This is the fourth time I've gone to the Champs de Mars, stared at the Eiffel Tower for hours, read books, ate cheese, drank wine and shooed away the “Beer, Wine Champagne” sellers. Every year the first 5 hours go very well and then people start to fill in. People start to get nastier and more desperate and the fight for space starts. The last 15 minutes people just walking into the center of groups and stand there waiting. It all gets pretty nuts. This is probably the last year I do Bastille Day on the Champs de Mars unless I buy an apartment overlooking both the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower (I can dream right?).


Several years ago they placed a stage at the opposite end of the Champs de Mars which made little sense as most people had to choose whether they wanted to see the band or the fireworks up close. This year they put a stage on the same end as the Eiffel Tower. This posed a bit of a problem too because the closest section of grass was now off limits for space reasons.


Overall the show was amazing as always. If it weren't for that last hour we'd do this every year. We did have one hitch though, in past years our apartment was near the Eiffel Tower so we walked home – this year we were in the 10th arrondisement which was too far away. We'd normally take the metro but with 800,000 people streaming out onto the street there's no way they will let them cram into the metro stations. We had 2.5 hrs until the last metro trains ran so we were not worried. So we walked, and we walked… We crossed the Seine and attempted to get the metro at the Alma-Marceau metro station but it was closed too so we continued to walk toward the Arc de Triomphe where we attempted to board the Line 9 metro to Republique. We were down to an hour and we were standing in a long line to get on it.


I ran down the hall to the Line 1 and there wasn't that many people boarding so after retrieving the others we stood in line there. In about 15 minutes and a couple trains later we finally got onto the Line 1. The Line 1 wouldn't take us home but it would get us further away from the madness where we could jump to a different line and get home. As the people packed onto the train we got pushed further toward the back. We were now down to about 30 minutes until the last trains run and I had to make a decision to either go to Bastille and catch the Line 8 all the way home or get off earlier at Hotel De Ville to catch the Line 11 which gets us close to home. I had two stops to make this decision while calculating the remaining minutes until the metro system stopped. The problem with going to Bastille is that we'd be on our current train longer making it less likely to catch the Line 8 home. We may get there and find the last train has already gone and we need to walk the rest of the way. Keep in mind that it's 1 am and we're all exhausted. I don't think we would have made it. At the last minute I chose Hotel De Ville. My reasoning is if we miss the last train it's closer to home so at least our walk would be a bit easier although it was still 1.6 miles on tired feet. Leah was in charge of the wheelchair, I had Piper and Kris had Grandma. As the door opened Kris and Grandma exited, Piper followed and I grabbed the wheelchair as Leah forged a path through the people. The metro Line 1 is an automated train meaning there's no driver so when the doors close they close. A nice couple saw me pushing toward the door and attempted to hold it but to no avail – my family was on the platform and I was stuck on a train that's now pulling away from the station.

At the next stop I exited and had to make a decision of walking back or crossing under the tracks to the other side and catching the last train in the reverse direction back to them. The last train wasn't for another 10 minutes and there's a chance I could walk it in that time since most Paris Metro stations are about ¼ file apart. The problem was my phone was about dead and I had no map, and it was dark and we had only minutes left. I crossed over and waited for the return train. It may take 10 minutes but I know I'll get there and if necessary we'll all walk home. My train arrived and exited to the platform which was on the opposite side as my family who was waiting patiently. As we went under the tracks to meet in the tunnel we had Leah run down to see if there was another Line 11 running. She came back up the stairs frantically waving her arms so we ran to the platform and just barely caught the last Line 11 to Republique which was about a half mile from our apartment. We got home at 1:45 am. The fireworks ended at 11 pm.



The problem with Bastille day is that cars don't move for at least an hour after it's over, the metro stations near the Eiffel Tower are closed and buses aren't running. There's no other option really than to do what we did which makes it difficult. This may be our last Bastille day.

Instead of doing a day by day breakdown of what we did in Paris I thought it would make more sense to talk about the sites we visited and activities we participated in.


