Sunday, July 31, 2016

Awesome Things in France - Bread

The bread in France is excellent. And comes in different versions. The most commonly thought of is the baguette. But there are flutes, campagnettes, brioches, croissants, and many others. 

Cutting bread is not something most people contemplate as an issue of the day. But we contemplate it much during our mass consumption of bread. Normal cutting boards have this problem if you cut lots of bread.

Crumbs Accumulate on top of the board

Here, the good designers at IKEA have come up with this bread cutting board with integrated knife storage. 

Crumbs captured under the surface of the board

One aspect of our massive bread consumption in France is that the boys are now allowed to use the bread knife. They have developed advanced bread cutting skills and have lost no fingers yet.

In our prior US based model of bread consumption, we ate many bagels. Our bagel consumption was so prevalent that we had basically given up buying sliced bread, opting to purchase dozens of bagels at Costco instead. This led to Will's invention of the leaning tower of bagel. This epic creation involves a bagel topped with scrambled eggs, a sausage patty, and acacado slices. The avacado slices give the bagel sandwich its leaning quality. 

We have tried to duplicate this food architecture here in France. Unfortunately it is difficult. The kids have determined that they don't care for the common preparation of sausage here. It is a bit too corse for their liking. The avocados never seem to be ripe at the time we like.\

And bagels!  They are difficult to acquire here.  If you buy them from the bread section of the grocery store, they aren't really bagels.  They resemble bagels in that they are round shaped bread with a hold in the middle.  We do have a few bagel stores around including Bagelstein and Brugger's.  Bagelstein tends to allow us to buy bagels on their own and take them home.  Brugger's initially told us that it was not possible and that we had to order individual bagel sandwiches, not plain bagels.  But finally, after asking a few times, Brugger's came up with this:

Take Bagels Home!?!

The first time I tried to order it, the bagel girl looked at me in confusion.  I had to point to the sign a bunch to get her to understand what I liked and say, "emporter a la maison" or something similar.  It was just not a concept that was common here.  

In actuality, we have given up, for the most part, on acquiring bagels and are quite happy with our massive campagnette consumption.  Plus, the bread delivery guy is kind of cute:)

Is that a campagnette in your jersey?

Friday, July 08, 2016

First Visit To Paris!

For our first week of summer vacation, the boys and I went to Paris.  If you know the boys, you would know that they would prefer to stay home and play video games.  If they could do that all summer and never venture out of the house, they would be miserable, but they would think they were happy.  So, there were a few tactics that I took to help them enjoy their first experience traveling around.  The primary tactics were: let them use electronics on the train, rent an apartment with a pool, avoid standing in long lines, and set expectations ahead of time about what we were going to do and see.

Actually, this is our second trip within Europe as a whole.  In February we visited London.  I'll do another post about that trip soon.  But, to get them enjoying the pattern of traveling around us, the trip to Paris was important to set the mood.  Who knows, maybe some day one of them will suggest a trip.  That is, they might come up with an additional trip suggestion.  They have proposed one already.  They would like to go to Sorrento, Italy in search of the alleged hot pizza vending machine.  As Hillary has just visited Sorrento and tried to track it down (unsuccessfully), I feel that they boys need to branch out a bit in their trip planning.  In any case, back to the Paris trip.

Day 1: Travel by Train

PARIS!  It's the world's top tourist destination.  And we got to visit it.  To get from Toulouse to Paris, we took the train.  We signed up with the SNCF train child discount card for each kid.  This gave us half price tickets for the boys and a discount on my ticket as a person accompanying a minor.  It normally costs 75 euro for the discount card, but the day I got them there was a sale so they were only 60 euro each.  Completely worth it!  The trip duration was about the same as it would be to drive, about 6 hours.  Convincing the kids was easy, I told them that instead of staying inside at home to play with their electronics, they would have an outlet and a comfy seat on a train from which to engage in electronics use.

Will with iPad and Alex with DS
We didn't play with electronics for the entire journey.  We also used the nifty tables to play Star Fluxx.  And Will decided to rest his chin.

