Right now Geert is sleeping, sucking his thumb. And like every night, I pull it out of his mouth. I cover him up and shut his door again after finding that he’s gotten out of bed to open it that precious 6 inches.

Right now Hattie is snuggled with her dog, Ice Cream, in the middle of her big bed. Naked. Pigtails askew. She was so tired at bedtime tonight that she asked to sleep without jammie’s so she wouldn’t get hot.

Right now Leva is sleeping peacefully, on her side of the bed, like an impressionist painting. I think about how today, walking home with her coat open in freezing rain she tells me matter of factly that she walked home from school like this today and “her breasts didn’t even get cold.” Uh, your breasts didn’t even get cold? “No. My breasts didn’t even get cold.” Because she’s a big girl who walked home from school without an adult for the first time today, with her friend Maggie Wessel. And Maggie’s mom and Brad stealthed home after them, watching them sprint across every street after looking both ways at least six times.

One day we went to Glen Helen. It was really fun! When we were walking we saw a tree that cracked and looked like a square.

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It was cool because right next to the tree there was a cave and me and my brother and sister went inside. It was cool inside, it was dark, fun, creepy, small.

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After we went in the cave we went to yellow springs and played in the orange water. It was fun. We used sticks to clean the water and wipe away the leaves.

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Then we where hiking and we found some cool stuff. there were a lot of steps.

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Then we went to Clifton and saw Christmas lights!

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When we were done, we got in the car and drove to Young’s dairy and got ice cream.

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When we got home we went straight to bed!

We awoke for our last day of Paris to more rain. Again, we lounged over breakfast and had an extra cup of tea, but this time it wasn’t letting up. Leva played with Maja, the hotel’s cat, who seems to enjoy cappuccino.

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We debated going to see a movie – it seemed like a bad idea to be in Paris, and to go see an american movie in a dark room, but without much else to do, and it being Sunday (when we assumed all the museums would be packed), we decided to go. The lady at the hotel helped us find one that would be in English and we chose Maleficent. We took the metro to the Opera district to catch a matinee. Upon arriving, we noticed how small it was. And how cheap! I think it was the equivalent of less than $3 per ticket, for a new release. Unheard of. Leva got a snack that tasted like nature.

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When we were finally escorted into the theater we were amazed at how small it was. And ugly. And I know people with TV screens larger than the screen. Leva couldn’t believe it.

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The movie was good, and the best news was, by the time we came out, it looked like the rain was done! We snapped a picture of the Opera.

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We decided to head towards the gardens of the Palace du Luxembourg, because we’d read about a really great playground there, and it said you could rent the little remote controlled sailboats in the fountain. We metroed to Hotel du Ville, which seemed to be the easiest way to get there, and planned to walk through town. The building was pretty, but there really wasn’t anything to do there.

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We crossed the Seine and I got nostalgic. Before we’d even left yet.

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On the way, we passed Notre Dame. We debated going inside and lighting a candle for Leva, since her dad and I had lit one for her when she was there last time (in my belly), but the line was ridiculously long, so again, we snapped a few pictures.

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Continuing, we found the fountain that Brad had taken my picture in front of eight years ago. I don’t remember what it’s called. I’m a bad tourist.

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And after walking for what seemed like a really long time, we finally made it to the Palace of Luxembourg! It was lovely. But there were no sailboats in the fountain. Only a few ducks. Leva shows us how mad she was.

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The good news was that they had square trees here too, and open chairs for lounging. We stopped to be Parisian.

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We finally found the playground, and not only do you have to pay to play there, it’s closed on Sundays. Leva got mad again.

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Truly, this was disappointing. No sailboats, no playground, grrrr. We went back to the fountain and looked for fish, then spent a REALLY long time spitting at them and being thoroughly disgusted when they’d try to eat it.

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We hung out for a while, but got hungry and started our walk back. The cafes in the area seemed too touristy and some were already closing, so we crossed the Seine again on our way back to the hotel.

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We hit the Algerian restaurant we’d been before and Usama waited on us again. We tried a new dish that turned out to be kind of a stew, and wasn’t as good as the beef with olives. So we bought cookies at the bakery next to the hotel and made up for it with dessert. The day wound down slowly and we went to bed early, to get ready for our long trip back the next morning.

We had to get up early, which was hard after always sleeping until 10a, and I was a little nervous about messing things up and missing our flight. We printed our boarding passes from the hotel (why are french keyboards different than american ones? we have the same letters!), and got to the train station. There, we had typical problems buying our tickets and didn’t eat enough. By the time we got on the train to the airport, Leva was feeling a little sick. But this time, CDG was actually good to us. We found our gate early and there were cafes and a small playground. Even this really amazing gigantic wall art made out of living plants. We had our last Orangina.