Just to be clear, you cannot do everything in Paris on vacation without moving there. I once calculated that if you went to a different museum every day from Monday through Friday and then used the weekend to see a monument (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe etc.) it would take you nearly 6 months to see everything. I've known people who've gone to Paris but spent days and weeks just sitting in their apartment then later complained about not having anything to do! If anything Paris has too much and you have to prioritize, just wandering around probably isn't the most effective way of seeing what you want.


Basilica St Denis


The Basilica of St Denis is in what used to be the town of St Denis which was outside the city of Paris. Paris has now absorbed the area and it's more suburb than it's own town. The area has a branch of the Paris University and a great Arab market as well. The area is a bit sketchy so keep an eye on your belongings but I still highly recommend going there.

Before visiting the Basilica I'd also recommend reading the Brief History of France so you know who the people are that you're going to run into. This book is a much shorter telling of the 2000 years leading up to now. There's so much history in these countries that it can be overwhelming. You don't have to be a historian but you will definitely get more out of the Basilica if you have a foundation of who's who in French history. And you'll be amazed that THESE people are here in this building. 

Outside of Charlemagne, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette most people don't know a lot about French royalty so a quick brushup might be in order. The book I've linked above distills 2000 years down to 300 pages and for this basilica I'd focus on 800 AD to 1600 AD (about 50 pages).

The Basilica of St Denis is important because it's where all of the French kings are buried up until Napoleon's time. Napoleon is buried at Les Invalides in the left bank if you want to track him down. The original basilica was built in 475 at about the time the western half of the Roman empire fell – that's pretty early. Most of the current basilica were built in the 1100's and is the prototype for the Gothic style. After the Basilica St Denis was built copies of the Basilica St. Denis popped up all over Europe.

Clovis I, the first king of France was buried in a church near the Pantheon that no longer exists although the bell tower still resides inside the Lycee Henry IV. Later his bones were moved the the Basilica St Denis. Other people buried here are Charles Martel (, Francis I – the guy who convinced Leonardo de Vinci to hang out with him for the heck of it, Henri II and Catherine de Medici, Louis XIV the Sun King, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. There are many many other people buried here but you'd have to have some foundations in French history for it to mean anything. I HIGHLY recommend getting that foundation before you go!

While you're in the St Denis area visit the indoor St Denis market and also the outdoor “Flea Market” which sells just about everything from clothes to kitchen utensils. Note: this area is known to be a bit sketchy so keep an eye on your belongings but DO go…

St Denis Photo Gallery


Musee Rodin

Rodin's house and former studio is a small museum that isn't packed like so many others in Paris. Most of the artwork is in the garden so you can pay for just the garden pass if you want to save a few dollars. I've been in the house and in the garden several times and I enjoy the garden better. There you will see the Gates of Hell, The Thinker and some of this other works. The weather was turning to rain when we went so we didn't dilly dally for too long. The Musee Rodin is near the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides making it convenient to double up sites in one day.

You have to take the obligatory photo of you thinking in front of the Thinker. The Thinker is probably Rodin's most famous sculpture but it was really just one part of the Gates of Hell. Each portion of the Gates of Hell were also available individually. 

 Musee Rodin Photo Gallery 


The Pantheon

I'd been traveling to Paris for 10 years before I finally went into the Pantheon. The guidebooks talked about it being a modern building and to not get it confused with the Pantheon in Rome or the Parthenon in Greece as those buildings were ancient. This is a true statement however it doesn't give the Pantheon credit. The Abbey of St Genevieve was built on this site in 500 AD soon after the fall of Rome. About 1800 AD all of it was demolished except the tower of Clovis which still stands inside the Lycee Henri IV (College Henry IV). The Pantheon was build just one plot over in the mid 1700's. This may seem new but keep in mind it still predates just about everything in the US!

