Throw Back Thursday – Italy 2016

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Sunset in Sorrento, Italy reflected in Aperol Spritz.

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Looking down…..Ravello, Amalfi Coast, Italy

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San Gimignano towers through the window of our tower bedroom.

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Countryside view from Volterra, Italy

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Photo from the top of one of the towers – San Gimignano, Italy

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Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

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San Gimignano in rain

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Zurich, Switzerland – these are our “Polish faces” – my sister in law is Polish, and she said Americans smile too big in pictures – so this is how we imagine the Poles smile!

In April 2016, my husband and I took our first week long vacation without our children!  They went to visit their grandparents on the West Coast (their first time traveling unaccompanied) and we took a long week to Italy!  Let me start off by saying it was everything I thought it would be and I loved every minute.

In a nut shell, we flew into Zurich, picked up a rental and drove to Rimini on the eastern coast of Italy, sitting nicely on the Adriatic Sea.  We spent our first night there and had the most wonderful seafood dinner ever!  The next morning, we headed towards Sorrento – but first we visited the micro country of San Marino and took time to stick our toes in the Adriatic.

We spent four nights in Sorrento and toured the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii and Naples.  We had our most expensive meal ever (the kind of place that doesn’t have prices on the LADIES’ menu!!) and also the best pizza in Naples!

We drove to Tuscany and spent another four nights in San Gimignano and toured that lovely hill town, Volterra, a winery, Florence and ate WAY too much!!!!

Finally, we spent a night in Zurich before we left the next day to return home, just ahead of our kids.  It was amazing and filled with wonderful surprises, character building struggles and joyful experiences that deepened the bond I have with my hubby.  Traveling does all those things for you and it is the main reason we enjoy traveling….it brings us together and challenges us!

Above are some of my favorite pictures from this fabulous journey!

 

Post Vacation Reboot! Getting my brain to reengage.

So, it’s hard to get back into the swing of things after vacation.  My brain still wants to be on vacation!  And yet, I know I need to start writing again because it keeps my mind flowing!  So if my brain is still on vacation, I guess I should write about vacation!  Here’s an overview – details to follow in other posts!

This February, we departed the great North East during my kids’ February vacation with thousands of others and headed to a much warmer climate!!  We spent 4 days in Florida at the Happiest Place on Earth and then went on a 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the amazing Symphony of the Seas – Royal Caribbean’s newest marvel!  We had the best time!!  Let me highlight each day with my favorite photo from that day!

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We are members of Disney Vacation Club and this was our first stay at Bay Lake Towers. We love staying on the monorail line and being able to walk to the Magic Kingdom is wonderful!!!

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I cannot help but get a little teary eyed when the opening music plays at Magic Kingdom. It brings back memories that I cherish and makes me feel like a kid!

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To me, this photo says, “Follow your dreams.” What greater lessons can we learn from a man and a mouse?

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EPCOT is cool for so many reasons! My hubby was definitely rocking this Wreck It Ralph pose!!!

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I have a picture of my kids doing this SAME thing in London in 2013. It is fun to recreate special moments in different locations!

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Our boarding day on Symphony of the Seas – she blew me away! I marveled every day at her size, how smoothly she sailed, all of her wonderful amenities and how I felt at home on the giantess of the seas!! I cannot wait to go back!

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A day at sea means we get to play at sea! Ten stories above the Boardwalk, I zip-lined across a cruise ship!!!! How cool is that?

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Symphony After Dark! Stunning!

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My girl makes friends wherever she goes and this beautiful fellow wanted to stick around!

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T-Rex, know affectionately as “Rexy” in our family, made an appearance our last day at sea. We may or may not have a few videos of this!

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Sunset in the Caribbean. Do I need to say more?

 

Sunrises and Sunsets…iconic views of travel.

I have a thing for sunrises and sunsets.  They signify the beginning and the end.  They are an invitation to start anew and force us to put things behind us.  I have found great joy in witnessing these celestial spectacles and even though some of them happened years and years ago, they recall memories that I may have otherwise forgotten.

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November 2018. A sunrise in my backyard with freshly fallen snow.