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Then boarded our plane for the trip home.

When we arrived back at CMH and were walking through the Columbus airport, on our way to dad and the family, I asked Leva what her most favorite part of the whole trip was. She thought and smiled. “Snuggling!”

Today we awoke to rain. A rain that’s great for garden growing and staying inside with jammies on and watching a movie. But not a great rain for tourism. We took our time at breakfast and watched the radar. An extra cup of mint tea. Then, what the heck, let’s get out there. One thing I learned about Leva on this trip is that she has to keep moving. Walking calms her mind and gives her purpose and she’s perfectly happy to be anywhere, in any weather, if she’s walking. But asking her what she wants to do that day or giving her choices? No way, she’ll hem and haw and fidget and have no idea what to pick or what to do. So the best thing is to just start walking and see where it takes us.

We stopped first at this Algerian (we think) “sandwich” shop (gyro? ish?) and got Leva her first chocolate crepe to go. The young man had to heat up the griddle for her and she watched as he spun the mix around and slathered it with Nutella. We took it outside in a break in the rain and tried to eat it. But my baby girl has no teeth. She kept trying to bite it and pull it, but would only pull the Nutella out of it, which was now warm and drippy. The crepe would stretch and fall and we made a MESS. I couldn’t stop laughing, eventually I had to take bites of it and feed it to her like a baby bird. She told me “I don’t think I like crepes very much”.

Down at the next metro stop from us was Pere Lachaise, the famous cemetery – it’s just about 3 to 4 blocks away, and the rain looked like it was going to hold off for at least a little while. We didn’t have an umbrella and thought this way, if worse came to worse, we could take the metro one stop and be home. On the way, we discussed who we’d like to see. Gummy had just sent us an email saying that he was listening to Edith Piaf for us, and his birthday was the next day, so we decided to seek her out.

The map at the entrance to the cemetery was not helpful. We wandered for a long time. Some tourists told us to go up to the northeast corner of the area and we should find here there. But no streets were straight and the cobbles were rough. We talked about the crypts and headstones and memorials and who must have had how much money to buy them. Leva understands death enough to know that when you’re gone, you’re not coming back, but isn’t emotionally mature enough to be sad about it. So the whole place was really interesting for her. This is us lost:

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I think this is the time when Leva started teasing me for starting every new conversation with “Bon jour, do you speak English?” Mom! Why do you say that all the time?! (because I don’t speak French, darling) At one point we found an Italian couple who lamented, No, non possiamo parlare English. So I asked them how to find Edith in Italian and Leva’s mind was BLOWN. At last! I’m a hero! Well, until I had to ask at least two more times to find it – the last being a young solo German tourist, on his way from Jim Morrison. She also made fun of me for getting lost ALL of the time. It’s true, we made a LOT of wrong turns on this trip. Perhaps a good life lesson, no?

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And another picture of dead people, because it was just so pretty

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And an espaliered apple tree – I’m going to go home and plant two of these.

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But the apple trees were next to a memorial for the flight that fell into the ocean from Rio de Janiero to Paris, and there were collections of pictures of children on the flight and I was sad. Enough death and rain for the day. Let’s go rent bikes at Versailles and ride in the rain to lift our spirits!

We got to Versailles (yes, again) and it started to pour. We sought shelter in the Flotilla restaurant on the canal and ordered, what else, Orangina and pizza. I believe Leva’s 6oz glass of Orangina was the equivalent of $6.

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It seemed to let up a bit, so we hit the bike rental station. Aaaaand you need a passport or $100 cash to leave as a deposit for a freakin’ bike. NOOOOOOOOOO!!! Leva had been looking forward to this activity all week! We were going to go ride to the shepherdess’ cottage! Even in the rain! We sulked and cursed away. Hmm, maybe we could sweettalk the boats into something better. Fortunately for us, it started raining harder. And at this moment, the other event we’d been waiting for exploded – all the fountains turned on!

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In my three previous trips to Versailles, I’d never seen the fountains on. And here they were, in the rain. And not so impressive, I’m afraid. The canal cleaned out so Leva and I made our way. She looked sad for the young girl managing the booth who forgave the deposit and sold we idiot tourists tickets to row around in the pouring rain. We had the canal to OURSELVES.

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I took the helm. And as if the angels called for it, the rain lightened and then stopped. Here was hero moment #2 for the day – Leva was utterly impressed that I could row. It occurred to me that she didn’t know that I rowed all through college. And grad school. And into med school. How could she not know? But I could row this beast in a straight line and she was amazed. Especially when this other mom brought four kids out into the lake and was zigzagging all over the place. Hero, I tell you.