The importance of the building for me is it's current use. After the revolution the Pantheon was converted to a “mausoleum for the interment of great Frenchmen”. Anytime a church is converted into a house of enlightenment I'm all for it. Some of the people who were buried here are Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Louis Braille, Jean Jaures, Alexander Dumas, Marquis de Condorcet, Marie Curie and Pierre Curie. That's a pretty amazing list!

The inside walls of the building are all painted in murals depicting various scenes in history. I love just sitting on a bench and looking at every detail of the paintings. One could spend a lifetime in this building doing just that.


Père Lachaise

Paris' most famous cemetery! You could spend a year going over each grave but we hit the highlights, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Chopin… The others are interesting too but you only have so much time.. Make sure you bring a map of the layout and where people are buried as scrolling around on your phone is not very useful as I found out.



Sacre Coeur

The wedding cake church on the hill. A fairly new church built to remember the soldiers lost in the Franco-Prussian war. Sacre Couer is built on Montmartre – the tallest hill in Paris. Monmartre is festooned with tourists, tourist shops, mimes, human statues and such. Go to Sacre Coeur for one thing and one thing only – to climb it! This is not for the faint at heart as there's nearly 300 steps and no room to back out once you start. They make you enter the stair climb in the basement making it seem an even bigger accomplishment. Once you get to the top you're rewarded by Paris's best viewpoint. As you walk on tiny walkways around and between the towers you get to see all sides of Paris. Spend some time, relax and think about life – it's worth the effort. I've done this climb several times and each time I ask myself if I really want to go up there and once I reach the top I answer – YES. Don't mess around with the mimes, silhouette cutters, human statues and tourist shops at the base, just go straight for the stairs – it's why you came.



Versailles is the town of the King's court – Louis XIV to be precise. I have to say one thing concerning Versailles – get here early! If you're leaving Paris at 8 am you're too late. You'll stand in line for 2 hours before getting in. I highly suggest leaving when it's still dark out… The only reason we got in at all this years is because my daughter is handicapped so she goes in a different door. Had we not been able to skip the line we would have got back on the RER train and went back to Paris. I'm really not exaggerating here. Once inside you're jam packed into rooms that the king, or his wife or his kids or his second cousin's wife's handmaidens dog used to live in. The tour groups get a little irritating all cramming together into each room and running over whatever is in their path. I actually took a wheelchair through Versailles and lived to tell about it.

It's best to bring lunch as there's not a lot of choice in the cafe inside the museum. Another choice would be to eat outside the palace at a restaurant but everything in Versailles seems overpriced. On the same street as the train station there's also a Monoprix if you want to assemble your own lunch. We brought ours and ate it in the cafe inside the palace.

If you plan on seeing the grounds be prepared to pay a second time as they're charging for them most of the time now. You can also rent golf carts to cover ground easier. We walked. In the heat.



The French are known for many things but one of my favorites is their food. I've mentioned Provencal markets and how much I like them but Paris doesn't really have an equivalent in a lot of ways – and this is unfortunate for sure. Years ago there was a massive indoor food market in the center of the city called Les Halles but it was moved to the suburbs and is currently focused on the wholesale market. I've never been to the new Les Halles but the old one is now a metro station and an underground mall – neither of which interest me much.

There are several indoor markets in Paris that sort of resemble a Provencal market but they're really not the same. In Provence it seems the entire town is buying produce at the same time – in Paris a few people stroll the overpriced stalls and maybe even buy something – this is clearly not the same thing.

You do have a few market options in Paris that you just don't have in Provence or anywhere else in France which I'll cover here.


Covered Markets

Two of the Paris covered markets were near our apartment this summer. We had the Marché Couvert Saint-Quentin in the 10th arrondissement as well as Marché Saint-Martin which looks and acts largely the same as the former. Both are interesting if you've never seen a real popular working market. I'd love to have either one in Seattle but the problem is that France has amazing, busy markets in other cities and these just aren't amazing or busy. Both try to act upmarket and offer wine stores, German import products, middle eastern cuisine etc.. The wine, produce and cheese they do offer is overpriced. Perhaps it's the cost of land in Paris which creates the high prices which in turn create a lack of activity – I'm not sure.

