The Eiffel Tower at Sunrise

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After we got to our hotel from the flight, we all fell asleep right away, which means we woke up at 4 and were ready to go!

We decided on a walk to the Eiffel Tower, just for the heck of it. We bundled everyone up and away we went. It was so romantic walking along the Seine with nobody else there!

 Outfit selfie. Alex mocking me.

Outfit selfie. Alex mocking me.

We were looking for food the whole time but nothing was open! We were starting to get desperate when we finally found a boulangerie near the Eiffel Tower. We ordered and waited and waited and waited. The food took forever! Finally, we just canceled our order and moved on. I felt bad, but Lorenzo was done. The next thing we did was admire the sunrise over the Eiffel Tower. This was an experience I won't soon forget! We were in shadow still as the Eiffel Tower lit up with the sunrise.

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After we got our fill of Eiffel Tower pictures, we filled up on croissants for us and Pom Potes (squeezable baby food) for Lorenzo. We hopped on bus #69 and took a driving tour of the city. Unfortunately it was still dark so we couldn't see much. We got off at the last stop which was Pere Lachaise cemetery. Alex was apprehensive about touring a cemetery but I talked him into it. What better place to feel dead from jet lag than a cemetery?

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It ended up being an OK experience. We were all really tired by this point, so we quit the walking tour after Jim Morrison's grave. We took Lorenzo out for a pack break in a highly trafficked area of the cemetery. He was being absolutely hilarious. Every time someone walked by he would give a little fake cough and then light them up with a huge smile. Probably my highlight of the whole day. He is such a charming baby.

 Probably the most hardcore place I've ever breastfed.

Probably the most hardcore place I've ever breastfed.

We went to find food before taking the bus home. It was then that I ate my best Croque Monsieur of the whole trip. It was a double layered Croque with cheese in each layer and cheese on top and bottom of the bread. What really made it excellent was the pepper throughout. Yum.

We got back to our hotel and conked out for a five hour nap. Whoops. When we woke up, I was panicked that we slept half the day away! All we could handle that night was a walk around our neighborhood and dinner at a French restaurant during which Lorenzo looked like this:

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We ate in shifts. There were some boys playing soccer outside the restaurant and Lorenzo really enjoyed watching them. The menu was only in French so neither of us had any idea what we ordered. I ended up eating pork with some delicious apple glaze and polenta. Alex got a steak. It was fantastic. I need to take up French cooking. More butter. I think this was the only time we really sat down to eat an actual meal. In retrospect, I wish we had eaten more French food even if we did have to eat in shifts.

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Let Them Eat Cake

This was hands down my favorite day in Paris. That's surprising because we almost didn't go to Versailles. Doing a day-trip meant poor Lorenzo would miss his long morning nap. I also despise crowds and everything I read about Versailles said that Versailles is worse than Disneyland when it comes to crowd management. However, my love of palaces won out over my disdain for crowds, so off to Versailles we went.

 Hi! i still haven't gotten over my childhood princess fantasies.

Hi! i still haven't gotten over my childhood princess fantasies.

My original plan was to leave the hotel by 7 and be at the gates of Versailles when they opened. What ended up happening is that we all slept in until 8:30. Whoops. Luckily my guidebook had a tip that said another good plan for crowd management at Versailles was to arrive in the late morning after everyone else and start with Petit Trianon and Domaine du Marie Antoinette's first. Best tip ever.

We got on the train and Lorenzo fell asleep. A point in our favor. When we got off, we tried to take Phebus straight to Petit Trianon, but we missed it thanks to a non-helpful bus attendant. So we began to walk. We walked around the side of the whole palace. I think it was over a mile in all. Eventually we needed to stop for a break to breastfeed and regular feed. We made it to the Grand Trianon first. The interior was ok. My favorite thing about it was the pink marbled exterior. Lorenzo's favorite thing about it was the stairs.

 these are the most luxurious steps i've ever climbed!

these are the most luxurious steps i've ever climbed!

After we finished that palace, we tried to go to Marie Antoinette's palace but got lost in the hedge maze on the way. It was actually really fun to walk where there was absolutely no one else. Life goal: own a hedge maze. Probably not consistent with my other life goal to live out my days in California.

 another directionally-challenged family followed us in here. First we told them they were hopelessly lost. then we had them take our picture.

another directionally-challenged family followed us in here. First we told them they were hopelessly lost. then we had them take our picture.

Next was the gardens and grounds around Petit Trianon. I loved all the details and the carefully maintained gardens. Lorenzo enjoyed the rocks. Literally. He kept putting them in his mouth.

