Last week we met one of our favorite families for our first and only trip outside of Italy. We stayed together in a stable-turned-apartment near Hyde Park. During our four days, we boated down the River Thames, spent a morning in Kensington Gardens, spun a loop around the London Eye, took a peek at the Crown Jewels, and ate at several pubs with names like “The Dog and Duck,” “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese,” and “The Queen’s Arms.” We also rode a double decker bus over the Tower Bridge and past Big Ben.
The most memorable excursion was an evening at the Arsenal vs. Everton soccer match. After an all-day search and a shady rendezvous with a scalper, we finally held what we hoped were eight tickets to the sold-out game. We rode a packed subway and arrived at the stadium full of fans wearing red and white. The weather was good, and we were in England watching real football.
Despite the final score of 0-0 and the surprising calm of the crowd, this was a fun night. We bought Arsenal scarves, we cheered, and we ate dinner in our seats. At 10 minutes before the end of the game, we decided to get a head start on the return trip. As we left the stadium we were surprised to join throngs of others running to the entrance to the Tube. The urgency was contagious. We each grabbed a kid and took off sprinting. It was pretty exciting, and at one point, Grace said, “It feels like we’re running for our lives!” Eventually finding a pocket of space to stand on the subway gave us the feeling of victory we had been looking for all night.
The next day we left London (several hours before Margaret Thatcher’s funeral). Our apartment in Paris was hilarious. There were just two rooms, each with a tiny loft. There was a kitchen too, but it was in one of the bedrooms. We decided right away that privacy was not much of an option. We put the kids in one room and the adults in another. The tight quarters were the basis for much of the humor during the rest of our stay.
Paris was all about short stops at big sights during the day and long dinners in small restaurants at night.
The most fascinating aspect of Paris, and the one that left the biggest impression (especially among the kids) were the pickpockets. In fact, the week before, the Louvre unexpectedly closed for a day because the problem was unmanageable. We were further warned by many: Always hold your belongings close. Watch out for people holding a “petition” and asking for signatures because while you peruse the paper and write your name, hands will be busy underneath the clipboard empting your purse. Sure enough, on day one, in the middle of a busy square, we encountered a hoard of young women looking for unsuspecting victims. Our tour guide, Jacques, spotted them first and reminded us to be careful. We watched the attempts from a distance. Later, Jacques showed us all his protective measures.
During the rest of the day, the kids tried to weasel belongings out of the adults’ bags and pockets. I was horrified when they later offered me back my wallet, my lipstick and my sunglasses. The only defense I had for being such easy prey was that I allow my kids closer than I would a stranger. Still, Matt said he would be more comfortable carrying my valuables.
The last morning in Paris started at 3am when we all woke up and caught rides to the airport for an early morning flight. The Halls returned to Seattle and we came back to Perugia. The first thing we did when we got home was stop for a gelato where some of the other customers were speaking French. Later that afternoon, we noticed a new crepe stand on the street outside our apartment. And for dessert, we ate meringues. It felt good knowing that some of Paris followed us home.