The closest thing I saw to a Provencal market was the indoor market at St. Denis – which probably resembles an Arab market more than anything. This thing is massive and reminds me as much of markets in Mexico or Turkey as it does a French market. This is probably because this market IS more Arab than French.


Ah Paris. I took my first trip to Paris in 2004 and only spent a day in the city. Paris and French culture in general felt very foreign to me – foreign enough that I didn't feel comfortable. I vowed to return and stay until I felt at ease so we did the next summer. We stayed in Paris for a month in the summer of 2005 and have been doing the same almost every year since. We've loved Paris enough that my oldest daughter quite both of her jobs in the US and moved there on an au pair Visa when she was 21. That was a couple of years ago and she's still there on a student Visa.


Paris is divided up into twenty arrondissements or districts. In the past we've stayed in the 5th, 7th, 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th arrondissements in the past and this time around decided to stay in the 10th, I'll get to why in a moment. The different arrondissements have their own character but my favorite is the 7th on the left bank. The arrondissements are numbered like a spiral (or snail) starting from the center of the city where the celtic people used to live and where Notre Dame is today. The 5th, 7th, 14th and 15th arrondissements are on the left bank. The 10th, 17th and 18th are on the right bank. The left bank is the home of the Eiffel tower, Napoleon's tomb and the Latin quarter with the Sorbonne University and Pantheon. The right bank hosts the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Sacre Coeur, Opera Garnier and Notre Dame. I like going to the right band but I like living on the left bank.


Full Pont du Gard Gallery

When the Romans paid to have Nimes built the local Celtic people built it in the same location as their village. As Nimes grew they needed access to more water to serve the population so the Romans did what they knew best – engineer a solution. They built a 35 mile long aquaduct to bring water to their fledgling city. Not only was this an amazing feet but part of it is still standing – the Pont du Gard.


The Pont du Gard is 160 ft high and nearly a quarter of a mile in length spanning a ravine. The Pont du Gard only drops 1 inch in elevation over it's 1100 ft of length. The entire aquaduct drops about 50 ft over it's 35 miles! The Romans were very precise.


While we were in Nimes we took a bus to the Pont du Gard. The Tango bus company's office is behind the train station in the small plaza. We were able to buy a family pass to Pont du Gard for about 20 Euros including transportation which is pretty amazing.

Full Nimes Photo Gallery


Last year we spent a week in Provence because our Paris apartment wasn't available when we needed it. We got an adequate apartment in Avignon because it and Arles were the cities that Rick Steves told us to stay in. We chose Avignon because it was larger and less “gritty” according to him. My daughter's boss however said she liked Nimes best and we probably should have listened to her as we'd find out later it was our favorite.


As a repeat from last year our Paris apartment wasn't ready again so we decided to introduce my mother to Europe with a week in Nimes in the Languedoc region. It feels like Provence though as it's right on the border and no more than a 30 minute train ride from the most popular Provencal cities. Since we'd spent a day there we familiar with the layout of the city and found a house fairly near the train station and the center of town.


The house had two bedrooms, a large kitchen, a back yard with patio and bbq and a large front room. The most impressive characteristic though was the beautiful tiled floors that stayed cool all day long in the very hot summers of southern France. Coming from Seattle where the summer temps rarely break 25 degrees Celsius (77 F) we immediately had to acclimate to 34-37 degrees (93-99 F). Having a cold tiled floor helped out a lot as did brilliant metal shutters.