I have a new fascination with landscaping now that I have an area to landscape myself. As I get older, I accumulate more interests. I guess that is a good thing, but it also means that there are no sections of Target where I don't want to buy things.

We continued on to the part of Versailles I was most excited to see, Marie Antoinette's Hamlet! While the peasants were starving around her, Marie Antoinette yearned for a simpler country lifestyle. She had a working dairy farm constructed so that she could enjoy the "simple country life." So it is a fake fairytale village. There is much historical debate on whether Marie Antoinette deserved her fate or not. How clueless was she about what was going on around her? Was she a victim of her circumstances? Whether or not she actually said her most famous quote about "Let them eat cake," is even disputed. Much of it may have been propaganda or yellow journalism. Also I learned that "cake" is not actually what we think of as cake, but it's the burned parts of the bread crusts. That statement is even more offensive than previously thought. I've read a few books about Marie Antoinette (one silly YA novel about her ghost and a very well done historical fiction novel) and I would love to read more. She is a fascinating historical figure.

 definitely a witch's garden filled with magical herbs.

definitely a witch's garden filled with magical herbs.

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 parisian donkeys. 

parisian donkeys. 

Marie Antoinette's motives aside, her Hamlet was every bit as charming as I thought it would be! Everyone loved the fish and the farm animals. Yes, we went all the way to Paris to see farm animals. I also enjoyed the Korean family passing by exclaiming over the baby. Alex loves to surprise Korean tourists (there are a lot) by answering them in their native tongue. This was a good one. He told Lorenzo to bow to the family (a typical greeting in Korea) and the grandma was absolutely floored.

 petit bebe with petit trianon.

petit bebe with petit trianon.

We ventured back to Petit Trianon. So the story of Versailles is this: Louis XIV built this amazing palace dedicated to himself. He called himself the Sun King. He moved the capital outside of Paris and basically "domesticated" the nobles by giving them leisure pursuits outside of the city hubbub. He was then free to run the country as he pleased without much meddling from the pesky nobles. His plan worked well, he ran the country for 70 years. At this time, Paris was the epicenter of European culture. Anywhere in Europe when you said "The King" you meant Louis XIV. He reigned through two successors and eventually Louis XVI took the throne. He did not have the ruling power his predecessor had. He married an Austrian princess Marie Antoinette and they retreated further from court life to Petit Trianon. Meanwhile, revolutionary fires simmered. The king spent lavishly while the commoners became more poor. Eventually, they stormed the palace (it was a group of storming ladies that got Marie Antoinette) and captured everyone. They then beheaded the whole royal family, as well as anyone else who got in their way. It got kind of crazy for a while, they were even beheading people on their own side for minor offenses. Marie Antionette accidentally stepped on the foot of the executioner as she was lead to the guillotine and apologized. Ever the lady until her last breath. From this madness, Napoleon took power and began to conquer Europe. One thing I found to be a total mind-trip was that Louis XVI actually met with Benjamin Franklin before the French revolution. This guillotine madness was not that long ago! American Revolution: 1776, Louis XVI and American diplomats meet: 1778, French Revolution: 1789-1799. They must have gotten some ideas from us. I hope the guillotine wasn't one of them.

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After seeing where royalty retreated, we were ready to see where they lived. We went in through the side entrance to the right of the gates when you are facing the palace directly. No wait! Compare that to the two plus hour we walked by that morning. We let Lorenzo wiggle in the courtyard as we switched off touring the different parts of the palace. We decided to take him with us when we went to the Hall of Mirrors. Big mistake. He loved his echo in there and it was so packed we couldn't move quickly. We exited and allowed him to play in the courtyard some more. The courtyard ended up being my favorite part of Versailles, so it worked out. Although you could see less with a baby, I ended up enjoying the things I did see even more because I got more time there to inspect.

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 what lorenzo thinks of the palace.

what lorenzo thinks of the palace.

One mantra I always try to remember while traveling is to pretend you will return. This allows you to maximize your time and energy in each location. If something is closed or will take too long, that's find. Now you have a reason to return! There is just no way you are ever going to see EVERYTHING in any city, even if you live there. So take a deep breath, put your itinerary away, and enjoy what you do get to see.

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We then left Versailles and got back on the train. Lorenzo fell asleep on the walk there. We had a funny moment where he was sleeping on the train and he woke up facing the row across the way from us. At first he didn't see anyone he recognized and he made THE saddest face I've ever seen. I will never forget that face. When we got home, we fed him and let him wiggle on the bank of the Seine. Alex was so tired after this day, so I ventured out to get Asiatique, which is to-go Asian food buffet that is very popular in Paris right now. A trend I can get behind.

 my family!

my family!