Leva wanted to try too! So we got her close to the dock in case it opened up again (the skies looked terrible) and I gave her the oars. She was mad that she had to wear a life jacket (Don’t they know I can go off the HIGH DIVE, mom?) but soon forgot as she tried to manage the heavy boat. We went in circles. She learned to feather and drop them in before pulling. She was unbelievably excited. “I’M ROWING!! I’M ROWING!!” and honestly got the hang of it.

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The skies started looking even worse, so we put the boat back in at dock, just as it opened up again, and we started to RUN. Up the canal, past the big fountain with the horses, up all the stairs to the main level. We paused at this fountain just to take a silly picture – you can’t really tell, but we’re already soaked and breathless and laughing hysterically.

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We ran past tourists with umbrellas and strollers and got to the causeway that separates the back from the front and took a breather. It really showed no signs of letting up and we had at least 3/4 of a mile to the train station. What the heck, let’s make a run for it, we’re already soaked. So we pranced across the cobbles and ran for the gates only to find all of the Africans selling umbrellas. In the rain. To tourists. “Umbrella ella ella ella ella!!!” Leva looked at me longingly. One young man came up to us grinning, holding a whole bag of them. “How much?” He looked us up and down and smiled. I braced myself. “Eight euro” Sold. We took this teeny tiny flimsy umbrella, handed over the cash, and walked leisurely to the train station, snuggling and laughing. And only keeping the rain off our our heads.

The ride home was steamy. We got off at the correct station this time and took the metro straight home. This night we stopped at a “sandwich place” next to the Algerian restaurant for what we thought would be similar to a gyro. For 7 euro we got orangina, and this huge, almost loosemeat filled pita bread sandwich with fries. Leva LOVED it. She must have asked me at least three times if we could eat here again the next night.

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Still a bit hungry and not quite ready for bed, we stopped by the little patisserie next to the hotel and got dessert. Then took it to the breakfast room/bar in the hotel and watched the world cup while we ate. Then bed. A 7.5 mile day.

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Another slow day today. We took a few pictures around the B&B while we waited for the time for Bill to take us to the train station.

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Leva’s finger points into our bedroom window (which has no screen and is at floor level – very easy for bugs and animals to come into and children to fall out of. interesting.)

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We found snails in the grass. Can you eat these as escargot? We don’t know.

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I know Leva looks a little bit like she’s falling down here, but I adore this photograph of her

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Out front of the establishment

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And just one more walk

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And then our trip to the country was over. Bill drove us to the station and walked us to the platform where we said our goodbyes. The train ride was completely uneventful and we made it back to the hotel. We had lunch at the Bobar, and really couldn’t think of anything to do in what was left of the day, so we decided to go check out the fancy shopping and maybe get a sundress. We rode the metro to the opera region and stopped first at PrinTemps. It was a MADHOUSE. Full of pushy Asians standing in line to buy $4000 Channel bags, crowds, harried shoppers. We made it up to the 7th floor or so to see what they had for children. Here’s Leva holding up an innocent looking dress that cost, oh, 400 euros!

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So we went around making fun of the ridiculous price tags on seemingly innocuous clothing (mom, look, 800 euros!), and enjoyed the long escalator ride back down to the main center of the store. At least the dome was pretty!

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Outside, we walked away from the crowds and found an H&M, a Scandinavian store that we have at one of our local malls. Leva LOVED it and bought G a cowboy shirt, and she and Hattie matching white sundresses with black hearts on them. Tres chic. Although I admit that we payed more for them in Paris than we would have at home. It’s all about the experience, right? She’ll say she got it in Paris. Today was a 6 mile day.

Today was our day in the countryside. We awoke to the scurrying of little claws above our heads, up and over the vaulted ceiling. At least I think they were in the ceiling – I kept looking up to make sure they weren’t crawling across the floor or were inside the windows or something. I won’t lie, it freaked me out. Bill later told us that amorous ferrets had taken up residence up there – he’d have to rip the whole roof off to get rid of them, so they let them stay. Wild ferrets… who’d have thought? Bill had his chores to do (he cleans the bathrooms) and then was ours for the day. We started with an easy, but rather picturesque breakfast.

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When he was finished, the idea was to go to the Mercier Champagne house, because the tour is by train through the chalk caves, and we thought Leva would enjoy it. But we left a little late, so we took the scenic route through Haut Villers, the hometown of Dom Perignon, took a few pictures and had lunch.

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Picked out some fruit at a local tiny food store. I’m always suprised (though I shouldn’t be) by the apparent quality of food in Europe compared to the megastores of America. The produce had dirt on it, each apple was a different size, flies are flying all around it, and it looks REAL. Why is our food so pretty back home? It’s so disappointing.