Sometimes while traveling you see something and wonder why we don't have the same thing back home and metal shutters are one of those things. Metal shutters are a lot like having garage doors on your windows. Too much heat or light? Just flip the switch and down comes the shutters which have holes in them to let light in. At the very last minute they flip over and all light is gone. Not only do they keep out the heat but they'll make room pitch black in a hurry. In the morning we'd close the eastern shutters and in the evening the western shutters. At noon all windows were open to let the breeze flow through. They're brilliant to be honest. I'm not sure they offset not having screens on the windows as we would in the states. Screenless windows are a strange European oddity. We asked our French friend why they never have screens on the windows and he replied “Screens? What are screens?”. After explaining that they keep the bugs out he told us they just didn't open the windows. Problem solved. So they get awesome metal shutters and we get screens. I'd like to know why we can't have both.


Misc Photo Gallery

When it came time to purchase plane tickets we went through the usual process – check every city pair we can think of between the Pacific Northwest and Europe such as Portland to London, Portland to Paris, Portland to Brussels, Seattle to London, Seattle to Paris and so on. I generally check Portland, Seattle and Vancouver BC for departing flights and London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Frankfurt, Barcelona and many others for my destination. is a godsend for this task as you can leave the destination open or even narrow it to a country and it will show you the cheapest flights. You can even have it show you the cheapest flight in a month range. What we ended up with was Vancouver BC to Paris France for $716 round trip in the middle of peak travel season. That is the second cheapest flight to Europe that I've ever purchased. The cheapest flight from Seattle was $500 more. Unfortunately the Vancouver flight was on Airtransat which we flew last year to Amsterdam and vowed to never again fly them. It seems everyone can be bought and our price was $500.

Naturally flying out of another city isn't free. We booked Amtrak Cascades train tickets from Seattle to Vancouver BC for $20 each way and we had to pay for the Vancouver Sky Train to get us to the airport so our total savings was $445 per person – still worth the trouble.


I might want to add that my mother has never flown before and I convinced her to sit in one spot at 40,000 ft for 10 hrs the first time out. She was a trooper with the flight but took a bit longer to get used to airport security and even remarking at some point that it was amazing anyone flew.


The arrival in Vancouver has gotten slower as they now de-board the train a couple of cars at a time to stand in line for immigration. The idea that there's a border between the US and Canada is insane to begin with but to take an hour to go through immigration shows how amateur we as a country is.


I've been spending virtually every summer in Europe for 11 years. When I started traveling we were four people - myself and my three young kids ages 7, 8 and 12. I've added a couple of people to my family with my significant other and her 14 year old daughter bringing us to six travelers. In the last couple of years two of my children have grown up and moved out with my oldest living in Paris full time which dropped us back to a family of four. The combination of having fewer travelers, an amazing exchange rate, and a killer deal on peak season plane tickets left us with a bit of room in our budget for someone else – my 75 year old mother.


Now I should tell you that my mother hasn't traveled much unless you call a quick drive from Washington to Illinois traveling. I suppose we shouldn't forget that one trip to Las Vegas in the early 1960's either – still no major travels. Several years ago I took her across the border to Vancouver British Columbia and she loved it. Vancouver seemed so... foreign to her. There were French speaking people, the money looked different and the metric system.


Last year we attempted to take my mother to Europe but she refused due to her age (75) and the fact that she's not as mobile as she once was. I think there were other factors too – you don't just go from wanting to travel your whole life to getting on an airplane for 10 hrs specially when you'd never flown before. That's right – NEVER. However, I bought her a non-refundable ticket this year and paid to get her passport application turned in. Once that was done I continued to update her on my progress in planning the trip and things started getting real.


Plane tickets out of Seattle to anywhere in Europe were $1300 but we could leave Vancouver BC for $716. Multiply that by 5 and you have a month's rent in Paris paid for just by flying out of a different airport. This meant we'd have to take the Amtrak Cascades train to Canada and possibly stay the night on our return trip. It also meant we were leaving on June 23rd and not returning until August 28th – a 10 week adventure. This doesn't bother me much as I've only had one trip in which I wanted to come home. That trip ended with 4 cases of Montezuma's Revenge, a heart attack, three ambulances, one cardiologist, a hotel doctor, on case of fainting at the airport curb, two days holed up in a hotel trying to hold toast down, three blocked bank cards and an airline that told us to get a new passport at the embassy before they could allow us on the plane. THAT trip I wanted to come home from and in fact, we came home early which is the only time I've ever done that. My perfect trip is a one-way ticket so I was more than willing to book a 10 week vacation.