Guest Post: Temples and TukTuks

There are six of me. No really, I have five sisters (and two brothers!) that are just as travel obsessed as I am. Here is a guest post by my sister Lenore who took her three children to Thailand.

A major thrust of elementary education is ethnic heritage as an attempt to connect children who live in small childlike worlds to the greater world.  They're frequently asked to bring in outfits or food from their ancestral home, which, once you get to second and third generations immigrants, is a bit of a stretch.  But now my kids have been there and experienced the culture.  Though they're little, they understand a little bit more about who they are.  And experiencing that was magical.

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Thailand has the exotic animals and the jungles, but it also has a rich culture of religion and mysticism.  There is something absolutely magical about the architecture both in the temples and outside every shop and home.  There's the Buddhist influence of over 4,000 temples peaking out around every corner, the folklore represented at nearly every home, the large Muslim population, and the historical Khmer Hindu-Buddhist ruins.  That's a ton of religious history.

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The official religion of Thailand is Buddhism and the most important temple is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha which is on the same premises as the Grand Palace.  The Grand Palace is the current resting place of the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died last October 2016.  There were great lines of Thai people in black waiting to pay their respects.  The entire country is covered with shrines to this great king (it's a constitutional monarchy) who served for 70 years.  On the anniversary of his death in October 2017 there will be a giant giant giant party.  Nearly every Thai person we saw wore an image of the late King around their necks and he is worshiped nearly like a deity.  His son, however, is not.  It's forbidden to speak ill of the leaders but you can tell the Thai people think the new king is a bit of a turd with poor morals.  So the previous king's visage is every where.  I had no idea that amount of black drapery existed in the entire world.  Likewise, and less magically, I had no idea the amount of black wiring that existed in the world.  Most of it is in Thailand.  They have some wiring problems and it takes a walk of about one block to be reminded that Thailand is very much a second world in the city, third world in the country type of place.  But for all their faults, they loved their king.

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The Palace grounds and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha left my eyes spinning with glorious mosaic beauty.  I have never seen anywhere more beautiful that the buildings and temples there and at Wat Pho.  To think of the labor and artistic precision it must have taken to create these structures boggles the mind.  Every tiny little tile and golden adornment, layers upon layers, buildings and buildings.  Man, these people can make some serious decor.  All of the roof swirlies (I'm sure they have names) and the mythological creatures all decked out in tiny tiling are sights to behold.  Go to Thailand to witness the artistry alone.

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Nonetheless, we enjoyed explaining the worship of a statue which seems in opposition with LDS teachings about worshipping idols.    We got into a long discussion about idolatry that resulted in the general agreement that anything that leads you to God and peace is good.  I love the overlap of religious activities.  For example, before entering the temples there is a station for symbolic washing.  You cannot go in without your shoulders and legs being covered and you must remove your shoes.  You assume a posture of reverence, specifically including not pointing your feet directly at the Buddha.  And to worship you kneel.  There were special places where only Thai people were allowed to kneel before the Buddha and my children felt special and honored to be included in that opportunity.  They said they prayed for me.  Thanks, dudes.  I need it.

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After our visit to the ornate Emerald Buddha (who, by the way, gets his clothes changed by the King seasonally) we found our first tuktuk and headed for food.  I love tuktuks.  I want one so badly.  They're the perfect form of transportation.  You tell the driver what you want and he tells you how much and you pretend to walk away and he drops his price and you all pile in (yes, all six of us in one) and zooming away you go.  They're a fraternity and since the tuktuks are open air the drivers often talk to each other and ask directions.  There are few things more exhilarating than zooming around in tuktuks.  I found their prices were usually totally fair because sometimes things are far and they have to navigate around a ton of traffic.  To this guy we said "we need delicious food" and ten minutes later we were stuffing our faces.

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Ok, next to Wat Pho.  We went to Wat Pho because it's the birthplace of Thai massage, but it more famously houses the biggest Buddha in the world (? Idk if it's the biggest, but it's hella big) called the reclining Buddha.  A Buddha after my own heart.  Napping Buddha.

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We signed in to the massage school and right as a downpour started all six of us lay down for our massages.  The best.  Anybody who knows me knows I am a Thai massage believer.  In Thailand they only cost $7.  I probably know where the good one is in your city if you deserve a treat.

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Jude fell asleep.  The rest of my crew was entirely converted and thus began our nearly every day Thai massage routine.