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We checked out the menu at the little town square, but it was mostly salads. Leva was more in the mood for a sandwich, so we walked down the hill to a little bakery to buy one, and brought it back to the patio under the trees. This town is darling! If you look up on the walls of the buildings, you’ll see little ironworks that picture what the business is of each establishment.

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Bill and I shared a nice salad (seriously, the salads!)

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And then, just as the fruit man was closing up his truck behind us, Bill jumped up and got Leva some fresh cherries. She was ecstatic.

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Back in the car, we drove down the switchbacks to get into the town of Epernay and arrived at the champagne house. The tour was incredibly self promoting and inflated, but the caves were cool and Leva enjoyed her ride in the back of the train. At the end, she tasted her first champagne, and LIKED it!

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From here, Leva was getting a bit bored. We had found a brochure in Haut Villers for a little kiddieland called Grineyland that looked like it had some pedalboats, playgrounds, a petting zoo, etc, so Bill put the address in his navigator and we set off to get Leva some exercise. After 45 minutes (much longer than anticipated) and a few wrong turns, we pull up to the shut gates. It’s only open weekends in June. UGH. So we drove back via Reims (pronounced “Ranse”, I learned), and enjoyed the sites of the city of kings. They had a great shopping store where I bought Leva some socks. Exciting, I know, but she was out and we couldn’t do laundry, and Bill picked up a new DVD. Then Leva picked out gifts for Hattie and Geert in this Euro-learning-kids-store. Geert got a book with Legos, and Hattie got some really pretty hair ties. Then we walked towards the city center.

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Leva called this the dandelion fountain

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We approached the Cathedral at Reims, where all the french kings were coronated. Sadly, getting a face-lift, but still, very impressive.

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Inside

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Leva waking up Bill, and he shoots her picture

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Then, lucky for us, the organist came out to practice!

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From here we hopped on the highway and drove back to the B&B. We stopped by Auberge le Relais to make a reservation for Leva and I for when it opened, and to ensure that we could split a Prix Fixe menu.

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And here I have to give props to Bill. He spent the entire day with us. He drove us all around the French countryside and entertained us. He bought Leva cherries in Haut Villers and ice cream in Reims. He put up with us on a wild goose chase for a kids park that was CLOSED, while Leva and I sang All of Me to him in the car, to keep her from getting carsick. And he took at least 1000 pictures of Leva. Such generosity was unexpected and so very much appreciated. I’m honestly not sure what we did to deserve it.

We went home to freshen up, and came back for dinner. Here’s Leva owning and working an Astin Martin parked out front.

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Inside, we were seated at a lovely table with a view. Our waiter, a very tall man in a very long tuxedo who spoke (it appeared) very little English, took our order for the #2 meal (mid-level price range). When the food started to appear, Leva was getting her own serving. Uh-oh, did the splitting meals idea get lost in translation?

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She very much enjoyed the bread and “vegetable” butter (butter with all kinds of herbs and chunks of something in it), but I could see she was a little tired and a little restless. We decided that she would critique the meal.

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Her journal entry reads:
Diner with mom at Auberge Le Relais
1. cheese stik. i didint like it. It was to cheesey.
2. tiny vegetable mafin. It is cinduv gud.
3. orange juice. It is good!
4. roll and butter. It was belishush.
5. melen aputiser’s. It was good. I liket the melen smoothee the best!
6. water. It is asum!
7. shrimp, olives, tumatos, and polnta. It was good. I liket the srimp.
8. steak, fride vegetables, potato pancake. It was good. I liket the steak!
9. cheese. I didint like it!
10. coclite loloy pop, strobare morshmelo, litel mackuroon, strodary gelley, jelo, pstashyou donut, cary sordet, cary cake, It was ASUM!
The end.

A couple of words from my end: At first, we thought we had ordered a whole meal for Leva, because she kept getting her own plates, which appeared to have quite a bit of food on them. We laughed about paying $100 for her to not eat very much. But when the shrimp appeared, she got one and I got two! Wait a minute. The shrimp was whole and Leva asked for me to cut it into pieces for her, so I very politely and gently reached across the table and cut it for her. Wait, is the waiter giving me a snooty look? Must be my imagination. But when the steak arrived, the waiter, in his theatric voice asked if Mademoiselle would like her meat cut for her. Why, yes she would! So a gigantic waiter in a tuxedo leaned over, and cut Leva’s filet mignon and potato pancake for her. I was dying and she sat there grinning. I wanted so badly to take a picture, but was too scared to look even more touristy than we already did. Not to worry though, I made a complete fool of myself when trying to politely and gently cut my thick fried potato pancake – my knife slipped and slammed my fork and hand into the aujous, making a terrible racket and splattering it ALL OVER the front of my white shirt. Oh dear. Leva looked horrified, and laughed uncomfortably. Napkins were not much help. Another snooty look. When the cheese tray came, it was all white, soft, runny cheese. The waiter introduced all of them to us, but I honestly didn’t recognize a single name. Where’s the Brie? Camembert? So I pointed at a few and it’s true, Leva didn’t like any of them. Good thing they had a cherry inspired desert! We left full (and I left dirty) and happy. Leva still talks about the steak as being the best piece of meat she’s ever eaten. She’s so right.

