My sister and her family came to visit me this week from Colorado. It was so much fun for my son to have his cousins to wrestle around the house, not to mention an audience for all for his antics. We explored Bordeaux and then headed up to Paris for big city fun. My nieces watch a show based in Paris called Miraculous about two teenage super heros. So they were so excited to see the Eiffel Tower and explore the many locations they had already seen on TV. Prior to this trip to Paris, my son was not a big fan of Paris. He liked the sights and the museums but was not a big fan of Paris itself. This trip changed all of that. When we left, he told me he really likes Paris and he thinks he could have lived there too. Oh how quickly things change!
Big cities are always different than smaller villes (cities). Both Bordeaux and Birmingham are medium sized cities at about a million people each. Both have a decent nightlife and their fair share of tourist attractions. One city has an identity based in wine and the other has an identity based in civil rights. But both are semi-famous in their own way. Wherever I go, people seem to know the name of both cities and a little something about them. It’s easy to get around by car in both cities and Bordeaux has the added advantage of mass transportation options. When we are at home in either city, there is a calm regularity to our lives. We know what time the restaurants close and open, which store has our favorite items, and how to address people on the street. We tried to show our family as much of normal life in Bordeaux as we could show them in a couple of days. Then we headed off for the excitement of Paris.
Large cities like New York and Paris seem (sometimes not so quiet) hum all around the city. You can feel it when the train pulls into the station in Paris or when the car enters Manhattan. There is a buzzy vibe that just makes feel alive and excited. While the city seems to be alive, the people walking around don’t seem to mirror that energy. Eye contact ceases as most people will avert their eyes when you pass to keep from having to exchange pleasantries. They look down at some unseen movement on the ground and fail to offer a smile as you pass on the street. Maybe it is general wariness, distrust, or even business but I prefer the friendly smile of small and medium sized cities.
Lack of pleasantries aside, the city offers so much for the casual tourist. The Paris Metro is always a favorite. It is so easy to ride. Both my 10 year old son and 7 year old niece had the hang of reading the map to find our stop, winding their way through the tunnels to the proper line, and counting the number of stops until we got off. It was so much fun to be with them as they discussed with each other how the trains work and which metro lines were better than others. The twin 5 year olds were not as interested but they enjoyed the time off their feet.
Although I mentioned the lack of friendliness of people on the street, the restaurant staff of the many cafés we entered were exactly the opposite. The waitstaff were incredibly helpful in identifying kid friendly items and serving them up in ways that kept the kids happy. We ordered buttered noodles (instead of with a more delightful french sauce), plain rice, chicken nuggets, french fries (with ketchup instead of mayo), and hot chocolate. They were always had plenty of food to eat and gave the adults time to catch up over a pichet (pitcher) of wine. Not one person rolled their eyes when they saw the 8 of us. They all seemed happy to see us. In addition to cafés, we of course had to stop for crêpes (pancakes) covered in Nutella and glace (ice cream). My favorite ice cream spot will even put a macaroon on top which delighted my 7 year old niece.
When I visit Paris with children, I particularly like going over French history with them as we walk by the various monuments. We went to Notre Dame on Easter Weekend which gave the dormant Catholic adults the chance to discuss the religion we have not been passing down to our children. We walked by the Louvre and discussed how Louis XIV (the fourteenth, or the Sun King) wanted to build a grander palace in the country to escape Paris. The next day we took the train 12 miles out to Versailles, the “country” home for French royalty that became the grand palace standing there today. We talked about how the French people eventually revolted due to the excesses of the monarchy at around the same time as the American revolution. I can’t help but try to get them a little excited about history.
Even though we only had a week together, we had the opportunity to do so many fun things together. All 4 of them love to open Kinder candy (a chocolate candy I have only seen in Europe) and for Easter, we got them giant Kinder eggs to open. After many late nights and heavy walking days all were exhausted. By the last night, my 5 year old niece was asking to go to her real home. After some sad good-byes, we concluded the trip with the 5 of them heading off to the airport and the 3 of us heading back to the train station to catch our bullet train to Bordeaux. It was my first opportunity to share my experiences with my family and it was a even better than I had hoped. I can’t wait for the next visitors!