30 June 2012

Time square, Central park, and childhood friends

After our travel fiasco yesterday (wedns) we were still sleepy but anxious to get out of the house. Where should I take the boys as a welcome to NYC? Duh, the center of everything Times Square. So off we went.  We left Flatbush, Brooklyn on the Q train headed toward Manhattan. The boys were in awe. I bought them their first NY hotdogs and we walked down to Toys'R Us. The Toys'R Us in Times Square is what childhood dreams are made of. There is a huge ferris wheel inside that totally blew Zane's mind. The buys ran to the Ninjago section (these are Lego ninjas) and knew they were in heaven. There was also a life-like dinosaur roaring and snorting on the second floor. Dude keep one skeptical eye I that dinosaur and every ten minutes or so Zane asked,"Is that dinosaur real?". I'd prepped the boys that I would not buy them anything in the toy store, they understood but still left a little sad.
We left Times Square and headed uptown to Central Park North. The boys played in playgrounds that reminded me of the same playgrounds I played on growing up in The Bronx. We walked around the park's mini lake and did all we could to cool off in the blasting heat.
By 4:45 it was time to head back to Brooklyn to meet up with one of my childhood friends and her two daughters. I let her know that we were in a super tight budget (the euro kicked our butt!) and that seeing them and catching up was the most important thing to us. Zane complained about not wanting to meet and hang out with a girl and that he much preferred to play with a boy. After all his complaining as soon as he met my friend's oldest daughter they hit it off immediately like they'd been friends forever. We then headed to a nearby playground and let the kids run wild. It was so nice being able to sit and catch up with an old friend and even better, that our kids were off on their own having a good time. After a while we went to their house and ate pizza. Once we got back to my sister-in-law house we were all ready to sleep. We were exhausted but at least we were going to bed at a US bedtime. Zzzzzzz....

29 June 2012

The travel days from hell

On the 8 hour flight from Brussels to New York we all slept like we'd experience a night of drama and trauma, which was fitting because we did!!! The day started out fine and dandie then it took a crazy, crazy turn.
Early that morning we checked out of our hotel and headed to the school's apartment to clean up for the next guest. We ate a hefty delicious lunch and we sadly parted with Zane's school group. I knew we would have a long travel day and I didn't want us to have to rush during our travel journey. This is how I planned our voyage back to the US. Arrive very early to Paris' Orly airport (4pm), check bags hang out, eat an early dinner, board our 9pm EasyJet flight, arrive in Berlin's Schoenefeld airport at 10:30 pm, collect luggage, get in taxi to go the Berlin's Tegel airport, sleep a couple of hours at the airport, check in for our US bound flight at 4 am board our flight at 6 am. This would be a long trip but with taking our time, food and rest breaks it wouldn't be so bad. I would have 6-8 hours to get to Berlin's second airport and things should be just fine!
Little did I know that things would go haywire at the very beginning of my plan causing a domino effect. We arrived early at paris' Orly airport, the boy played the airports free video games, we relaxed, and eat an early dinner. At boarding time we saw the flight had been delayed to 10, so we waited, at 10 the flight had been delayed to 11. At 11 the airline announced that our shuttle flight had never left Berlin and that Orly airport was closing! In order to make sure we all got to Berlin the airline had 4 charter buses that would drive us across Paris to Charles De Gaulle airport where they had a plane waiting for us that would fly us to Berlin. By now it was 11:30 pm. Our buses pulled into Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport at 12:15 pm.  We were made to go through security and re-check our bags at our new and second airport in Paris. All these unexpected changes and delays were making me very worried about the time we had left to travel to the second airport in Berlin to catch our flight home. After check-in and security at Charles de Gaulle airport we waited at the boarding gate for a while, people were upset but not at the riot level that this inconvenience would have caused In the US!

Zane made friends on the bus and at the second airport. He took a euro coin and practiced his magic tricks on anyone who would pay him attention. He made coins disappear and pulled them out of ears, he was a hit! Dude fell asleep on the bus ride and was heavy like a load of bricks.