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March 2013. Argenton-sur-Creuse. This was sunrise out the window of our charming 16 century townhouse at the end of the bridge.

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Summer 2018. Naples, Maine. Sunset on Long Lake.

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Summer 2016. Naples, Maine. Tubing at sunset on Long Lake.

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November 2015. Sunset over Monterey Bay, California.

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Fall 2012. Sunset on the amazing island of Eleuthera, Bahamas.

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Unknown date. Sunrise on my street.

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December 2013. Sunrise over Mount Baker, Washington State.

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Sunset. Eleuthera, Bahamas.

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Sunset. Eleuthera, Bahamas.

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Summer 2017. Sunset over Balch Lake, Maine.

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February 2019 aboard the Symphony of the Seas. Sunset while docked off the coast of St. Marteen.

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February 2019. Man-made sunset on the Savanna in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

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February 2019. Sunset over the lake from our room in Bay Lake Towers, Disney World.

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June 2018. Sorrento, Italy. Sunset over Vesuvius.

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June 2018. Shortly after sunrise over Vatican City.

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September 2014. Sunset in Eleuthera, Bahamas.

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April 2016. Sunset in Sorrento, Italy reflected in Aperol Spritz.

 

Sea Lions, Sea Urchins and Rays, Oh My!!!

While visiting the beautiful island of St. Thomas, my daughter and I went to a local marine reserve and enjoyed a fabulous Sea Lion encounter.  We not only got up close and personal with some adorable sea lions, we also learned a lot about how these animals ended up in St. Thomas, how they were affected by the hurricane 18 months ago and how that has changed their approach to care. Here are some fabulous photos of the Coral World facilities graciously provided by Coral World.

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We planned our sea lion adventure about two months out – I love to do research about our ports of call and find unusual and unique experiences that really make a memory.  Our sea lion adventure was about 30 minutes away from our cruise ship port.  We simply disembarked and sought a taxi!  We headed to Coral World and along with our sea lion encounter, we got to enjoy other aquatic life including urchins and star fish in a touch pool, a ray pool, an underwater viewing area, a huge indoor coral reef and an aviary where we could feed birds from the US Virgin Islands.  We also became intimately acquainted with some natives….iguanas!!!  They wanted our lunch, but don’t worry – we didn’t feed them!

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Now on to the encounter.  I won’t say this was an inexpensive experience – it cost just under $200 per person, but I have to say it was worth it!  There was a small group of 10 of us – some people off cruises ships and some who were vacationing on the island.  We were first introduced to a lovie of a sea lion named Omar.  We learned about his diet, how he is taught “tricks” and how he is cared for and loved.  We gave this gorgeous fellow a nice rub down, got our picture with him and saw him smile, wave and clap!

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After meeting Omar, we headed up to the pool area where we met another handsome fellow name Romy (Romulo).  He was considered the handsomest of the 3 males at the marine reserve – although I thought they were all pretty adorable!   Half of us jumped into Romy’s pool to enjoy a few swim-bys while the other half got a sweet picture taken with Romy to treasure!  This experience was so wonderful – to be up close and personal with such a loving and fantastic creature is a memory that my daughter and I will not soon forget!  I encourage you to engage in such experiences and share them with your families!  Char and I have this memory forever and I am so thankful for it!

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Keep an eye out for more posts about my most recent family vacation aboard the Symphony of the Seas and Disney World!  My brain is still on vacation but I’m getting around to it:)

Top 10 Culinary Finds in Paris

Traveling with a rather picky 12 year old doesn’t really lead itself to a culinary adventure, but we did have a few of my Parisian favorites and a few standbys to get me through!

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10. At the airport upon our arrival, the child was starving! With a classic mixte brioche sandwich with ham and cheese and an eclair, we were ready to tackle the train to Paris!

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9. Beef hot dogs. OK – well…what can I say?! We were at Disneyland Paris and needed a pick me up!!!

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8. Speaking of Disneyland Paris…did you know they serve MEAT IN A CONE as a snack?

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7. Gelato. Need I say more?