Today it was time to get out of the bustling city and into the quiet countryside. Brad and I had visited this region 8 years ago, and, while staying in the B&B in Reuilly, met the owner, Bill Graham. Through a fortunate series of events, it turned out that he knew our friend Chris Keels, a local photographer, through a class they both had taken in Santa Fe, NM, and through Chris, we had reacquainted on facebook! When this trip with Leva was approaching, I asked Bill where we should stay in the city (he recommended the Hotel Chansonniers in Menilmontant) and asked if we could come to his place in the Champagne Valley for two nights. Not only did he make a reservation for us, he offered to drive to the nearby town to pick us up! So we got up (late, that’s how we rolled in Paris) and made our way to the Gare du Nord, where we ate breakfast and Leva sat and looked Euro.

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Then time to catch the train (only about an hour ride)

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She sat and wrote quietly in her journal for a little bit, and then played a game on my phone

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And Bill was there when we got off the train, snapping pictures continuously as we approached. It was good to see him, like being picked up by a favorite Uncle, and we ran some errands with him on the way back to the B&B, including a very big Target-like supermarket/everything store. We took pictures of eggs in the dry goods section, picked up salami and brie for Leva, and looked for videos for Bill and his wife, Meredith. When we got back, Leva and I got settled in our room and left for a walk to the Marne River.

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Through the tiny village

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To the valley

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Past the ages old church

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And to the river

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On the other side we watched fish for a while and tried to skip stones, but Leva really disliked sitting in grass and worrying about bugs, so we didn’t stay too long.

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So we continued up the road a bit to a small cherry orchard Bill had told us about, and trespassed to take a picture with Leva’s new favorite fruit, cherries.

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And after tasting a few (which Leva was NOT comfortable with), we headed home through the gleaming fields of wheat.

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We freshened up a bit and Bill asked us about dinner. There is NOTHING within walking distance of his hotel except the “fancy restaurant” we were going to go to the next night, so he had made a reservation for us at a place a few miles up the road, that a bunch of his other British patrons were going to. We thought we’d all be going together, kind of camp style, and climbed in his car. Outside the restaurant was another beautiful wheat field with a low sun, so I made Leva get out and walk into the tall, itchy stuff so I could take “fields of gold” pictures of her. I got this: another one of my favorites from the trip.

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We brushed most of the wheat off of her (and bugs), got to a table, and Leva and I sat and chatted with Bill. Leva got another raw steak and fries, which she loved and polished off. At the end of the meal, Bill was speaking french to the cute waiter, and to my horror, sneakily paid our tab! So unexpected and generous, if anything I had intended to pay HIS bill! Geez, the guy’s already driving us around and interpreting for us.

This day we had only walked 4.7 miles, but were tired from travel and dropped into sleep in the quiet quiet countryside.

Today, Leva and I did even more of the tourism thing. After spending a day in a really rather nondescript park, we thought it would be a fun day to see some PARIS and have a picnic. We started the morning by walking out to discover a very large farmers market in the boulevard right outside our door! There was a large awning that stretched along the length of it, and besides the expected farmers, we found a few butchers with small refrigerator cases, Chinese merchants with crazy cheap clothes and shoes, and even a few sections that just looked like old people garage sales. We hit up a fruit stand where Leva picked out cherries.

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We stuffed our goods in a backpack and jumped on a few metros to Montmartre. It was midday, it was hot, and the metros were REALLY crowded. Leva would get jostled and crowded and pushed, and she just held onto her pole and stared into space. We’d count stops until our destination, and she’d try to read the maps over the doors.

We popped out on a very crowded, hot street with tiny tourist shops that I didn’t really recognize. The map said to head north to the basilica, so we followed the lurching crowd up a tight hill until we saw the dome. We dodged the men wanting to tie bracelets on the wrists of naive tourists (this was fascinating to Leva – she totally got that she should stay away from them, but couldn’t grasp their malicious intent), climbed the steps and took a break halfway up to visit the fountain in the shade.

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Up a few more flights for the mandatory photo-op:

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Then slipped into the deliciously cool interior and took a lap. I have to say, the inside of the cathedral was NOT AT ALL interesting to Leva. Not the windows, not the organ, not the height of the ceiling. Maybe the candles that you could light for a prayer, but even that was brushed off pretty easily. So we went outside and looked through the viewing glasses for a euro.