My original master plan was to spend one month in Paris and a second month in Croatia with a few days in between to travel to where my mother's side of the family came from – Thornbury England. Whenever you travel you can save money by staying in one spot for a longer period of time. Usually you can get weekly or monthly rates on apartments that save a ton of money. However, due to the late acquisition of funding for the trip the apartment pickings were slim and the Paris apartment we wanted was only available for 3 weeks which meant we'd fly into Paris and have a week to blow before getting into our apartment. Our options were to rent another apartment for a week in Paris... or go somewhere else. One week rentals in Paris are more expensive then renting for a month so I had to budget $125 per day for accommodations for that week. For contrast we were paying about $85 per day for the other 3 weeks. As we dug through the remaining apartments in Paris that we could fit into our budget we came to the realization that we didn't like any of them so we considered our options. The previous year we stayed in Provence for a week and toured Avignon, Arles, Nimes and Orange. Out of those four cities Nimes was by far our favorite. A quick search for apartments there yielded a whole house for $68/night not far from the historic center! One week's rent in Nimes plus five return tickets on France's high speed train brought our daily cost to $120 which fit into our budget. Nimes is a town of about 150,000 people so it would be a more gentle introduction to Europe for my mother as well. Paris can be a bit overwhelming at times.


For Valentine's day weekend I take my significant other to Canada. Well, that's not the plan usually but in the Seattle area we don't have a lot of other choices besides Canada and HippyVille (Portland) if we want to get out of town. Last year we took the Victoria Clipper to Victoria BC. This year we took the Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver BC.  Due to site maintenance the photos have just now gone up - vancouver-bc-2015

By far my favorite way of getting to Vancouver is by train. There's two trips per day, it only takes about 3 hrs from Everett, the view of the Puget Sound is wonderful and it's comfortable. Usually tickets run about $20 each way. I know you can drive it in about the same amount of time but it's just not the same. Culturally Vancouver isn't THAT much different than Seattle although it seems to be a bit more cosmopolitan. The three things that give Vancouver somewhat of a "foreign air" is the Canadian Currency, the Metric System and the number of people with French accents. However, when we drive to Vancouver it doesn't feel that much different than going to Portland or Spokane because you're isolated from the people around you. When you take the train you rub elbows with the locals, use the Skytrain, Seabus, Aquabus and regular buses to get around. It FEELS like you went somewhere.  I highly recommend it.

When I stay in Vancouver I like the little quaint hotels and my favorite is the Victorian Hotel on Homer. It's sort of a bed-and-breakfast flavored hotel but you have to book ahead as it's not big and they fill fast. Check for the best deals (often cheaper than the Victorians own website). They also have ONE family room with three beds which we works well when the whole family is with us. They give you a nice breakfast and the service is good. Something happened when I booked though and I made the reservation for March instead of February and the Victorian was full when we arrived leaving us without a room. The nice lady at the Victorian set us up with a room at the Kingsman Bed and Breakfast. The one rule I've learned when a hotel is full and they reserve you a room somewhere else is that other room won't be as good as the one you wanted. Why? Because they will NEVER book you in a hotel that's a better deal then their own or you wouldn't come back! The other room will either be more expensive or won't be as nice. In the case of the Kingsman it was both more expensive and not as nice. It's called Bed and Breakfast and I suppose if you think a man handing you a bagel in the morning is breakfast than the title is fitting. The beds are in very dark depressing hallways and the there's ONE (count it) bathroom/shower on every floor so get up early if you want to be clean. The ONLY nice thing I can say about the Kingsman is it's across the street from Medina Cafe which has long lines in the morning. From the windows of the Kingsman you can keep an eye on the line so you can get quicker. 

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