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6. Coffee? Tea? Nope. Vin Chaud, or hot mulled wine. Only in Paris, people!!!

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5. Dinner our first night. While Charlotte enjoyed a hamburger (ugh!) I marveled at burgundy braised beef with shallots, button mushrooms, whipped potatoes and FOIS GRAS that absolutely MELTED in my mouth!!! I’m hungry now!!!

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4. Lunch for day 2 – a Hawaiian Poke Bowl! Confession – I do not even LIKE some of the things in this bowl – the avocado and mangoes in particular BUT…sitting outside in a Parisian cafe inspired me to try new things! It was delightful! I did NOT, however, eat the cilantro. I think it tastes like soap and you cannot tell me otherwise!! hahahaha

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3. Well, I am not generally a wine drinker but I was in PARIS!!! A glass of wine was a requirement. And they don’t have wine types that Americans are generally familiar with – no Chablis, Chardonnay and pino grigios on every menu. I cannot tell you what this one was named…but it was lovely!

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2. The Macaron. NOT a macaroon!!! The macaroon is made from coconut and generally does not have a filling. The French MACARON is wonderfulness in your mouth. A delicate dance of almond flour cookie shell and buttercream or ganache filling. Traditional French flavors include lavender, rose, pistachio, lemon and chocolate. If you haven’t ever tried this bit of magic in your mouth, check out La Maison Navarre in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You will be delighted with authentic French cooking, macarons, crepes and the most amazing French Onion Soup on the entire planet!!!

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1. Last but certainly NOT least – my absolute favorite, most amazing French culinary staple….the crepe! And my crepe of choice is nutella and banana!! Every day/night of our visit involved at least one crepe! Our go-to crepe stand was just around the corner and was a part of an Gyro shop! The guys there were fantastic and I endeared them immediately with my elementary Arabic skills – we were fast friends and they were happy to see us daily!

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Our last crepe of the trip!!!! It was kind or our lunch that day!

 

I hope you enjoyed this picture journey of our culinary experience in Paris.  We weren’t fancy, but really enjoyed each meal we took together and really, isn’t that the point?

Tips for Traveling to Paris, Part 2

Did you read Part 1?  These are some basic tips for traveling to Paris – but really, when you plan to travel anywhere!!!

  1. Decide on a basic plan of touring and prepare. We bought our tickets ahead of time to save waiting in long queues.  During the winter months, this isn’t as important, but there still were lines for the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.  We didn’t have to wait in those – we just walked right in!!!!  Also, figure out how you are getting from the airport to your destination.  Explore mass transit options – they are usually VERY user friendly, as the whole continent of Europe is accessible by train and many people use them.  Trains tend to be less expensive and an adventure all on their own.  Also, we have downloaded on to our phones city maps from Google Maps that can be accessed even if we are off line.  These have been fabulous for Paris and Italy for both driving directions and walking city streets!  I highly recommend doing this as you prepare for a trip!

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  1. Don’t be afraid of the unknown – life is full of them – they make the ride more interesting! You hear about pickpockets in airports and train stations and tourist sites.  There are pickpockets in the US, too.  Just be aware or your surroundings.  Hold your important things close and pay attention.  For Paris, I had a little pouch I carried around my neck under my jacket that had my Euros, copies of our passports, keys to the apartment and my ID/credit cards.  For Italy, we had cross body purses that had IFR protection for credit cards and anti-theft straps so they couldn’t be cut.  Also – be sensible.  Don’t venture off the beaten path and if you are worried walking at night, get a cab.  Don’t be sacred!  Live life!!!
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This is the wonderful street action just around the corner from our AirBnB!

 

  1. Be flexible – I am a planner, but even the best laid plans can take a sharp right turn! Learn to roll with it! I have found that the greatest character building, memory making experiences have come out of adversity.  On this trip, we faced with some unexpected closings, some inclement weather (although I loved the snow) and pockets of protesters.  We had Plan Bs available when necessary and turned any lemons into lemonade – and hopefully Charlotte learned that there can always be a positive outcome if you look at a situation the right way.
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What do you do with fresh snow in Paris? Build a French snowman at Notre Dame!