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We tripped back down the stairs and set off in the direction that i thought we would find the section of shops that Brad and I had fallen in love with 8 years earlier. It wasn’t down the hill – the tourism sections just stopped at the curb. It wasn’t to the east – here we found disturbing costume shops and tailors. It wasn’t south – this was a more modern section of town made of steel and glass. Now we’re getting tired again. And all we want is a baguette and sandwich fixins. I hang my head and shuffle into the tourism station. Ah yes, it was to the west. After a few more wrong turns, we find it. Part of the reason I didn’t recognize it, I guess, is that it’s now broad daylight and not nearly as charming as twilight, when Brad and I were there. Part of the reason is because half of the stores are closed. I remembered it as larger, the cafes busier. In any case, we settled on a small grocery run by an arab woman who left the store for a while while we were in there, and bought goat brie, salami, yogurts, chocolate and, of course, Orangina upon her return. We then stopped in a fantastic bakery for our bread.

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The original plan had been to picnic at the Eiffel Tower, but we were hot and tired and hungry. Leva settled for a banana on a random bench and then filled our water bottles at the public fountain. Why don’t we have pretty fountains like this at home?

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Back on the metro for another change of trains and enduring 17 stops or so (we covered an incredible amount of city this day), and we got out at Champs du Mars, and walked another few blocks to the park at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Now we had to find a picnic spot and it was CRAZY. Most of the grass in the middle was either being used for sport or in frank sun, and shade areas were crammed with picnickers. We grabbed a tiny plot of land on a corner with a partial view, and were soon joined by a small family. But our picnic was AWESOME.

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We sat here for a while, recharged, and watch more men try to tie bracelets on women’s wrists. One woman let a man do it – we watched, eagle eyed, blatantly, to see what would happen. And whether because we were watching or because there was nothing shifty going on, the woman walked away innocently with her new, really dumb string bracelet. Interesting. Then a few obligatory tourist pictures:

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And one of my very favoritest pictures of the trip:

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And we walked to the base of the tower to look up. It was rather late in the day, and the lines that I’d been expecting weren’t to be seen. “Can we climb up inside?” Leva asked, so I walked up to the info desk to find that this WAS the line, bought two tickets, and we jumped through the gate and reached the base of the stairs! (The Brazilians had told us they waited in line for over an hour the day before, and they had bought their tickets on-line in advance!!)

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Views from the first level, which was as high as we went:

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And an Eiffel Tower selfie:

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We looked for bathrooms up there, and found port-a-potties that I just have to explain, because they were, by far, the most disgusting, revolting, nauseating port-a-potties I’ve ever seen. I imagine it must be difficult to get them up there. Perhaps difficult to clean as well? But they were full to the rims of the toilets with human waste and detritus. TO THE RIMS, I tell you. I’ve never seen anything like it. We almost barfed.

At the bottom there was a young lady with boy-like exercise clothes on and an asymmetrical long mohawk doing a street performance where she handled a soccer ball. Almost like a mixture of rhythmic gymnastics and ball handling. Amazing.

At this point, we had a few hours left in the day, had relatively recently eaten our lunch (at 4pm, i think), so, what the hey, let’s go to Versailles. We were close to the station where you catch the train, and I didn’t have an expectation to take her inside the palace, maybe we could go find the Queen’s Hamlet? (which I mistakenly thought was the petit trianon – more on that later) We had some difficulty buying tickets again (darn credit cards!), but literally ought the tickets and caught a double decker train not 5 minutes later. I didn’t recognize where we arrived either, but followed some Americans on their first anniversary dinner to the entrance to the palace. At this point, it was about 6pm and all the ticket stations were closed, but you could get into the gardens for free! We took some lovely pictures in the evening light.

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The bicycle rental place was closed, the row boats were closed, so we walked among the square trees to find the petite trianon.

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Getting somewhat lost again (I told you this was a recurring theme!) we asked some police men how to get to the petite trianon. And when we arrived and saw the small palace, realized that it was NOT the shepherdess cottage. A sign with a map made me feel like it was still a long walk away, so we cut our losses and meandered back to the exit. This time we stopped to admire all the statues. “Why is he NAKED?” “Why is that snake biting her NIPPLE?” “Why is that man getting bitten by a LION?” I tried to explain the mythologic stories where I could, or look for clues as to who these people were (not Eve, but Cleopatra, I discovered), but realized quickly that I’m the worst greek and roman mythology and history rememberer ever. Poor Leva, I think she really would have enjoyed hearing the stories about each and every statue in that park.

We left as the sun started to tilt and made our way home.