We boarded the plane at 1am. I calculated in my mind that we would arrive in Berlin at 2:30 am giving us an hour and a half for travel and check/in at Berlin's second airport. At 1:30 our pilot made an announcement that our plane had a flat tire and it would take at least an hour to fix, "...but don't worry you all can stay on the plane while it's being fixed." This is when I felt panic set in. This new delay would put us in Berlin at 4am the same time were suppose to check in at the other Berlin airport which is supposed to be 40 minutes away!!! What if there was another delay and we didn't make it to Berlin at all?! Where would we stay in Berlin? If we missed our flight to the US we didn't have money to buy new tickets!! Oh no, my plan had gone terribly wrong. The closest resolution that I had to our worse case scenario was an offer from a very nice lady on our flight who knew our situation and said we could live with her for however long it took us to get back to the US.
As sweet as her offer was I was determined to catch my flight and get back to the US. I explained to Zane what was going and that most likely we would have to leave our checked baggage at the first Berlin airport in order to make it to thesecond Berlin airport for our flight. We had his iPad in my carry-on and most importantly, we had each other.  Without our baggage we would only lose clothes but we could still possibly make our flight. He understood and agreed, much to my relief.

The tire was successfully changed. We took off at 2:15 am. Our flight arrived at Schoenefeld airport at 4am and we decides to wait 10 minutes for the bags. Miraculously they were among the first batch to come out. We grabbed our bags, ran out to find a taxi, and loaded in our a stuff. I explained to the driver that we only had an hour more for check-in and that we needed to get to Tegel airport FAST. He smiled and said "don't worry we have no speed limit in Germany I will get you there in time." and I believed him.

We got on the autobahn and he drove 120 mph the whole way the roads were the smoothest I'd ever seen! I tracked our route on my iPhone and we were moving so fast that the dot could not smoothly follow our path on the map. The map estimated that we would arrive in 34 minutes, we arrived in 11 minutes.. We were able to check in on time and boarded our flight quickly. The flight from Berlin to Brussels was about an hour and a half. We all fell asleep in the flight but had to wake up to switch planes in Brussels. That lay over was about two hours. We were so so tired. Poor Zane did his best to wake up and help when it was time to move but it was so hard for him. I appreciated his maturity and helpfulness. This trip really made him more responsible and sweet, sweet, sweet. I'm so proud of him.

On the flight to NY we slept hard and long, it was so urgently needed. Once again our meals were superb and the kids every needs were met by the airline.  Once we landed in NY around 1 pm, Wednesday we quickly passed through immigration and customs. The agents at both points complimented me on traveling internationally with the children, they believed the travel experience to be vital for the children of this generation. Their kind words made me feel good and help me was a sweet validation that our crazy family adventures were beneficial to these young minds we been put in charge of.

It took about two minute to get a taxi and in about 30 minutes we arrived at my sister-in-laws house in Brooklyn. We forced ourselves to stay up until 8pm to help reduce the effects of jet lag and I think by 8:01 we were all sound asleep.

On the subway on the way to Paris' Orly Airport
Zane is taking great care of his little brother
The boys playing video games at
Paris' Orly Airport
(our first Paris airport)
Zane performing magic tricks on his new Russian friend
at Paris' Charles De Gaulle
(our second Paris airport!!)
Dude fast asleep while we wait for our
extremely delayed flight back to Berlin
People waiting patiently for our flight from Paris to Berlin

