting birds and aquatic life. He knew my Irish teacher. Of course he did. He astonished me by telling me that he was not an O’Driscoll but his mother was. He was a native Irish speaker and it was nice for the boys to speak a bit of Irish. At least, I was pleased, not so sure about them.


By the time we got home, herself was feeling a bit better so I forced her out to the library (underwhelmed) and to the castle (genuinely, though reluctantly, impressed).


While we were gone, the boys made friends with the next door neighbours and later we all met up at the north harbour where we had ice cream. “Did you close the front door when you were leaving the house?” I asked the boys hopefully. They didn’t know. Happily crime levels on the island appear to be low. Then, high on my success with herself, I made the boys walk up to the castle as well. They were impressed also. Frankly, this castle represents the high water mark of impressing my children with anything historical.


It was a beautiful evening and I decided to go for a swim in the south harbour. With some difficulty I made my way in over the rocks. It was one of the coldest swims I have ever had in my life but the surroundings were utterly beautiful and aside from Mr. Waffle, sitting on a nearby rock to make sure I didn’t drown, there wasn’t a person to be seen for miles. Mr. Waffle may have been put off going in by my description of the bone-numbing cold.


We finally got to Seán Rua’s on pizza evening that night. It was a series of triumphs.

Saturday, 5 AugustIMG_2381

Our landlady gave us a lift to the ferry. When we got across we decided to go for breakfast in the cafe in Baltimore but it turns out it’s a lot busier mid-morning on a Saturday than early on a Wednesday (which was when we had been there last) and as we were driving back to Dublin that day, maybe not a great start. As we were late anyway, I went to the craft shop and bumped in to the creator of my island pottery which was pleasing. I bought another plate. Don’t knock it, I’m keeping the rural economy afloat.

We scurried off to the car park to find that our car had been boxed in. This was a bit alarming as the driver was unlikely to be in the town and much more likely to have gone off for the day to one of the many islands readily accessible from Baltimore harbour. We spent ages backing and filling. Many people offered advice; I went around the local businesses to see whether anyone knew the the owner; to no avail. Then this wonderful local came out from a nearby building. He began by roundly and colourfully denouncing the car which had boxed us in. This was an excellent start. Then he suggested a new approach and, with millimetres to spare, it worked. We were free.

I had decided that we would stop in Cashel on the way home. We were going to have lunch in the Cashel Palace but, alas, it was closed for refurbishment. There followed some distressing wandering around the town but we got lunch eventually. Fortified, we headed towards the Rock of Cashel. I haven’t been there for years (in fact I think the last time I was there was when Mr. Waffle and I stopped off to stay in the Cashel Palace on the way back to Dublin after our wedding in 2001) and on previous occasions, it was always pretty much empty. Not this time; it was heaving. Highlight was my heritage card getting us in free. It was really much too busy to enjoy. Daniel and myself found some of the talks interesting. The OPW guides are always superb, in fairness. However, you could barely move for tourists. Picture below gives an entirely erroneous impression of the tourist density.


We went back to the town, fortified ourselves with sheep ice cream (fine, but, you know, not sure it’s really worth the farmer’s effort – we met the farmer’s father and he gave us the full journey from udder to cone) and hightailed it back to Dublin.

Tune in for our next installment which will be from the City of Lights.

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