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Back in Menilmontant, we stopped at an Arabic (Algerian?) restaurant on our street, just up from the hotel. We had noticed plates of what looked like eggplant spread while walking by another night, and it smelled so good. Our waiter, Usama, (handsome rogue with fantastic English) tickled Leva’s cheeks and suggested “Beef with olives”. We got this:

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The was the best plate of food I think we’d had yet. Spicy meatballs on french fries (freedom fries?) covered with gravy and green olives. Oh man. Leva was really tired by this point and spent a lot of time staring into space. I literally put food in her mouth and paid the tab – only 7 euro. We’re coming back to this place!

Then home. An 11 mile day.

Today, we thought we’d play things closer to the vest – Leva had a great time wandering parks, eating sorbet for lunch, and doing a little shopping, but all she had been talking about since getting to France was the Jardin L’Acclimatation. We had found it on yet another family-in-France site, and it sounded, honestly, sort of fun. It seems that it’s an “amusement park” that has roots in Napoleonic France, then later was a sort of petting zoo/get your carriage pulled by exotic animals kind of place, before it morphed into part-amusement ride park, part-extended playground park. In any case, Leva had seen exactly one tiny picture of it, and in that picture was a very non-impressive roller coaster, and she had her heart set on it. I asked the lady at the hotel about it over breakfast that morning, and she had a vague idea of what it was, but not really. Interesting.

We took the metro to a corner station, Porte Maillot, that honestly, seemed to be nowhere, and started walking in the general direction of where we thought we were going. We found small train tracks (we knew we took a small train into the park) and followed them backwards to an unmanned ticket kiosk. Fortunately, 2 Brazilian families were right in front of us and helped us buy tickets. This introduced us to Cecilia and Nelson, their daughter Rebecca, and another couple (who’s names i forget) and their daughters Sophia and Juliana. As luck would further have it, Rebecca was 7 and spoke perfect english, and her mother (whose english was better than my own) and I became immediate friends as well. This worked out perfectly. The four girls were ages 7, 7, 9, and 12 and Leva instantly had friends to play and ride with. We rode the train in together.

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The park entrance had fun cold mists that would spray out of the ground and random intervals, and the girls ran around getting their legs soaked. After we were inside, we realized that no one had checked to see if we had tickets to the park. So french.

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Adjacent to this were several little playgrounds and Leva, hurting for playground action, jumped in.

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The families had planned to have a picnic as soon as they arrived, and so that Leva could spend time with the girls – they fed her! It was so like being with americans – we took the girls to go potty, wash up, and set them up with plates (for some reason, I couldn’t imagine the french taking their girls to the bathroom to wash hands before a picnic, i don’t know why). Leva had her first salami and brie sandwich with olives, and was very happy. Then she and the girls raced away to the zip line.

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Entering the park – Sophia, Rebecca, Juliana, and Leva

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We pulled them away to go on the rides – each ticket was 3 Euro, and you’d buy a bunch of tickets and take them to the rides, some of which took more than one ticket. We tried the little roller-coaster.

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This ridiculous ride and bounced you up and down aggressively forwards, and then backwards. Leva and Sophia were too short to ride without an adult, but fortunately for us, the Carnies working in France are about as uptight as the ones in the states. Cecilia and I looked and each other, shrugged, and ran up with both girls, sat them next to each other and ran away. We stood behind a pole waiting to see if they’d get kicked off – of course they didn’t.

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We also tried the swings,

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this crazy one car rollercoaster that rode the track, but spun randomly – all four girls went in this together and it would spin at the corners and squish them all together as they squealed

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And found another playground. This was interesting – here, Leva and girls started playing essentially the same game that Leva plays on the playgrounds at home. This kind of lost mermaid and then the others have to find you and you have to rescue someone kind of complicated game. And while Rebecca spoke good english, and Sophia’s was fair, Juliana did not speak any at all. Watching the four of them use some words and hand motions and run around as though there were no language barriers and as though they had all played this game before was delightful.

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From here we went to the sprinkler park. Unfortunately, I had sort of read about the sprinkler park and though I could keep Leva away from it, but the other girls had all brought their suits to play, and Leva was left out. I felt terrible. She and I walked around it and played in the sand and climbed on some of the nearby equipment.

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Fortunately, the water was freezing and the girls came out to climb in the sand too.

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And then it was 5p or so, and the Brazilians needed to go. They were going to have dinner at the Champs Elysees early so the dads could watch the world cup game,and while I think Leva and I were invited, Leva actually asked to stay at the park and ride more rides. I explained to her that we would not see these friends again, but she shyly persisted, so we bought some more tickets and I went back on the rides that she had already ridden with her. We had fun, and added a boat ride.