Our last day in Paris

Our last day in Paris was sweet and simple. Near our hotel there was a street market that stretched many blocks and was filled with everything you can imagine. Appliances, furniture, candy, shoes, clothes, African masks, etc, etc. we walked around, met people and enjoyed an authentic Parisienne experience. The thing that struck me the most at the street market was the sale of guns, heavy automatic weapons. Hey, I thought guns were illegal around here!!! We were in complete shock. As soon as we could we researched gun laws in France. Come to find out guns are not illegal but they are extremely hard to get. Some of the requirements include take a year worth if shooting lessons, getting permission from your legislative representative, 5 written letters from neighbors saying they believe you are mentally stable and will not be harmful with the weapon, permission from the police department, a safe with a lock for storage of the gun, and police will conduct random checks to make sure you are being responsible and following the laws. From what I've been told, violence is not an issue in France. Most of their crimes involve theft.
We later headed to Sacre Coeur where the kids enjoyed a carousel and an early dinner. They also played on the big wind vent in front of the Moulin Rouge. This may very well be the best free event for kids in the city! We had to drag them away to get back to the hotel.
Right next door to Hotel F1 there is another discount hotel called Ibis Hotel
Their prices are a little higher then Hotel F1 and from what I've seen on the website the rooms are a little bit cuter and more colorful. The receptionist at F1 also told us that even though online it say the hotel is booked that it's not true. They only allow a certain amount of slots for online reservations and they always have a lot of space available for walk-in reservations. Please remember that small bit of info if you are in need of a hotel in Paris.

24 June 2012

Rain, rain, go away & The Velvet Sultan

It rained all day today and it rained hard. Our trip to the park turned into a trip to eat French Fries then back to the hotel to play inside. I took a great nap then made my way to the lobby (where the wifi is strongest) to skype with family and friends.

For dinner we went next door to a Turkish restaurant run by Moroccans. The restaurant was named The Sultan and everything in there was upholstered in red velvet! The food was delicious and filling, the service was great too. We ate spaghetti and meat sauce and ate ice cream for dessert. After eating we moved over to the other side of the restaurant where a bunch of people were watching the Euro Cup 2012 match between England and Italy. Dude fell asleep immediately after eating so only the bigger kids were able to enjoy the game and Italy's victory.

Tomorrow's weather forecast promises to be pleasant. We leave for Berlin late Tuesday night so it would be great if our last full day here will give us nice weather.

The Sultan Restaurant.  Check out the red velvet, hehehe!
The kids using real silverware and their best table manners.
Bon apetit.
Zane and one sleepy dude!

L'arc de triomphe

Today we had a blast! We walked and walked and walked. First we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower and picnicked on its lawns with the other hundreds of people who were enjoying the weather and ambiance. The kids played at the playground for hours! I sat on the bench and dozed off here and there waking up every now and then just to keep count of the kids and make sure they were alright.

We then started our walk to Champs Élysées, grabbing macarons and ice cream cones along the way. We are all macaron addicts now, if you ever get a chance to eat these tasty treats, let me know! Along that walk we also wandering into the extremely elaborate Four Seasons Hotel. It cost $1,500 Euro a night and looked the part. It was beyond elegant. Outside of the hotel Zane saw a Lamborghini that blew his mind and insisted on taking a picture with his "dream car". Check out his pose? He's too much!

When we finally made it to Champs Élysées and L'arc de triomphe we whipped out our cameras hoping to share some of its beauty with you. The weather was perfect, the best since we've been in Europe and this made it all the better. We then grabbed a quick dinner and headed toward the Louvre.
As night fell the Eiffel Tower lit up in the distance, making Dude the happiest little 3 year old ever. Dude is unnaturally obsessed with the Eiffel Tower, to the point where he cries for it at bedtime. "Mommy, I want the Eiffel Tower! I want to hug the Eiffel Tower! Are we going to the Eiffel Tower?". It's unreal. Get a grip Dude!

After the Eiffel Tower glimmering light show we went to the newly set up traveling carnival at the Louvre. The big kids got on the high flying swings and Dude got on the toddler racing cars. Also at the Louvre were a couple of elegant outdoor restaurant/ cafés set up on the lawns. The pyramids were lit up and it felt like we were at the most beautiful place in the city.

