So here we are, in our fourth and final instalment of our European memoirs. Still in Paris, we found ourselves fully embracing our inner tourists, and what better place to do this than than the Eiffel Tower! We all went right to the top. Let me tell you, that thing is actually really tall. Now, I’m not talking Dubai kind of tall, but compared to the post office building in Blenheim, it’s pretty big. What you don’t see in this image is all the guys who are trying to sell us key chains and flashing hats. Did we cave in and buy the hats and key chains? Yes. Yes, we did.
The thing about Paris right now is that it’s kind of unnerving walking around with your kids. You see, France is in a State of Emergency. This means there are a lot of heavily armed men walking the streets. You’re stopped in almost every shop you enter in order to have your bags checked.
While here in New Zealand those keeping the streets safe may be carrying a baton and some pepper spray, in Paris they are carrying seriously big guns. In one way it made me feel safer, and in another it was a little unsettling, even though they were the ‘good’ guys.
There was plenty of downtime in public transport, so when time allowed the girls played a game of ‘guess what song we’re listening to’. Kind of like charades, but with music, and in public places.
On our final days in Paris, Paul and I decided to take to the city with just our cameras. You see, when you’re counting to six over and over again, making sure everyone is with you, there’s a certain amount of city you’re not looking at. So with cameras in hand, we went exploring.
Ok, so this might be another good time to drop in a few interesting facts for Kiwis who may want to go travelling in Europe;
1. The first time we were in Paris, a few years ago, the places smelled like pee. No one warned us, and it hit us like a mac truck when we arrived. Like an invisible wall of warm nastiness. So this time we were more mentally prepared. But, wouldn’t you know it, we were pleasantly surprised! 90% of the city was pee-free! The other 10% was in the public transport. Pack hand sanitizer.
2. You can’t say hello to everyone on the street. If you’re from somewhere like Blenheim, and you’re used to at least acknowledging people with a smile as you walk past them, you may want to rethink that. There’s just no way. Europe has a crazy amount of people, and almost none of them expect you to say hello, or smile at them.
3. If you want steel cut organic oats for breakfast, you’ll just need to stay home. We looked everywhere and they just don’t exist. Also, if you’d like to buy organic food at all, just note that it’s not called organic, it’s called Bio.
4. French baguettes are amazing. You might think it’s probably cliché that French people walk around with baguettes, but they actually do. Sometimes a whole arm full. Also the French say voilà’ a lot.
5. Road tolls. If you’re driving in Italy and France, expect to spend a ton of cash on road tolls. I’m not sure how you can find out how much it’s going to be, but my suggestion would be to make your best guess at how much you’d expect to pay to go through a tunnel, and then times it by about 70.
6. When people ask you where you’re from, and you say New Zealand, you go from being an ordinary tourist to being some kind of celebrity. Seriously. You see their eyes widen and they ask you why on earth you’re HERE when you could be in New Zealand. New Zealand is like the holy grail of coolness, you just don’t realise it until you step away.
Paris streets are endlessly beautiful. Some, almost completely empty.
Others, not so much.
And some streets look like this, and no one seems to mind at all!
See this guy here, in the window, reading a book? I love him.
I also loved this guy on the left here. Now, I’m not claiming to be a street photographer, by any means, but I was going to give it a really good try. I told myself I could be brave. I could be all ‘in your face’ and tell the story that needed to be told. I followed great street photographers and read all about their philosophies. Then, I hit the streets and totally chickened out. I saw this guy and knew this man had a story, but I just couldn’t take the shot. We walked past several times, and I was trying to find the nerve to either talk to him or discretely take the shot. At that moment, I was rubbish. So not wanting such a great face to go unphotographed, Paul picks up his camera and gets this one frame for me. So while I want to claim it as my own, it’s really all Paul’s doing.
So our time in France had come to a close, and we got back into our seriously ugly minivan and headed to the point where three countries meet. That pillar thing right there is exactly where The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany join up. While New Zealand is cool and all, there’s no way you can ever be in three countries at once.
So we found our way back to Holland and the day came when we had to squish all of our luggage back into our suitcases and say goodbye. While we were going home with extra clothes and souvenirs, what we were really taking home with us was a treasure trove of memories. Nine weeks of hanging out together as a family, finding both adventures and challenges, and coming home so much richer than when we left. (By richer, I’m not talking actual riches, remember the road tolls…..)
Our travelling days are certainly not over, although perhaps the next family holiday could be somewhere a little closer to home, especially now that we truly know how blessed we are to be living here in New Zealand!