 

  1. Off seasons – I had some amazing deals come up this past summer for European travel this winter. People were afraid to jump on board because it was going to be cold weather.  They really missed out!  Winter in Europe is generally milder (is was 35 degrees here to the 3 degrees at home while I was gone) and the crowds are way thinner.  What does that mean?  Fewer queues, better prices and more opportunities to experience something different.  Don’t be afraid of the off season – it makes travel affordable for many!
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I love this one with the Eiffel Tower in the background!

 

  1. Learn some French – or whatever language is spoken where you are visiting.  I learned some French in high school and have since been using it here and there when I have the chance.  To prepare for this trip, I have been listening to French lessons on my phone via Audible (an app) from a company called Pimsleur.  I used them to learn some Italian before my trip to Italy.  Want to know why some Americans think the French don’t like them?  Because we travel to places like Paris and don’t even attempt to speak the language.  We try to engage everyone in our loud American voices and think if we speak English louder the French will understand.  Guess what?  Most of them speak a little English – if you at least attempt some niceties and smile, it will go a long way!  Learn how to greet people and say, “thank you”, “please”, “where is the……”, “I would like……” and “goodbye”.  Your experience will be must better!!!

These tips can be used in most new situations.  I hope you find them helpful and maybe a bit entertaining!!!

Tips for Traveling to Paris – Part 1

 

I have to admit that six years ago when I made my first trip to Europe, I came to Paris reluctantly.  I had heard it wasn’t friendly for Americans and I just wasn’t excited to visit.  I couldn’t have been more WRONG!  Here are some tips for traveling to Paris – but I think the info applies to any trip you take!

  1. Plan, plan, plan! Being a Travel Professional, I have access to thousands of great opportunities out there to get YOU to the destinations you want to visit!  In fact, I have had a couple of clients take advantage of great deals through one of my favorite vendors for 6 nights in Italy or Paris/Barcelona.  Hotel, round trip airfare and breakfast included for the bargain deal of approximately $800 per person.  YES – you read that right!  Want to know the catch?  It’s winter travel.  Guess what?  It’s winter at home….but the Notre Dame won’t come visit you!

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9.  If you do your own planning, search everywhere and start early – our flights on Norwegian Air cost us a TOTAL for direct, round trip flights between Boston to Charles de Gaulle, $670 TOTAL for both of us!!!! That included us paying for a bag to go under the plane!  It’s not a scam.  Pack a backpack and go for it!!!

8.   Pack light – Packing is always a challenge.  I actually start packing a month ahead of time by slowly collecting things in my bedroom that I don’t want to forget.  They start a hill of random items on my window seat and I slowly weed out the things I really don’t “need” and keep the things I can’t live without.

7.  Packing for Paris – For this trip, since we were traveling on a low-cost airline (Norwegian Air), we had to be overly aware of our luggage. With the lowest fare, we each got a carry on (like a backpack or small rolling suitcase) and a personal item (like a small purse) – both items not to exceed 10 kilograms (22 pounds).  I brought 3 pairs of leggings, 3 tunics, something to sleep in and my unmentionables plus the clothes on my back.  One of the tickets we purchased was the slightly upgraded fare and for that we got a piece of luggage to stow under the plane.  Low cost airlines are FABULOUS – but read the fine print!  Seriously!!!

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6.  Where to stay? If you don’t know, ask a professional (ME) or someone who has been – Paris is HUGE!  And there are definitely better places to stay than others.  Our AirBnB was in Saint Germain-du-Pres – an awesome location with a lot of street life and close to EVERYTHING!  Our AirBnB was around $150 per night (others were less expensive but we loved the location and wanted a place with its own washer and dryer).  There was a gorgeous hotel right across the street for about $150 per night if staying in someone’s apartment isn’t your style.  You can find deals, too – like getting a package price from a Travel Professional (ME).  Just ask!  I’ll give it to you straight!

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Up next, Part 2!  Don’t go too far!

Lights and Sights of Paris in Winter – our trip in a nutshell!

