Climbing the Eiffel Tower and roaming the streets of Paris…. with kids.

Climbing the Eiffel Tower and roaming the streets of Paris…. with kids.

July 15 Paris

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Up again at 7:30 AM uggggh, Paris is exhausting! We had a succulent breakfast and then hit the road for the Eiffel Tower, today was the day that Joshua would achieve his life goal of climbing the tower. We got to the tower at 8:45 AM and the line to climb the stairs was only 20 minutes…excellent! This is a critical travel tip, if you want to go up the Eiffel tower make it your first stop of the day, and make it early. Otherwise expect wait times of 2 hours or more.

 

 

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Tired 7 year old being carried by his brother through the streets of Paris

The climb was not bad, Joshua, Sophie and Connor were amazing and climbed the stairs without complaint. Connor even carried up our backpack. After the tower climb, we walked the Champs Elysee, had a picnic in the park, wandered the streets of St-Germain-des-Prés,  visited Place de la Concord, and worked our way back to our hotel on the left bank by 6:00. We spent an hour or so getting ready for a nice “last dinner in Paris” evening and actually ate at a decent hour (8:00). We were in bed for a 10:00, happy but tired.

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Never go to Paris on Bastille day.

Never go to Paris on Bastille day.

Edit note: This is a series of originally private memoirs from my family trip to Europe. Click here for the start of this series. 28 Days in Europe with the kids

July 14th Bastille Day in Paris

img_4140Up at 7:30 for Breakfast and then off to the Louvre. We got there at 8:30, half an hour before it opened, and there was already a line! We did not know that because it was Bastille day, the Louvre had free admission, score! We made a beeline for the Mona Lisa, because we were there early there were only about 100 people in front of the famous painting so we were able to get a great look. The Louvre is so filled with great works of art that we couldn’t possibly see them all in one day and after a while its hard to keep your perspective, we bought a book that describes the most famous pieces so that we could understand what we were looking at. Picture shows us at “Wedding at Cana.” This is the painting right across the hall from the Mona Lisa

Now here is some very good advice to all you travelers out there; Never go to Paris on Bastille Day.

1) All major attractions, except the Louvre are closed.

2) There are police, soliders and French patriots EVERYWHERE

3) It rains buckets (okay this could have happened any day but it just so happened that is was on Bastille day this year that more rain fell in four hours than for the past 6 weeks)

As we walked out of the Louvre it was pouring rain, we bought two umbrellas and tried to walk through the streets to get to the Champs Elysee but this was pointless as all streets were closed for Bastille Day…grrrrr, it was so frustrating we were getting soaking wet, there were gypsies trying to rob us, puddles and rivers everywhere, what was happening to my dream Paris holiday?

20100714_3114We spotted a Bistro across the road and ran for it, I think we got inside just as the lightning and thunder happened. Joshua asked me if it was “midnight” the sky was pitch black it was unbelievable, it was actually only 1:00 PM. The bistro was, however our safe haven. We promptly ordered a litre of the house wine and settled in for the afternoon. 110 Euros later, the kids were well fed on all sorts of French delicacies, I was much more mellow, all of a sudden Paris was good again. It was still lightly raining at 3:00 and we set off.

img_4191By 3:30 the rain had stopped and we found our selves in the middle of a french army “meet and greet” Connor, Sophie and Josh got to put on French Army gear, ride on a tank, sit on a helicopter and practice finding land mines. Is it actually okay to go to Paris on Bastille day?  I still say no, but the kids did like it, at one point I think I said to Chris,” I did not come to Paris to try on a Army uniform,” haha, its all good.

At this point the sun came out and we ventured over to the Eiffel tower, it was packed with tourists and the lines were at the two hour wait point. We decided to go back to our left bank hotel, shower and have dinner.