The table is for chin resting

Rest your chin.  I will photobomb!

The best part about riding the train for me was that I didn't have to drive for 6 straight hours, I got to sit on the train and relax.  This involved having some wine with lunch, taking a nap, and crushing Alex in foosball/babyfoote.  Yes, there was a table on board.  It was a little more challenging because when the train turned, the ball tended to go toward one of the goals.  Alex called it the "gravity advantage."

Considering crushing Alex in babyfoote

The train trip was really smooth and other than picking the wrong train car and therefore the wrong seats (oops). We made it without too much trouble.  The boys were not interested in the sandwiches on board, so we decided to bring our own for the return trip.

We managed to get to Paris, take the metro, find our Air B and B, and get the keys.  Upon entry to the apartment, the boys immediately found the computer and realized that they were able to play "English Games" on it such as  Ah, the ubiquitous internet.  After our initial orientation, we headed out to get some food supplies.  We found a grocery store and a bakery, then returned to our apartment for dinner.

Day 2: Paris Overview

None of us had ever been to Paris.  We figured we would start by going to see the Eiffel Tower.  We grabbed the boys' scooters, hopped on the metro, and headed toward La Tour.  

Normally there is a long park that you can go to on one side of the tower.  You can get great shots of the entire height of the tower.  However, due to the football that was in progress, Euro 2016, it had been converted into a "fan zone" and was closed off until it was time to assemble for the game that evening.

Also, there is a giant football in the Tower during Euro 2016

We went over to that side where we saw the long line for day-of entry and the non-existent line for reservations.  We opted to return to Paris at a future date after booking tower reservations so that we could avoid the line.  

Crazy Line Behind Us

Next, we decided that it would be a good plan to find a restroom for a break.  However, due to the fan zone craziness and the general lack of public toilets in Paris, we were not very successful.  We ended up at Cafe Le Dome which is a little bit of a walk away from the Tower.  I ordered the breakfast which was a croissant, coffee, and orange juice for 9 euro.  I also ordered the boys orange juice which came in at over 5 euro each.  So check on experiencing tourist trap and paying more than 20 euro to use the restroom.  

As this was our first visit and I wanted the boys to get an idea of what Paris had to offer overall, we decided to extend our touristy experience and hopped on one of the double decker, open top, audio included tour buses.  It took quite a long time, but we got to see all sorts of stuff with interesting commentary.

Dome des Invalides, Tomb of Napoleon

The Rodin Museum was on the tour.  We didn't stop or go in, but were treated to what the boys thought was a very funny view of The Thinker.

I think I see his butt!
As Le Tour de France was occurring and the end of it still coming up, the Champs Elysees was nearly prepared for the finish.  There were bleachers setup and the large bulletin board with cyclist and expensive watch advertisement.

Dan wants to go to here
One of the interesting features of France is that there are guidelines issued about what is acceptable in the language and what is to be rejected.  For example, you shouldn't use the phrase, "Bon Week-end!" to wish someone a good weekend.  Not that people avoid this phrase.  But, the Academie Francaise issues the guidelines anyway from their beautiful building in Paris.

Academie Francaise

Paris is a city of monumental buildings.  We also saw the Cathedral of Notre Dame which took over a century to build.  

It's on an island

We opted to end our bus tour at the Arc de Triomphe.  Primarily because we were meeting friends from California there.  After arriving, we realized that it was in the center of a roundabout. With no crosswalks.  We called our friends and they told us the secret that you cross underneath the roundabout by going down some stairs.  

How do we get to the center of the traffic circle?

We met up for lunch, then headed over to the Luxembourg gardens which was beautiful and relaxing.  They have playgrounds, a puppet show, and a beautiful fountain.

After the adventures of the day, we returned to our apartment where the boys took advantage of the available pool.  They had to wear swim caps for the first time.  Pool attire rules are different here in France.  Because, hygiene.

Not tired from wandering around Paris?  Pool!

