Thursday, December 31, 2015

Au Revoir Paris!

Tonight we considered trying to see the fireworks on the Eiffel Tower, but hesitated for various reasons. The city ended up canceling the show, which helped make the decision easier. Alas, Happy New Years from the Vincents!

So just how do we sum up this trip of ours? I bet you're wondering if Secret Agent Huff-A-Lump 20 and Secret Agent Penguin managed to earn 100 points to qualify for becoming an SIA Special Agent. The best agents have a high level of something called "situational awareness," and these two agents proved themselves to be quick-witted agents who pay attention to their surroundings. In addition to collection intelligence from various sights, they found many carousels, street musicians and even dogs in restaurants! They practiced blending in by speaking French to the locals, with "Bonjour Madame" Or Bonjour Monsieur" and saying "Merci." Secret Agent Penguin even enthusiastically responded when a local said "Coo-Coo" to her (a cute way to say "hello" to little ones). They loved to practice identifying their colors and repeating random statements that sounded familiar to them. They even managed to keep their cover when it came to eating local food. When all was said and done, the two ended up with 111 points! Whoop! Whoop! I knew they had what it would take.

In all seriousness, I do not think the trip could have gone any better. It almost even boggles my mind at how well the girls traveled. Some of the expectations and worries I had prior to the trip simply were non-issues. For example...

We worried that Ellie and Addie would struggle to find anything to eat. And we all know what happens when one gets hungry - they get hangry too. Granted, really only went to a single restaurant, we got most of our food from super markets and street stands. However, they never failed to eat what was in front of them. And they did so without complaints. They didn't like the couscous but made up for it by eating all their ravioli (mushroom at that). All in all, food was a non-issue.

Combine the time change with lots and lots of walking, we were certain that the girls would be more tired than they have ever been before. Usually being tired is a sure sign of meltdowns, but none came. And trust me, we walked A LOT. Our days ranged from 14,000 steps (the day we "took it easy" because Michael got sick) to 29,000 steps (Disneyland) and never once do we remember the girls giving even the slightest complaint. Even after walking up the Notre Dame bell towers or Eiffel Tower, there were no complaints. When Mommy & Daddy would have likely turned down the opportunity because of being tired, they didn't hesitate at wanting to climbe the tower of Sacré-Cœur. Aside from a single statement of concern over Addie's legs shaking but not being cold (apparently sore tired muscles was a new sensation to her), I don't think we would have even suspected they were tired. Our own muscle soreness was the only indication.

When in a new place, every child repeats "I want..." or "Can I have..." over and over again, especially at Disneyland. Apparently every child except ours. How is it that we managed to go for 2 entire weeks (Disneyland included) without the girls asking for ANYTHING? The stuff we did buy was initiated by Mommy & Daddy and they were more than happy with the results. In the end, the only souvenirs the girls brought home were:
- Coconut Bear (Addie)
- Mitaines Kitten (Ellie)
- Hat & scarf (Addie)
- Paris T-Shirt IOU (Ellie - yes, it's an IOU. We have to order one online... how crazy is that?)
- Sparkling Eiffel Towers
- Toys from Kinder chocolate eggs

Seeing museum after museum (even if some of them were in pretty churches or castles) can be boring at times, let alone for a child. We were uncertain of how much "fun" being a tourist really would be for children the age of 6 and 8. Boy were we surprised! The girls seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves EVERYWHERE we went. Additionally, having been to Paris a few times before, Mommy & Daddy expected this trip to be nothing new. Oh how we were wrong. Sure, we repeated some of the places we've seen before, but we did so many things we've never done before too, including:
- Climbing the bell tower of Notre Dame
- La Cité des Enfants
- Roue de Paris
- Climbing the steps up to the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower
- Ice skating on the Eiffel Tower
- Pompidou Center
- Château de Chambord (interior)
- Château d'Amboise
- Château du Clos Lucé
- Walking along the Seine
- Disneyland
- Climbing the tower of Sacré-Cœur

Though Mommy & Daddy considered the trip to Paris, itself, to be the main event when it comes to Christmas gifts, we were also uncertain of how the girls would take this. Receiving fewer "gifts" could be difficult for a child to accept. However, this seems to have been a non-issue as well. Perhaps the most amazing part of the trip was that Ellie and Addie were always sincerely THANKFUL for the experience. And if you were to ask them what their favorite part of the trip was, included in their answer would be "being there with my family." Wow. How amazing is that? Perhaps this really can become a yearly family tradition of ours after all???

All in all, the girls could not have done any better. They really made for amazing travel buddies, who were simply THANKFUL for the opportunity. I am humbled and honored to be able to spend time with these two girls and to be able to call myself their mother.