 

Enroute, we stopped off at the gardens outside of the Louvre where we went on the largest Ferris wheel in France, ate some cotton candy and goofed around a little. By the time we made it back to our hotel it was 9:30 PM, we got showered, dressed up and went out for a great dinner. At 11:00 all the fireworks went off but we were too busy eating and drinking to really care, at 12:00 we again fell into bed, completely wiped out.

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La Ciotat- Marseilles- Paris

La Ciotat- Marseilles- Paris

Okay, I am semi-recovered from the Paris portion of our trip. It has taken two full days of spoiling by Colleen and Falco to return me to my normal self.  I will now try to catch up. The next few posts will be about our four days in Paris.

July 13th. La Ciotat to Paris.

We were up early this morning to drive to Marseilles. We had asked the front desk clerk how early he thought we should leave as the GPS said it was a 20 minute drive, ” An hour or two,” he said. It was lucky we left early and listened to him! The drive into Marseilles was nothing less than terrifying, I can honestly say that driving a car into the third largest city in France was not something for the faint hearted. At times we were surrounded by hundreds of crazy drivers swerving and honking at us and other times we crawled along at no more than one km an hour. I highly recommend not retuning rental cars to city locations. It was a huge contrast to the nice small city of Narbonne where we picked up the car, returning the car was incredibly stressful.

Once we got rid of the car, we found our train and settled in for the 3 hour ride to Paris. It was fantastic, super quite, really fast and nice and comfy. On arrival in Paris at 3:45 PM we made our way down to the Metro station where the madness began. The subway was absolutely packed with people, Chris and I split up the kids and held on to our bags and literally pushed our way onto the subway. It was scary and hot and I was sweating buckets by the time we got off at our stop. We went up the escaltor, kept away from the gypsies and homeless lunatics to get to street level…ahhh Paris, it was beautiful, the past half hour of subway hell was forgotten.

We found ourselves in front of Notre Dame Cathedral which is breathtaking. We pulled our suitcases along the cobbled streets, through Bistros and shops and found our hotel just five blocks away from the center of Paris. On first sight the hotel is pretty shabby, but it is clean, run by a wonderful French family and super cheap, 155 Euros a night Breakfast included. We dumped our luggage in the room and hit the town.

img_4054First stop, dinner. We went into a fabulous little bistro and had pepper steaks, frites and wine, yummy! Then we got tickets for a river cruise and traveled up and down the Seine. It was a great evening that ended with a kiss from Joshua under the Eiffel Tower. We returned to our cruise boat which took us back to our hotel, we fell into bed at 11:30 excited about the next day.

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Kissing Joshua under the Eiffel Tower.
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Cruising the Seine

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Four Days in Paris

Four Days in Paris

img_4506We arrived in Holland last night at 8:25 PM. We left Paris by train and flew through Northern France, Belgium and Holland. The train system is wonderful and so relaxing compared to driving. I will write about the rental car nightmare in Marseilles shortly.

I am totally and forever changed by the France experience, it is the most beautiful country. Paris was such an incredibly visceral experience, dirty gypsies, millions of people, cars, bikes, boats, trains, subways, dogs in restaurants, beggars, beautiful buildings, excellent food, smokers everywhere, tiny hotel rooms, my head is spinning.

I think I am going to take a day to chill in Holland and then bring my blogging up to date.

Talk soon, love V

Edit note October 12th 2017…. I am not sure why I called this post four days in Paris. I think I wanted to let family and friends know we had made it safely to Holland. I already mentioned that I did this trip with out a cell phone , writing my posts on borrowed computers as I traveled. I still can’t believe that, talk about old school! The next few posts detail the four days in Paris. I’ll start posting them tomorrow.

Toronto-Barcelona

Toronto-Barcelona

Edit Note: October 5th 2017. Seven years later, I feel my blogging skills have improved, just saying….

 

The flight from Toronto – Helsinki was pretty uneventful with a lot of sleeping and severe Finnair service. When we arrived at Helsinki Airport we were struck by the number of Finns sitting in the lounges drinking wine. I love Europe!