Paris is known as the City of Lights – and Paris did not disappoint!  With a glittering Eiffel Tower and some Christmas decorations still on display, we enjoyed the beautiful twinkle that Paris had to offer.  We also enjoyed a LOT of sight seeing in a short amount of time.

We visited the Louvre (bought tickets ahead of time on line and printed them out) on our arrival day to help us get through the jet-lag.  We have always flown overnight to Europe so arriving around mid morning and staying awake until bedtime has been great advice for concurring jet-lag!  We visited the Louvre in the late afternoon – around 3:30pm and this was a great time to visit – the crowds were thinner and we didn’t feel rushed anywhere.  Of course, we saw the Mona Lisa and roamed around aimlessly for about 2+ hours before we got board and headed out.  I’m just not a museum person but you can’t go to Paris and NOT go to the Louvre!

The next morning, we walked to a rendezvous point to meet up with a great guide named Peter.  We took a 2.5 hour bike tour of Paris with another couple and had a fantastic time!  It was a Sunday so many cars were off the road and we felt safe enjoying the morning seeing some pretty cool places.  We popped into the Marais – a trendy and chic neighborhood on the right bank of Seine.  We rode through the plaza of Notre Dame and learned some history there.  We rode to and through the courtyards at the Louvre.  We rode to the Place de la Concord and saw the glitz and glamour of the set up for Fashion Week!  We rode over to the Eiffel Tower and our guide shared some great tips about the city, the history, and what Parisians do!

Monday we went to Disneyland Paris – I already wrote about it so all I will say is that we planned ahead, got our tickets on-line the week before the trip, knew where we were getting the train in Paris to take us directly to DLP.  It was a super fun day and I am glad we took the trip!

Tuesday – our last full day – we scooted around the city on electric scooters for much of the day!!!  It was snowing so the city was magical!  We scooted to Notre Dame, fed some birds and walked into the cathedral.  We wanted to go up into the towers but they were closed because of the snow.  We picked up the scooters again and took them to the Eiffel Tower to check out the snow!  We took some pictures, then scooted all the way back over to the Jardin des Plantes where we visited the small zoo they have there!  It was pretty fun and we saw some beautiful creatures enjoying the snow!  After a bit of a rest in our apartment, we walked to the Latin Quarter (about 8 minutes away from us) and walked through Saint Severin church (one of my favorites for it’s Gothic style) and finished up some shopping in the narrows of the Latin Quarter.

Wednesday, we woke up late, packed up and headed out to Notre Dame one last time for some bird feeding!  We scooted back to the apartment, had our last crepe, finished packing and hoofed it to the train for the airport!

We had a fantastic quick trip and SO worth every single minute and penny spent!!!!  We made memories we will never forget!!!  Check out some of our funny selfies and be sure to keep and eye out for my Hints for Traveling to Paris!

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Our last crepe! Nutella and banana, of course!

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I didn’t know she stuck her tongue out until I looked at the pictures that night!!!

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Our first selfie in Paris!

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Well, who doesn’t eat hot dogs at Disneyland Paris?

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The arrival!!!!

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Eiffel Tower!!!!

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Sleeping Beauty Castle was so pretty!!!!

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From the other side!!!

Top 10 Favorite Pictures from Paris

Many of you followed my fantastic mother/daughter adventure to Paris this January.  You can catch up on the highlights in my Travel Diaries, but I wanted to take a minute and post my favorite pictures from the trip.

I love so many things about travel, and one of them is making memories that turn into the stories of our lives.  Being able to share this special time with my daughter was precious in so many ways and I hope she will look back on it with as much fondness as I know I will!

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Our first selfie in Paris!

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I love Char’s look – so adorable!

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I didn’t know she stuck her tongue out until I looked at the pictures that night!!!

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I love this one with the Eiffel Tower in the background!

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What do you do with fresh snow in Paris? Build a French snowman at Notre Dame!

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The Eiffel Tower was closed due to the weather, but we scooted all the way there to take in the rare sight!

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Our last crepe! Nutella and banana, of course!

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What a beauty!