In conclusion... BEST. TRIP. EVER!!!

P.S.  How could I forget the amazing ice cream???  It's an ice cream flower!  Fancy!  Best ice cream EVER.


Last stop: Sacré-Cœur. We didn't bother with photos of the Basilica itself - it was way too crowded. Though we were all quite tired and almost burned out, the girls still insisted on climbing the steps up the Bailica's tower. I'm glad they did, because the views were incredible.

I love how well these two travel!

The view was well worth it.


What better way to bring in the New Years than to conquer a fear or two? Agents must keep their cool and accomplish missions even when in a dreadful place (such as in tunnels filled with bones). The girls learned that the tunnels were also used by the French resistance to the Nazi invasion. It was spooky, and for the most part, the girls were quiet in their somber respect. They seemed a bit lost in thought as they realized these were real bones, and that's what a real skull looks like. And that's what the inside of an eye socket looks like. But they were brave and they were proud of themselves for having carried out their mission despite its location.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

Disneyland Paris

I have to admit that Disneyland played a role in deciding to visit Paris with the girls. We always thought that this would be a good age to go to Disneyland for the first time, and when we looked into the cost of going, we were shocked to see how expensive it is! That being said, a high-level searched showed us that it would cost just about the same amount to get a family of 4 to Disney, whether that be California, Florida or Paris. And of the three, it was a no-brainer which one we would rather do. Having 3 of the 4 airline tickets covered by miles, and knowing that the girls have always been obsessed about Paris (after all it's where Daddy proposed) sealed the deal. Disneyland Paris, here we come!

No doubt Disney knows how to do entertainment. We didn't do many "thriller" rides (we used the girls' ages as an excuse, but in reality it had more to do with the length of the lines), but there was still enough of the smaller rides to fill the day. The highlight was the parade, where Addie got to tell Baloo the Bear a secret and some pirates rummaged through Ellie's hair. Our favorite ride was the Peter Pan because flying over London looked so "real." The girls gave their best attempt to pull out the sword in the stone.

All in all the day went by quickly, with just a bit of madness.

Last, but not least, I don't think that Addie would ever forgive me if I forgot to mention the dragon. By far, her favorite part of the park, we visited the dragon 4 times (mostly because the route was convenient). At first she wasn't sure what to think because the dragon looked so real, but it didn't take long for her to start obsessing about whether or not we'd get to see him again. And again. And again.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bussi Island

Back in Paris... today was a bit of a flop. After driving back from the Loire Valley, we tried to go to the Musée d'Orsay and the Louvre, both attempts failed. To be certain of accomplishing something, we decided to walk along the Seine towards Bussi Island (yet another long walk with no complaints) to have ice cream, followed up with adopting Coconut. Wait... What? Let me explain...

I'm sure you're wondering just what Bussi Island is. Let me explain. Surely you know who Bussi Bear is. He is Addie's most beloved stuffie. Bussi was born in Paris during a trip we took when Mommy was pregnant with Addie. Addie recently found out that the toy store we bought Bussi from is located on Île Saint-Louis in Paris, just a couple blocks away from Notre Dame. She decided that "Saint Louis Island" was not an appropriate name for such a special place as Bussi's birthplace. And thus, Bussi Island was named.

Without a doubt, Addie was most excited to visit Bussi Island. We tried to warn her that there really wasn't much on the island, but this didn't dim her spirits.

Everywhere we went in Paris, she was obsessed whenever she saw "Buci" which she quickly discovered was pronounced the same as "Bussi." And when we finally reached Bussi Island, Addie insisted we take a photo of her to share with Bussi when we got home.

As luck would have it, we stumbled upon a store with a special bear in it. Addie knew in an instant that this bear was perfect for her. His name is Coconut. It was love at first sight, but being the first day of the trip, she told Coconut to pack his bags because we'll be back to adopt him later. When we returned a week later to buy the bear, Addie was the hit of the store. When the sales lady handed her Coconut, Addie said an enthusiastic "Merci!" and gave Coconut lots and lots of hugs. This led to lots of quick speaking French "oohs" and "awws" about the cuteness.

In the end, Addie loved Coconut so much that the only souvenir she wanted was a hat and scarf to match his. "It's all I will ever ask for, Mommy."

Now that we're home, Coconut has met Bussi and they're instant friends. Addie said she wasn't worried about them not getting along because they were friends when they were babies on Bussi Island.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A French Playground

With Daddy being sick, we're kind of stuck staying close to our little blue door home, but that didn't bother the girls at all. We found a playground and all was good again.