We spent 12 Euros on water and salami, cheese and cafe lattes and relaxed in the lounge as we waited for our flight to Barcelona. Sophie began to complain of stomach ache so I decided to give her a Gravol.

She looked at me and said, “Mom this tastes terrible”

So, I said “Just eat it! ”

She chewed up the Adult tablet that I had mistakenly given her as apposed to the kids chew-able and before we knew it she had passed out. Poor thing, it must have tasted awful. Ugh,  I guess I am not getting the Mother of the year award for another year.

We arrived at Barcelona, no worse for wear when we faced our first major problem. One of our bags was lost. It was the first time in years that we had lost a bag and I was obviously not happy.  Finnair does not have an office in Barcelona so we were pretty much told…sorry we have no idea where your bag is…you just have to wait and see. We filled out all the forms and left for the hotel.

None of the taxis at the airport would transport our family. They said it was a four person maximum which essentially meant that It would take two taxis and 70 Euros to get to the hotel. I refused. We took at train to the subway and a subway to the hotel…total cost for five…7.95 Euros! It was quite easy and way cheaper. Totally the way to go, the train and Metro were really easy to use and although I was aware that we were pickpocket targets nothing happened. Once we arrived at the hotel it was 11:00 PM we ditched our bags and went for dinner at the base of the Sagrada Familla Cathedral, the best part was no doubt the 7 Euro bottle of wine, the view of the Cathedral and the lively street scene so late at night.

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Review of Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton, Jamaica.

Review of Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton, Jamaica.

So it has taken me a while to write this review. My family and I spent Christmas in Jamaica this year and we had a GREAT time, the weather was great, the countryside beautiful, the Jamaican people are incredible, but my review of Grand Palladium is not glowing. The Grand Palladium is made up of two sides, Montego Bay and Lady Hamilton, both sides shares all resources, facilities, beaches etc. There were many problems that we experienced and I wanted to wait before I wrote it all down just to have a bit of a “cooling off period.” So to start on a positive note I will share the Good of Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton.

Good.

645Sunset Cove Beach, this is the charming beach that is away from all the main restaurants and pool. The beach is beautiful, there is a fantastic Jerk Hut that makes probably the best food at the resort. The service in the beach bar was excellent. Cool music played on the beach, nice mix of activities, mellow, all good. This would be the absolute selling point of this resort for me, in fact, after speaking with several guests, they all agreed that without this special part of the resort, their holiday just would not have been the same. What is also wonderful about this beach is the plentiful shade and multiple loungers.

People of Palladium, these are the animation staff. They have endless energy and are wonderful. One in particular “Avitar” was just such a spectacular human being, the resort is lucky to have her.

Lifeguards, Groundsmen, cleaning staff, these cool, friendly background workers were not overwhelmed like the serving staff so had the Jamaican hospitality down. When my son stepped on a sea urchin, the lifeguards were professional, helpful and caring. The guy that cleaned Sunset cove each morning is a gem.

The Infinity Bar, groovy live music, good drinks. We hung out here most evenings 315and loved it. Here is a picture of one round of cocktails. The cocktails here are awesome, but if you want wine that doesn’t taste like paint thinner, you are going to pay $30 for a basic bottle of plonk. One night they had a fun “Back to the 80’s” party that was a blast. They fun was greatly due to the work of the Jamaican animation staff who are unbelievable, teaching water aerobics at 0900 and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Thank you guys.

Grounds,  It is a sprawling estate with lots of tropical 709flowers and fruits, beautiful. The architecture of the resort it lovely. It is extremely visually appealing. Pictured left is the view from our room, not ocean view but still lovely.

Bad.