By the time we checked the time it was after midnight and Dude was rubbing his eyes. He fell asleep before we got back to the hotel but I know he slept happily with visions of the Eiffel Tower.

L'arc de Triomphe
Eiffel Tower picnics
Eiffel Tower playground fun
L'arc de Triomphe
Champs Élysées
L'arc de Triomphe
Eiffel Tower race cars
Zane and "his" Lambo
Louvre pyramid
Louvre carnival ride
L'arc de Triomphe

22 June 2012

Hotel F1 and Fete de la musique

After we dragged our kids away from their new BFFs we made our way to our latest and what looks to be our final home, Hotel F1. This hotel did not pop up on any American hotel search engines and may very well be Europe's (especially France's) best kept secret. To begin with it's 49Euro a night with a 3 person limit. Two kids and two adults can fit comfortably in their small rooms If you don't mind bending the rules. If you don't mind shattering the rules like us you can also fit 2 adults and 4 children! Yes, 6 in total. The Hotel's motto is "Spend less, travel more" and it offers perfect budget friendly accommodations. It's not a fancy hotel but it is clean and to the point.

Each room has a queen size bed and a overhead twin size loft bed, a sink, and a tv. The whole floor shares 2 large washrooms, each one includes 5 showers and 6 toilets. Some people just cringed after reading that, but it's much better than you can imagine. The showers and toilets are state of the art, high tech, and self cleaning. Although more spacious, they look like airplane bathrooms. The people who designed this hotel thought of everything. We seem to be the only Americans here and we have met other guest from all over the world.
The next morning we grabbed a bite to eat and we headed back downtown to participate in La Fete de la Musique, a city wide music festival. We had a blast and ended up at the Notre Dame Cathedral. Im currently unable to upload the videos I took of the many talented artist we saw. Paris is a deliciously diverse city and the music fest represented that well with rock, African drums, and folkloric Ecuadorian tunes. We ended the day exhausted and returned to Hotel F1.

Notre Dame at sunset
F1 hotel sign
Notre Dame
Hotel F1
More Notre Dame

New Friends!

Last night we spent a very comfortable and relaxing night at the Adagio City Family Hotel in the Buttes Chaumont area of Paris' 18e arrondissement. The hotel was one of few family friendly hotels in Paris. Almost every hotel in the city of Paris cost about $300 a night and has a strict 2 person limit. So if you have a family of 4 or more this is not affordable, at all. They are serious about their 2 person limit and that those two people remain very very quiet!! At almost all places we've been renting (apartments and hotels) we've had to lie about how many of us there are, then we sneak around very quietly to not give away our numbers. Adagio Family Hotel has been the only place we haven't had to do this. It's it however $250 a night, but thankfully without a guest limit. We will only stay here one night because we have a cheaper place booked for tomorrow. The hotel had about 7 channels, all offered in different languages for its international guests and it was very clean and comfortable.
When we checked out the following morning there were a group of friendly looking kids playing soccer in front of the hotel. The street where they were playing is blocked off from traffic and is also shared by an elementary school. We convinced Zane and his classmates to join in the games, little did we know that they'd enjoy each other so much and play for the next 5 hours!!!!!
They played soccer, rode scooters, played tag, we're introduced to friends of friends, the girls braided each others hair, and ate iceys. They had so much fun that we had fun watching them. We were only able to make them take a break long enough to eat a quick lunch.

After about an hour Dude was singing a French song with his new friends and Zane learned new soccer moves and taught his new friends how to play basketball. Zane was concerned about communicating with his new friends, but after about 10 minutes they were communicating through hand signals, English, and French.

Finally we had to leave we promised our kids and their new friends that we will reconnect in the future. All of the kids know that we will keep that promise so our departure was a sweet one.

Hair fun with new friends

19 June 2012

B-ball at the Eiffel Tower & Chocolate Heaven

Until I can give more detail I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Chocolate stillettos
Cigarette butts