A parenting win - upon arriving at the playground, Ellie had a bit of a case of homesickness. She pulled me over for a serious, sad conversation. She said she misses her best friend, Brynn, and that she doesn't think she could meet any new friends at this playground. She was too sad to really play and have any fun. I gave her a hug and said I'm sorry she feels that way, and then asked her to do me a huge favor. "Can you just pretend to have fun? That way Addie will still have lots of fun too. She won't know you're not really having fun. It will be a secret that only you and I know." She agreed, and off she went "pretending" to have a blast.

But this wasn't just any old playground. Perhaps it's similar to the phenomenon that happens when a child visits their friends home. Without fail, the friend always has "better toys" and "more things to play" than what that child has at their own home. I think foreign playgrounds might work on the same principle. This French playground was SOOOOOO much more fun than those found at home!

Even the seesaw seems bouncier! These girls were bouncing all over the place and both of them were full of squeals of delight.

Add a big bowl swing, standing swings and a zip line... I'm telling you, the French know how to do playgrounds! I think the girls could stay here for hours on end if given the choice.

Back "home" I was pleasantly surprised with how Ellie and Addie didn't let the lack of toys get in their way of playing pretend. Take a scarf or two, and you have yourself a pirate ninja and a pirate wizard (their words, not mine). This is some serious play time. It's too bad I didn't manage to get a photograph of the pantie purses they used to carry their stuffies.

Château du Clos Lucé

Happy birthday to Michael! I know! Let's celebrate with a stomach bug from last night's dinner, that will give you a close intimate relationship with the bathroom! That sounds like fun. I suppose today we'll just take it easy and stay a bit local. Or at least close to a toilet at all times.

The Château du Clos Lucé is walking distance from where we're staying. Leonardo da Vinci lived his last three years here. The château gives a glimpse of his life in those last few years, and has a nice exhibit describing many of his inventions. To say that Da Vinci was an amazing person just doesn't do him any justice. He was so insanely skilled in many areas, that it's mind boggling. His interests included invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. The scope and depth of his interests were without precedent in recorded history. Can you imagine what it must have been like to know such a man?

Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps best known for painting the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Ellie and Addie really enjoyed investigating some of Da Vinci's inventions. There were models in the basement of the home, as well as larger ones on the garden grounds. Some of his more famous inventions include the parachute, helicoptor and tank. Others include the Vitruvian Man (a cultural icon), flying machines, adding machine, concentrated solar power, the double hull, movable barricades, hydraulic pumps and even a steamed canon. And the best invention of all? According to Addie, spoken with such a sense of amazement and respect, "he even invented the playground!" It goes without saying that this man was hundreds of years ahead of his time. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or were even feasible during his lifetime, and he had so many inventions!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Château d'Amboise

Since we were staying just directly across from Château d'Amboise, it seemed appropriate to visit the castle itself. It was a nice sized castle (though just 1/5 of the original size), with a bit of a mix of ruins and restored grounds. Unlike many castles in the area, this one actually had some history and was used for defense purposes. It's also the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci, but I thought that it was the towers that set this castle apart from those we've seen before. The Minimes Tower and the Heurtault Tower consist of large ramps used to bring the king's carriages from the street level up to the castle grounds level.

As with the other sites, the girls were engrossed in listening to the audio guide. Some places, this one included, had a child-version of the audio guide which made it all the more fun and entertaining for the girls. Addie also finally found a gargoyle that she felt was worthy of imitating.

Château de Chenonceau

Mommy & Daddy visited Château de Chenonceau in September of 2014 (for our 10th anniversary) and knew it would be a great place to share with the girls. The castle has beautiful gardens and is is built directly upon the river Cher. The rooms are furnished with beautiful furniture, and each room always has a beautiful fresh bouquet of flowers from the gardens. This time of the year, the entire Château is decorated for the holidays, with grand Christmas trees & greenery in such a way that it almost seems like every castle should be that way every day of the year. The kitchens are particularly fun to see, as they show a glimpse in to what life was like for the servants of the castle. All in all, it's one of our favorites.

The girls fell in love with the maze located on the garden grounds. They spent more than a few minutes running through the twists and turns, racing and challenging each other to various exits and paths.

And meet Mitaines (French for Mittens). Mitaines was born on the Château grounds, and Ellie didn't hesitate to adopt the fuzzy little kitty!

Saturday, December 26, 2015


For the next three nights, we are staying in a humble little place in Amboise, with a decent view. Yes, this is real. Yes, this was our view (taken at sunrise). Yes life is just THAT good.

And the view at dusk isn't too shabby either.

Neither is the view with the rise of the full moon.

He're an image of the place we're staying at (taken the next day from the château across the river). See the little place in the middle with the blue door? We were on the 2nd floor. The hostess says this is her happy place and she plans to take her last happy breath from this home. We told her we'd love to take care of the property once she's done with it, but there was a bit of a mix-up in translation and she told us we'd have to kill her first. Alas, when we finally handed back the keys at the end of our stay, she joked and said "so you won't be killing me after all?" All jokes aside, can you imagine a cuter more precious place to live? I'm struggling to think of one.