Okay, so here we go. Since I am a travel writer I always let a hotel know I am coming. I don’t want to spring a review on a hotel without warning, in my opinion its a professional courtesy. So, these guys knew I was coming. On arrival I was presented with our rooms. We were actually booked in at the Grand Palladium Montego Bay . We were presented with two rooms in block 18 near the main road. I was stunned! I had booked with Air Canada Vacations so we are supposed to get premium rooms, I had requested good rooms that were connecting and got nothing. After much begging, arguing and complaining I paid an additional $40 a night and upgraded to be on the Lady Hamilton side of the resort. This side all the rooms are recently renovated. I had to make do with two rooms with a King Bed and a Pull out coach because no rooms with two beds were available and no connecting rooms were available either. I was not happy but went to the room. (view from balcony picture above)

I asked housekeeping to make up the pull out couch, we returned from Dinner and the bed was made but it was literally as hard as a rock, you might as well sleep on a tile floor. I called reception, complained and they brought padding, it was a bit better but not much. We were exhausted from an early start so went to bed early. As I got into bed, I noticed the sheet was not big enough for the bed (it was a double sheet on a king bed and they had used two to cover the middle of the bed, “what the hell!”, I thought and went to bed

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All night I felt the bare mattress sticking to my body! I was up at 6:00 AM and went to reception, explaining the sheets were not big enough for the bed, they looked at me like I was a lunatic. Anyway, they promised they would look into it. I also asked if there was anyway I could get a room for my kids with two beds so my daughter wouldn’t have to sleep on the rock bed, They found rooms for us that were facing the Spa, so if you open your curtains in the morning you will see all the people working out, UGH, no thanks,  just bring more padding for my daughter and please, King size sheets. I also wrote an email to the customer service rep and manager to complain and they basically said, sorry to hear you are not happy, if we can do anything else just let us know…. really?

So guess what, this is my bed after the second night…. I pulled the sheet straight for the picture but I basically spent the night on a bare mattress AGAIN.

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I actually took the photos not for the blog but to go show reception what we were dealing with. (my kids room also had this problem) This time she looked at me like I was NOT a lunatic (photos help) and said that a machine was broken and the resort did not have enough sheets. ARE YOU KIDDING ME????

I went back to my room and saw a very official looking lady names Althea, I believe she is somehow a supervisor in housekeeping and begged her, I mean literally begged her to get me sheets from somewhere as I was exhausted from two nights of sleeping on a damn bare mattress!  Althea and my housekeeper did what they could for me, but let me say this. If you want good quality sleep this is not the resort for you. No one should have to beg for sheets, I have stayed in youth hostels, 3 star hotels in Africa, gone camping and never had this problem.

Anyway, enough of the beds. You get it they suck and if you have a problem, good luck with a timely resolution.

Line lines lines, everywhere you go, want breakfast, wait in line to get inside the buffet restaurant, want a drink, wait your turn, need anything? Be ready to wait. I can honestly say that after staying at in excess of 50 All inclusive hotels I have never experienced line ups like the ones at the Grand Palladium. Guest got angry waiting and the vibe was unpleasant. The a la cart situation was actually a horror show, angry people were waiting for hours and it was just an unpleasant thing to see on holiday.  We stayed at the Grand Sirenas, in Mayan Riviera the same period (over New Year) at it was nothing like this.

We were so tired of the lines, that we were going to breakfast as it opened at 8:00 AM, in the morning. By 9:00 AM the buffet would have a lineup out the door to get a table. The problem was not the capacity of the resturant but that there was not enough hostess’ to seat guests. We wondered why they didn’t just allow guests to seat themselves, but as it was my holiday I just kept my mouth shut and enjoyed my time with my family.

Slow Service in the a la carte restaurants, consistent with the above comment, once your got into an a la carte restaurant be prepared to wait, wait, wait for your food. We really enjoyed the family time but it took almost an hour for our food to come on Christmas night.