We grabbed sushi for dinner at a nearby restaurant and watched a bit of football on TV.  Every time France would score, you could tell by the cheering from around the neighborhood.  This meant that I could mute the match on TV and let the kids sleep without extra noise.  Fortunately they slept through the external ambient cheering.  

Day 3: Notre Dame and Modern Art

Day 3 started out a little unsuccessfully.  We tried to go to the Jardin D'Acclimatation. However, when we got there, they told us that the kids couldn't bring in their scooters.  They also didn't have the ability to check the scooters.  The previous day I had carried the bike lock around with me all day and never needed it.  This day, I forgot to bring it.  So, we walked and scooter-ed in the lovely wooded area outside the park.  Then we headed to meet-up for lunch with California friends again.  This time, the meeting place was Notre Dame.  

Amazing Architecture

That's a lot of stone sculptures
While waiting to meetup, I inquired of the boys, "How many stone sculptures do you think are on the front of the Cathedral?  I went to a nearby vendor to get some sandwiches.  Upon my return, Will informed me that there were 432.  

We went to the park behind the cathedral to eat our sandwiches.

Park Behind the Cathedral

Ever on the lookout for spinning disks, the boys spent quite a bit of time playing on the spinning disk nearby and also doing some climbing on the other thing.

Spinning Disk

The other thing

Filled with food and fun, we split ways with our friends and walked over to the Pompidou Center. It is a place that I have always wanted to go.  There was a picture of it on the front of my high school french book.

Getting kids involved in museums makes the trip better for the adults on the trip too.  It's a tricky thing to do, but there is a great book that gives practical advice called "The Gallery and Museum Survival Guide for Parents."  The boys and I had talked about going to see some art before our trip and during the trip.  They were interested to see some art of artists who they knew and also those they had recently studied.  Prior to coming to France, they were familiar with Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, and Renee Magritte.  Since arriving in France they had studied some more about Matisse and Magritte.  So, we knew we would see some works by these artists.

We started out at the infamous fountain, and then walked by a Calder sculpture on our way in.

Will contemplating:  If I could just go INTO the fountain, that would be great!

American Art!

We were able to successfully check the scooters at the coat check.  And we only needed to buy a ticket for me since kids 18 and under are free.  To get started, we rode up all of the escalators to the 5th floor of the Center.

View from the top

The kids really seemed to like this fountain, coming back to it multiple times.  It has a Max Ernst sculpture in the middle of it of what looks like a mermaid bull family.


We found the Matisse cutouts room that Alex's teacher this year told him about.

Different than the ones at LACMA

Escaping from the Cutouts

We found a Picasso exhibit that was inspired by Mrs. Picasso.

We found some cool Magritte paintings.

Le double secret

The Red Model

Will contemplated many pieces of art.

Hmmm...  Shadows.

Hmmm... Optical Illusion

Alex also contemplates

Is it moving?

Hmm... Impossible Object?

After lots of interesting and sometimes bazarre art, we headed back to our apartment to meet friends for dinner.  We took takeout back to the apartment from a restaurant that they boys saw as we got off the metro upon our initial arrival in Paris.... PFC.  Paris Fried Chicken.  

Day 4: Another Park and Departure

On day 4, we found a really awesome park called Parc de Villette.  We visited two playgrounds.  One was the Jardin du Dragon which had a sculpture/play structure shaped like a dragon with an 80 foot tongue slide.
Alex trapped in the dragon's throat
Tongue Slide descending 

The other park was called the "Jardin des vents et des dunes" which means the garden of wind and dunes.  It had turf covered hills which the boys raced up and down.  It also had nifty kid sized hamster wheels.

Run Children!  Run!

Also included were some fun zip lines.


After some fun at the park, we headed over to the store and boulangerie to get sandwich meat and bread for the return trip.  Then we went to the train station, found the correct train-car-and-seats, then headed home.

We had a fun time and will return to Paris sometime in the future.  Maybe we will take Dan the next time.