Once you peal your eyes off the view from our place, you'd realize that Amboise is actually quite a cute little town and is quite picturesque even without the stunning views.

Château de Chambord

After three days in Paris, we're ready to visit the countryside! Three days in the Loire Valley, visiting grand châteaux oughta do the heart good. Starting with Château de Chambord, we're setting the bar pretty high.

The girls are impressed with their first "real" castle. Though the audio tour did teach them that it wasn't ever used for defense purposes, seeing a king's "humble" (ha!) hunting lodge is still pretty magnificent. The winner of the entire castle was the grand staircase. It is a double-helix (designed by Leonardo da Vinci), such that two people can go up and down the stairs and never cross each other's paths. I'm sure generations of children have gotten a kick out of this, as did Ellie and Addie. They insisted that we couldn't all take the same path up or down. When visiting a château with a grand double helix staircase, there are rules to be met!

When Addie and I exited the staircase on the rooftop of the château, Addie squealed with delight, ran over to the edge and exclaimed, "I. AM. ON. THE. ROOF. OF. A. CASTLE!!!!! I can NOT believe it!" and followed this statement with a little happy dance. Or two. Or three.

Look, over there! Yep, it's a castle! La de da!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Paris by Night

With the combination of being with the kids, and the trip being the 4th time to Paris for Mommy, and the 3rd for Daddy, we weren't really expecting to get any "new" photos. Needless to say, these priceless souvenirs were a pleasant surprise...

Centre Pompidou

Next on the schedule? Well, being Christmas Day, the pickings are slim. However, the Centre Pompidou isn't too shabby. We don't have much to complain about.

It was a little challenging to get the girls engaged in the modern art exhibit, however two pieces in particular caught there eye.  They decided that this tall thin sculpture was sad because she died from being too hungry.  See her bones?  She's a ghost.  Look closely at the fat white sculpture in the distance.  The girls felt like this was another ghost who was sad because she wasn't very nice during her life.  She was too greedy.  She should have shared the food.

Ah! The making of a traditional Christmas sand castle and sand turtle. Yes, we're making memories! Haha.

Christmas Day on the Eiffel Tower

Can you think of anything more magical and special than spending Christmas morning on the Eiffel Tower? I didn't think so.

Of course the girls wanted to climb the steps of the tower. Really? Are you nuts? Do you know how big the tower is? And here we thought this trip wasn't going to have anything new for Mommy & Daddy to do. Up the steps we go! Up and up! All the way to the 2nd floor of the tower! And did the girls complain about their achy legs? Unless you consider Addie's concern about "my legs are shivering but they're not cold" a complaint, then no. Not a single moan - from the girls anyway. Mommy might have let one or two slip out.

Once we got to the very top, it goes without saying that we showed Addie & Ellie where Daddy proposed to Mommy nearly 12 years ago. They decided the moment called for a re-enactment, with Ellie playing the role of a nervous Daddy and Addie playing the role of a surprised Mommy.

But it gets better! Ice skating on the Eiffel Tower on Christmas morning? Oh yeah. Life is good.

Follow it up with a kiss or two and a cup of hot chocolate, and I don't think life can get any better.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Eiffel Tower at Night

ELLIE: Daddy? (As we get off the metro yet another time)
ELLIE: Where are we going now? Are we going to see the Eiffel Tower?
DADDY: Is everything about the Eiffel Tower? We're here to see more than just the tower, you know.  Will you not be happy until we see the tower?
ELLIE: (sigh) No, it's just that...
(Turning the corner and gasping at the view)
DADDY: But yes, we're here to see the Eiffel Tower.

ADDIE: Wow, Mommy! Wow!
MOMMY: Is it what you were expecting?
ADDIE: It's so big! But it's not exactly like I expected.
MOMMY: Why not?
ADDIE: I expected it to be sparkling. You know, with my favorite color. Sparkles.
(cue the sparkles)
ADDIE: Like that Mommy! Just like that!
ADDIE: This is a memory that will live in my heart forever and ever!

Though they didn't ask for it, I bought them sparkling Eiffel Towers to bring home.
ADDIE: Thank you Mommy. Thank you so much! I will cherish it!

Sitting on a bench, just looking at all the pretty. No doubt they were soaking in the magic of the moment.

It was silly of Mommy & Daddy to expect to just turn around and return to the metro. The girls would not have it. They wanted to walk all the way to the tower and get up close. Is this close enough for you?

They never shy away from an opportunity for a good photo bombing.