Management? The front line workers did their best, Vanessa, from reception, kept calling me to check on me, as she knew I was not happy with the room/bed situation, but really what could she do about the line ups and overcrowding, this is a Management problem and I was there for some downtime, not to complain about issues that could not be fixed immediately.  It was the same for the poor waitstaff and bar tenders, they were working so hard to keep up with the literally thousands of people that were at the resort but they were totally overwhelmed I don’t think they could have possibly worked any harder.  What annoyed us most of all is that the timeshare sales people and spa sales people literally accosted you every time we walked past, Management had no problem staffing these money makers properly but we couldn’t get anything else with out waiting, waiting, waiting. Please Management, staff the restaurants and bars properly to avoid line ups, particular in the buffet where there were always empty tables and people lining up out the door.

Overall Impression.

I have stayed at well over 10 hotels in Jamaica, all the Sandals except Whitehouse, Iberostar Grand Rose Hall, Couples Sans Souci (where I got married), Holiday Inn Sunsplash, Jamaica Grande and Half Moon, so I know this is not typical for the destination. I would say the Grand Palladium just didn’t deliver on providing a hassle free vacation for my family. There were so many good points but the drama with the rock hard bed, tiny sheets and line ups were enough for me to not recommend this property. To be fair, I wonder what it would be like in a quieter season, but vacation time is so precious, why would you gamble your time for a bad nights sleep and lots of lineups.

I would say that the resort was completely overwhelmed and unable to provide a level of service that is expected in the 4-5 star all-Inclusive space. I write this negative review in hope that Management looks at its delivery of services because the bones of the resort are there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming at Wailua Falls – Kauai

Swimming at Wailua Falls – Kauai

Kauai, Wailua FallsWailua Falls, located on the East side of Kauai was so alluring that we visited it twice. These waterfalls are extremely easy to access, you can literally drive right up to the top of them.  After we got out of the car and looked at the bottom of the falls we could see people swimming… way down there and this made me crazy! I wanted to swim down there too! How did they get there? I wanted to try it. If you look at the picture you can see them swimming (above) it looked so fun but how do we get there?

I had noticed a bunch of cars back about half a km down the road so we headed that way and found a little trail down the hill. This trail was CRAZY steep. You literally had to use tree roots as a ladder to inch you way down the hill. It took us about 40 minutes to climb to the bottom but we made it, BUT then we were faced with the river. (picture below)

River at WailuaAt first walking along the river seemed like an easy task. We were wrong! After slipping and sliding we decided to turn back. At that moment we came across of group of young Australians who told us that we had chosen the “hard way” and there was an easier way than walking along the river.

As it was getting late in the day so we decided to head back to the hotel and try again tomorrow. Climbing up the hill was actually easier and faster than climbing down. My kids were exhausted and so was I. The next day we returned and looked for the “easy” trail that the Aussies had told us about. It was right near the parking lot at the top of the falls. It was not marked, there was a “keep out” sign and just a little indication of a path. For those of you looking for the way down, if you stand and look at the falls, the path is just at then end of the guard rail to your right.

When you get down the hill, which is extremely steep, probably steeper than the trial we used the previous day, the deafening roar of the falls tells you how close you are. When we got to the bottom there were some local Hawaiians there, they had climbed down barefoot! They said it was the way they always did it and laughed at us all covered in mud from sliding down on our bottoms.  We had a beer with them and celebrated our victory in making it to the poolkauai waterfall

Swimming in the pool at the base of the falls was one of the greatest travel experiences I have ever had. It was beautiful. The water was cold and refreshing after a grueling hike down. The waves from the tourists way up above reminded me of how I had waived to the swimmers the day before as I looked down and hoped I could do the same.Wailua Falls at the bottom2

Wailua Falls, was a definite highlight for our family. The thrill of swimming beneath such amazing beauty is something I will never forget.

TIPS: Must be strong on your feet, strong balance and able to climb.

The second time we did the climb, we literally wore bathing suits and T shirts only. That way we could scoot down on our bottoms when needed.

Leave your valuables in your hotel!

Take some drinks for a victory celebration when you get to the bottom! Aloha.