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Thailand: Elephant Bath

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The second part of our Tour with Tong was a visit to the elephants.  As soon as we got there we pulled up to little bamboo huts one of which served as a little home for a baby elephant.  We paid our $30 and up sauntered three giant elephants.


By the way, I am not an animal person.  In fact, I'm a little afraid of all animals.  But here I am with all these little kids around me and I have to pretend that I think this is a totally normal and comfortable thing to do: climb up and sit on a twenty foot tall beast who could kill me.  I turned to the Hippie with tears in my eyes and begged him not to make me go and then promptly turned to my boys and forced them crying onto the elephants.  It all happened rather quickly and soon all six of us were marching toward the River Kwai on elephants and I was shaking in fear and pretending for my kids that everything was going to be fine.  I've never been so scared in my life and not three hours before I'd been bitten by a tiger.  

Down the steepest hill we went, crashing into the water, and then guess what the stinking' elephant's favorite thing to do is?  Dive of course.  And so scuba diving we went as the elephants fully submerged themselves.  Surprisingly, once we were in the water we were all a lot less scared.  They didn't seem quite so big because so much of their bodies were underwater.  They were not aggressive and the guides who rode with us didn't use any kind of force to get them to do activities with us.  The people running the place were very affectionate with the animals and the energy I got from everybody involved was that, though certainly these are wild animals made tame, the people loved being with the elephants and treated them like horses or dogs that they loved and enjoyed.  I obviously do not know the psychology of elephants but they seemed to be having a lovely time lounging about in the water and spraying us.

Kids in Thailand

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There are six of me. No really, I have five sisters (and two brothers!) that are also addicted to traveling and love to write. Here is my sister Lenore’s experience in Thailand.

There are two activities that cause me to bolt out of bed in the morning. The first is in-utero baby appointments, the second is international flights for adventures.  We ubered from Danville to SFO where we met up with the rest of our travel party. They caught one flight and we caught another, both to Tokyo but to DIFFERENT AIRPORTS. Ha. Check your airports friends.

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The vans in Bangkok are my second dream vans. Toyota makes these fancy 9 or more passenger vans with tricked out interiors. I wish they were available in America because all moms would drive them.

The next morning we arranged a killer tour through a company we found on Trip Advisor: Tours with Tong.  The guide Lily spoke pretty good English and was totally accommodating to our needs for snacks and bathrooms.  There was a tour guide and a 9 passenger van driver which cost about 4000 baht for the day.  That's about $120 American.  Cash is king in Thailand so if you go show up with about $300 in baht.  Every couple of days I took out another $300 which we used to pay drivers, take tuk tuks, pay for food, pay for everything.  For the 6 of us combined I'd budget about $100/day maybe for everything?  Our hotel for all 6 of us was about $50/night in Bangkok and our AirBnB in Phuket was about $100/night.  Here are the links of where we stayed, in case you're planning.  I would ABSOLUTELY stay at the AirBnB in Phuket again.  I want to buy it. Here's Urban House and here's the magical AirBnB: Rawai

Our first stop was about an hour and 30 outside of Bangkok so we saw the countryside before we saw the city. Every other block had a glamorous Buddhist temple with the golden curly and ornate detailing. Thailand feels magical because of these gorgeous buildings looming around every corner resplendent with mirrored tiled mosaics.  The monks really outdo themselves. Each home dwelling also has a spirit home shrine in front of them which look like mini temples. We learned that the Thai people believe strongly in folklore and mythology so you see a lot of sparkly guys with masks and magical animals.  More on that at the Siam Niramit show.

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Destination 1 was one of the main motivations of this trip: my kids wanted to see animals.  There's a zoo in Kanchanaburi where they keep the baby animals separate so that guests can interact with them.  For $15 you can go into the cages one by one and feed these baby animals bottles.  They are not sedated but they are chosen because of their age and temperament.  Each animal has a cat nanny who works with it daily and goes in there with you.  You feel at risk for scratches but the animals are babies for the most part or, in the case of the the lion Jude hung out with, it is just a really mellow beast that has never scratched nor bit anyone ever.

Not so with the tigers.

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In went Jude to the young lion's cage. He was appropriately nervous because feeding animals with bottles is different from his extensive experience feeding babies. They eat aggressively. And they're thicker than house cats so you have to pet roughly. It started out apprehensive but then became snuggle time.

Next up went Blake and Silas into the baby lion cage. There were two snuggly lions who were like teddy bears. One of them latched on to Blake's hand but didn't break the skin.  They were both brave and they loved it.

Then Mimi went in with the leopard. She put on Jude's shirt in case they crawled on her shoulders, which they did. Beautiful animals, leopards. She spent a lot of time playing with them.

