Last week I mentioned that my dad and sister were coming to visit me during the marathon and to do some additional sight seeing. My dad, Bob, had already planned on coming but my sister, Julie, needed needed a day of coaxing to make the decision to make her first international trip ever. I had mentioned to her that WOW airlines runs bargain round trip flights from Boston to Paris (with a short layover in Iceland). I’m talking half the price (even with the extras of checked baggage). I knew she would be hesitant because her oldest daughter was expecting her first baby (my niece, Heidi, who’s wedding I was in in West Virginia last August) and her other daughter Kailee, in Pennsylvania, is engaged and planning her wedding. But happily, she made the decision to come and now I was in the driver’s seat to help both of them see as much of Europe in 12 short days.
DAY 1-4: PARIS
They arrived on a red eye flight from Boston-Reykjavik-Paris getting in at 11:30am our time (we are 6 hours ahead of east coast time) so 5:30am their time. We were only spending 4 days in Paris with one day being the marathon and the last day leaving early to catch a train to our next adventure, thus only really leaving us with 2 days.
Friday, April 1, we checked into our Airbnb near Place de la Republique and I double checked with them if they wanted to rest or start seeing the sights and like the troopers they are, we were off to explore Paris by foot. The Republique is centrally located so we were never too far from the main sights; however, I don’t think any of us planned on the amount of walking we would be partaking in during our trip which consisted of about 10k each day.
First we had lunch on a corner cafe near our apartment with my friend, Dorothy, from home who currently lives in London and her friend, Flavia, from Rotterdam, Netherlands. Both were in town, luckily, to visit me and celebrate Flavia’s birthday.
Dorothy, Flavia, me, Julie
We walked from the Republique -> Centre Pompidou -> Hotel de Ville -> Notre Dame de Paris -> Musee du Louvre -> then took a Batobus boat tour past Musee D’Orsay and Tour Eiffel -> back to Notre Dame and walked back to the Republique.
We all started to crash at that point and went back to rest. I bought some Champagne, Cheese, Chorizo and a baguette. My dad stayed in for the rest of the night and me, my sister mustered up our last bit of energy to meet up with Dorothy and Flavia to celebrate Flavia’s birthday at AG Les Halles.
Saturday, I attempted a short run with Dorothy in the morning but was experiencing a combination of sciatic pain and panic attack so we cut it short and picked up some croissants. Juju arrived Saturday afternoon and we all made our way to the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles to pick up our marathon numbers. The expo was huge but thankfully with only one exit as we lost my dad for about 30 minutes, without a smart phone, and he was smart enough to wait at the exit. After that moment of panic, we could go back to enjoy the exhibitors in which we tried some wine from the Alsace region, picked up some Kinesiotape for my sciatica, my sister grabbed some new sneakers and Juju and I re-stocked on our goos and energy bars.
That night we all met up with Dorothy and Flavia at La Massara for an Italian carb loaded dinner before the race. We went to bed early and JuJu and I got up around 8am to head to the start of the marathon while my dad and sister met up later with Juju’s sister, Magali and boyfriend, Jeremie, and their daughter to do the spectator routine. After the marathon and recovery we went the the bar across the street from our apartment and celebrated with everyone.
Day 4-6: HOLLAND
Monday morning we checked out of the Airbnb in Paris and headed over to Gare du Nord to catch our train to Amsterdam. It was a 3:30 hour journey but the trains are pretty comfortable and stocked with food and beer 🙂 We passed through Brussels half way and made it our final destination around 3:45pm. I booked a really cheap room at The Frisco Inn, only a 5 minute walk from the train station. Upon arrival, we soon discovered why it was so cheap. I had requested a double bed and cot for a 3rd person. They missed the cot comment and put us up in the smallest room they had. First, the flight up the stairs was a challenge as the steps were as narrow as rungs on a ladder, so bringing 3 heavy suitcases plus ourselves seemed to be an acrobatic feat. Then the room…it fit a double bed. And that’s it. Needless to say, the other rooms were completely booked and I slept on the floor for 2 nights. Not my first time and probably won’t be my last – all the the namesake of a bargain, am I right?
Monday night we walked a bit to see the Anne Frank House, canals, and, of course, the Red light district. We were told to get the best dutch apple pie in the city at Winkel 43. Upon arrival, there were several picnic benches for outdoor seating that was minimally full. We opted to eat inside as the weather was spring-like but cooled off a bit when the sun went down. The place was pretty quiet and I was concerned that the only food options were bar apps. The waitress put away our fears and brought out the chalkboard menu with an array of options, that I guess is an ever changing menu. I went with the dutch speciality of mashed potatoes with broccoli and Rookworst sausage. My sister opted for the goat cheese salad and my dad got the sweet and sour chicken. And of course all 3 of us got the famous Dutch Apple Pie that was not the least bit disappointing.
Tuesday we got up early to reserve a bus to Keukonhof where the Tulip festival is about 45 minutes away from the city. This festival only occurs between March and May. It’s like a Theme park for flowers. Before we had a hearty pancake breakfast that literally could be made up of anything you wanted, think more crepe style. I got veggie pancake with fresh mint tea, my sister got bacon and cheese, while my dad opted for apple and ham. Then we started the party early with some morning alcoholic beverages at the bar at our hotel and sneaked a few nips on the way in the bus. We were feeling good! At the festival, right off the bat we were able to grab a couple bottles of Rose and prance around the festival. It was beautifully entertaining and we did as much touristy things imaginable. After a couple hours, we ended up in the cafe and had some beef stew and started to make our way back toward the bus. Catching the bus close to the last minute, because we had to buy our dad a collection pin, we made our way back to Amsterdam and spent the rest of the evening talking it up with the bartender and some patrons in the hotel bar and, due to the “pungent air”, ended up having McDonald’s. That’s what a day of drinking will lead to, not my proudest moment but better than dealing with a hangover.