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When we were done, and heading back for dinner, she asked where Rebecca was. I had not exchanged ANY information with Cecilia, which is a little unusual, but they had just left in such a hurry. Rebecca’s father did not seem to be one to stray from a set plan. And so, for the first time, I think Leva made a friend that she will never see again – what a bittersweet moment! We metroed home and, at Leva’s request, hit the Bobar again. We asked for the kids menu and got this:

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This, this is steak. A very rare steak. It bled when I cut it. And Leva chomped it down and ate her whole salad and almost all of her fries. Hungry girl.

We went back to the hotel to go to bed. By now we’ve figured out Leva’s time schedule – she’s somewhere over the mid-Atlantic. She sleeps about 10p to 10a, which is working out REALLY nicely. We can wake up in time to not miss breakfast, meander all day, and don’t even need to think about dinner until 8p. Sun sets at 9:45 and she’s in bed by 10p. I wish it were so easy at home.

We woke up rather late, Leva sleeping 15 hours and all, but the nice lady at the hotel made us our breakfast anyway. Leva enjoyed the mint tea, croissant with jelly, her “chewy orange juice” that was squeezed just for her, and especially the chocolate.

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We decided to head towards Parc du Villete, since one of the websites had said it had interesting playgrounds, and Leva began her mastery of the metro.

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The Parc wasn’t quite as easy to find as we thought it would be (another recurring theme this trip), but once there did have some pretty cool things. Like a park of funny mirrors.

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And a set of 10 pedal powered windmills that had a large readout above the entrance, with moving bar table lights that would show which kid was pedaling the hardest.

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And a fun bouncy running thing that if you double bounced yourself, would cause you to faceplant.

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A small carnival swing. The gentleman running this fine piece of equipment gingerly put all of the children on, started her up, and then left. HE LEFT. Had himself a nice long smoke break while the children spun around and around, and eventually came back to turn it off and take them down.

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A random red balloon.

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A bamboo maze that was rather short and full of bees, but cool and shaded.

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A buried bicycle sculpture – Leva wanted to sit on the pedal, but was disappointed that the half buried tire didn’t fit in the photo.

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Monkey bars and spinning, because that’s what you do in France.

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And finally, a raised canal walk that had a nice overlook to the Science Museum and a group of white people doing what looked to be very accurate African Tribal dances to a bongo beat. So interesting was this group of dancers, that Leva watched them as she walked away and rammed her head into one of the supports for the raised walkway. It hurt so badly. She cried pitifully. But my girl recovered.

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We went looking for a children’s museum that we had read was at this north end of the park, but couldn’t find it, so, rather than hunt, decided to make it down towards the Louvre for lunch. Leva checked out the map, found our location (with help), we hopped on a metro and popped out very nearby.

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We saw the Louvre, but really, honestly, had no desire to go inside.

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We saw an arch that I have always appreciated for its loveliness, but have no idea what it’s called.

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Took a picture under the statue that I took a picture of Tensing under 15-odd years ago, in a similar pose. Because it’s still funny.

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And had a lunch of raspberry sorbet in the Jardin des Tuilleries. Leva adored this. I had a superb salad (seriously, the salads in France, oh my goodness). We sat for a while and recharged.

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Feeling refreshed, we did what any girl would do in this situation – went shopping on the Champs Elysees!

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Leva desperately wanted to buy something here. Fortunately for us, we found a discount-type store called Monoprix in between the Versaci and Chanel stores and picked up a darling skirt and t-shirt for her, and a purple sundress for Hattie. Further down we found Petite Bateau, and Leva got a t-shirt that she was ecstatic to realize was a size TEN!

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We walked all the way to the end to see the Arc de Triomphe and watch some Brazilian street performers do some weird kind of martial art dance, and pull kids out of the crowd. Leva refused to participate.

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And then popped back on the metro to look for dinner

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Oops, we went the wrong way. Might as well take a picture. It was a nice fountain!

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We made it the Pink Flamingo – a restaurant that I had also read about as fun for kids. Leva was so excited about this one – you order your pizza at the tiny, 1000 degree counter, pick up drinks, and a get a pink helium balloon.

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Then you walk to the canal (close to where we had seen the boat go through the locks) and find a nice picnic spot!

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You wait, write in your journal, enjoy the evening.

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And then a man on a bicycle comes to find you and delivers your pizza! How cool is that??

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As the sun began to set, at the wonderous hour of almost-ten-o’clock, we set off for home. I missed another metro stop so we walked extra blocks before finding it, but at least I didn’t make any wrong turns.

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We got home and dropped into bed. We had walked 10 miles this day. Leva never, EVER complained and slept soundly. This night, it was not music that she slept through, it was honking cars and screaming in the streets. This is the night we started to figure out that we were in the Algerian section of the city – the Algerian soccer team won their game in the World Cup and the neighborhood went WILD. At midnight. At least it only lasted until 2am – I still got in 8 hours of sleep before Leva awoke at 10a the next morning.

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