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Finding Eva and Wally – pure joy!!!!

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The first gelato of the trip! Kinda like the first gift of Christmas!

 

Disneyland Paris Top 10

As much as I am a self-described Disney FANATIC (nut job), this is my first trip to Disneyland Paris and I couldn’t be more excited!!  We started our day out early and took the train (RER A) to Disney – The train actually STOPS right AT Disney – as in, it’s the END of the line!!!  Perfect!!!

We got into Hollywood Studios early and hit the Remy Ride (I might be slightly obsessed with this movie – Ratatouille – if you’ve never seen it!!!) – it is very Harry Potter-esque (if I DARE put a Universal euphemism in the same sentence with a Disney ride) in its design and it was really fun!  We headed over to the Tower of Terror – that was fun and much the same as the ride in Florida, then we walked around a bit before heading to Disneyland Paris proper.

Here is where things got cool!  I don’t remember ever going to Disneyland in California – my mom said I went for my second birthday but I don’t even remember my 30th birthday so….there’s that!  Disneyland Paris is clearly Disney, but so different at the same time.  It was like the Twilight Zone of Disney – Disney in another dimension – Disney French-ified!  I read so many reviews before we went to prepare myself with strategies (we only had one day so we wanted to see it all), make sure we could work the system (old school fast passes with tickets) and know the must-sees!  Here are MY observations and Disneyland Paris Top 10….

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10. Generally, the food at Disneyland Paris leaves A LOT to be desired (and this was a big negative from all the reviews I read as well) BUT, they have meat cones!!! MEAT CONES!!! Need I say more?

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9. The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse has always been a favorite of mine – and imagineers did a great job at DLP as well – kind of incorporating elements of “Huck and Tom’s” adventure island in the mix – including caves, a rope bridge and lots of fun nooks and crannies to explore!

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8. Cafe au lait? Mais non! It isn’t coffee – it’s mulled win or vin chaud. Yes, please!

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7. Another fabulous reboot – It’s a Small World is wonderfully themed here at DLP – and what was the French take on America? Glitz and glamour of Hollywood, a settler driving a horse drawn cart filled with hay and kids and a football player dressed, strangely enough, like a Miami Dolphin!

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6. Sleeping Beauty Castle – this is really neat because you can go UP into the castle and enjoy the storyboard of Sleeping Beauty. There is a dragon who lives under the castle (but he was hibernating or being refurbished – one or the other) and this castle is decidedly PINK.

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5. Disneyland Paris is really known for its extensive theming and unusual characters. In fact, the longest line queues are to meet princesses and mice. Along with that, characters that are a bit less center stage really shine at DLP. We had fun tracking some of them down!

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4. Gusteau’s!!! This adorable themed area in Hollywood Studios was so like the movie and the ride was so fun – it easily made it into my top 5!!

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3. HYPER-space Mountain was SSSOOO cool!!!!! This has been re-imagined with a Star Wars theme and the ride itself was stellar!!! Three loops that did NOT make Char happy, but I loved them! This version of Space Mountain tops the Disney World version hands down!!!

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2. My family knows my first ride at Disney World MUST be Pirates of the Caribbean – and the Pirates Disneyland Paris style did not disappoint!! There were a couple unexpected water “falls” and the ride itself is longer, but many of the scenes were the same – so that authentic Pirates ride I have grown up loving really shone through! When we were in the ride, the animatronics speak French – Char said, “Oh, I forgot they would speak French”!

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1. Hands down, winner, winner chicken dinner – Big Thunder Mountain!!! Char and I loved this version of the classic ride! It is LONGER! It has way more cool twists and turns and the ride itself is on an island in a lagoon, so you have to travel underground for portions of the ride to get to the island! The whole ride was TOPS and we did it a couple times because it was so cool!

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Bonus!!! Experiencing Disneyland Paris with my girl!!!!

We really enjoyed our day at Disneyland Paris!  Disney did a wonderful job at maintaining the classic Disney feel while making this park wholly French at the same time!   We had the most wonderful experience and made some fabulous memories!!!  Until next time, Disneyland Paris – Au Revior!