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It was my turn. I chose the tigers. I am an idiot.

There were four 4 month old tigers prowling around their cage.  They were active. They were hungry. I threw caution to the wind and went in.

Of course when they told me to sit down over on the bench the tigers were milling around I thought "I should definitely not sit down on the bench the tigers are milling around." But I did it anyway because I am both brave and stupid. And one crawled on my back like Philo does every day and sunk his fangs into my shoulder. The guide happened to be filming and caught it on tape. I quickly pulled the tiger off and left the cage. When I took my hand away it was a bloody mess but in the chaos we didn't get a good picture of my bloody shoulder before the cat nanny pounced on me with iodine and bandaids. True to form, I could not stop laughing. It's my fear and pain coping mechanism and many of my babies have come into the world to the sound of my cackling.

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After the incident everybody bullied me into feeding the nice lion that Jude fed. I did it and I didn't like it. I'm done feeding jungle cats.

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Pismo Beach with Shelley!

Shelley contacted me just a week before she wanted to travel with a request for a family Spring Break destination that was within driving distance. After going back and forth a bit, we settled on Pismo Beach.

 Morro Rock is a favorite surf destination in our family.

Morro Rock is a favorite surf destination in our family.

It was a struggle to find an affordable hotel or Airbnb without much notice! All my favorite spots seemed to be booked. After a lot of phone calls and much searching, I found this adorable little place up in the green hills. Oftentimes when people go to Pismo Beach or any beach destination, they refuse to search for places that are not right on the beach. However, when you expand your radius, you can often find a gem in for a much more reasonable rate.

 The Madonna Inn is completely worth a visit but is NOT an affordable place to stay.

The Madonna Inn is completely worth a visit but is NOT an affordable place to stay.

Here were her 4 favorite things she did, in her words:

1) Morro Rock was so cool we went twice.

2) We loved the ATVs and we had fun playing games at our Airbnb.

3) Marc and I liked Hearst Castle more than the kids did but I am totally good with that.

4) The elephant seals were super fun to watch.

 "My daughter and I had fun, while my son and husband had crazy-fall-off-your-ride fun."

"My daughter and I had fun, while my son and husband had crazy-fall-off-your-ride fun."

Thanks for letting me plan your trip Shelley! You were super fun to work with. She's trusting GG with her Oahu itinerary next.

It is only $25 for a full-service weekend getaway planning, so if you've been thinking about trying out GG, a weekend getaway is a great place to start. 

 

Costa Rica with Celia!

One of my intentions for starting this blog was to feature different trips that people have gone on for inspiration! My sister just got back from Costa Rica and had a fabulous time, so I asked her to share. Here are 5 Q&As about her trip to Costa Rica!

 Aren't they cute? They've been married for 25 years (they got married when I was 1). Relationship goals.

Aren't they cute? They've been married for 25 years (they got married when I was 1). Relationship goals.

Q1: Why Costa Rica?

We wanted to go somewhere we'd never been before, somewhere warm, and not too far away or expensive. 

 They also wanted to go somewhere where they could see lots of animals! They checked out many books from the library on the different flora and fauna of Costa Rica.

They also wanted to go somewhere where they could see lots of animals! They checked out many books from the library on the different flora and fauna of Costa Rica.

Q2: What was the best thing you did there?

River rafting the Pacuare river. We had a boat guide who happened to be missing one of his eyes and he was the BEST wildlife spotter. He could spot a monkey so far away we thought that he was making it up, but as we got closer, there it was! 

Q3: What advice do you have for someone who wants to take this trip?

Fly.  Costa Rica's attractions are far apart but you can drive to them.  Most people rent a car and drive around the country.  The roads are bad and crowded and not well marked and it eats up days of valuable vacation time to drive.  I would recommend flying within the country on puddle jumpers.  We are so glad we spent the extra money to do that.

We also brought plenty of dollars (about 500) in small denominations to hand out as tips and we are glad we did. Skip the Arenal volcano town of La Fortuna (too touristy) and go to Monteverde instead.

Q4: What was the best animal you saw?

I loved the mammals.  Sloths and monkeys.

Q5: Was there anywhere that really impressed you with their service?

Yes, Tortuga Lodge had excellent service and I would highly recommend it.  The company also has a lodge in Monteverde that we wish we had stayed at.

 This service definitely looks impressive!

This service definitely looks impressive!

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Disclaimer: I did NOT plan this trip. She used a local tour company called Costa Rica Expeditions. If you are the kind of person who likes a very guided experience I recommend using a local tour company and can help you find the best one for your budget.