Wednesday the weather finally took a turn for the worst. I think it was really our only day with rain but it was just miserable, cold and windy. We decided to take the covered boat cruise through the canals. We made one pit stop to see the I AMSTERDAM sign. Last time I visited the Netherlands the sign was behind the Rijksmuseum. Unbeknownst to me, the sign moves every year and this year it was on City Hall grounds. Because of the weather we were lucky enough to get pictures with the whole sign without anyone else in the picture. I was pretty happy about that. The fatigue was starting to set in and we opted to forego seeing the Rijks and Van Gogh Museums and the Heineken Experience and also, we were running out of time. We then took our train back from Amsterdam to Paris, walked two blocks to Gare de l’Est to get our train to finally my home in Metz, France where Juju picked us up at 10pm and had made lasagna for us.
Day 7: Metz, France
We finally took a break from travel but that didn’t stop our 10k per day walking excursions. We took the local bus to the Metz Gare then walked our way -> Centre Pompidou-Metz Museum -> Porte des Allemands -> Cathedrale Metz -> Le Temple Neuf -> Place de la Republique where we shopped met up with my American friend, Ashley, and her son who live in Metz. The presidents of France and Germany were in town celebrating the Franco-Allemande relationship and closing off some of the streets in the neighborhood. That night Juju came home and cooked us salmon and we all went to bed early.
Day 8: Reims, France
Friday morning we woke up early to catch a Megabus (same as the Megabus you would take from Boston to NYC) from Metz to Champagne-Ardenne/Reims. This is the champagne region of France. The bus dropped us off at the main train station a little bit outside the city. We discovered the 20 minute tram that would take us into the city. Once in the city we would, of course, walk to the closest Champagne cellar we could find. On our walk we passed the Notre Dame Reims cathedral, which was like a miniature version of Paris but was being renovated. Our walk ended at Champagne Taittinger. We made it just in time for the beginning of the hour long tour. It started with a short video then a walk through the 13th Roman Century chalk caves that houses 2 million bottles of champagne that take anywhere from 15 months to 10 years to produce. At the end, of course, were tastings and this stuff is the best, sorry Korbel, but you have some work to do 😉 After the tour we had just enough time to walk, catch the tram and take the 2:30 Megabus back to Metz. At this point, the traveling was starting to catch up with us and my dad in particular, who was getting a head cold. We all passed out early again Friday night.
Day 9: Strasbourg, France
With my dad staying home to rest, me, Julie and Juju drove 2 hours to Strasbourg, France. It’s part of the European Capital and home to the half timbered houses, le petite France, and Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. We experienced alsatian gastronomy in Winstub Meiselocker which included escargot, foie gras, and the best Cordon Bleu I’ve ever had in my life. We then took the petite train tour around the city to get a view of the distinct architecture. We came back after a couple of beers and my sister rested and Juju and I went out in Metz with our French friends to again celebrate our Marathon completion.
Day 10: Hestroff, France
Sunday Funday in France is mine and Juju’s favorite day of the week. We typically start off the morning by hitting up the farmer’s market across from our flat and to get fresh fruits, veggies, baguettes, eggs and cheese. We cook up a brunch accompanied with champagne. In the afternoon, we drove 30 minutes to Juju’s parents home in Hestroff, France located 12 miles from the German border. Here we drank more Champagne and walked around the village to a point in the forest that brought us to a WWII bunker called Fort aux Fresques Ligne Maginot Hestroff connecting local villages by underground tunnels to protect from Germans (that thankfully never came). After this history lesson, we had a 5 course meal made by Juju’s mother and did as much communicating as you can between English and French only speaking families with the help of more wine and some sign language and, of course, Juju’s translations.
Day 11: Trier, Germany and Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Monday was our last day of touring and what could be better but to have all 3 meals in a day, each in a different country. We started with breakfast in Metz, France, then took a 45 minute train to Luxembourg, Luxembourg and switched to take another 55 min train to Trier, Germany. Walking continued to get from the gare to the city center where we saw Porta Nigra -> Hauptmarkt which contained shopping, colorful architecture, cathedrales, and a delicious traditional german meal of dumplings and meatloaf -> Kurfurstliches Palais -> and Imperial Roman Baths. We were able to grab a beer stein for my nephew, Nick, and we speed walked .8 miles to catch a 3:30pm train back to Luxembourg.
In Luxembourg, we took the bus to city plaza and walked to the Chemin de la Corniche and to Place d’Armes and drank a beer out in the open. We hopped on the bus and I showed them Kirchberg and stopped by Auchan until Juju was done with work. We had our last meal at Chimichurri which serves platters for meals, so needless to say there would be doggie bags of food being brought home.
Chemin de la Corniche, Luxembourg
Day 12: Back to US
The last day approached and we sadly had to send my sister and dad back by train to Paris. They were able to get a quick look into EuroDisney before reaching Charles De Gaulle Airport. It was great to show my family where I lived and the neighboring attractions that makes Europe so great. And we got my sister back in time before her first grandchild and my great-niece, Lillian, making a 4 week early arrival on April 17th. Congrats to mom, Heidi, and baby who are both healthy and the family of 3 are doing well.
My great-niece, Lillian Taylor