Xander, Vaughn and Quinn had their first Magic Kingdom experience with a visit to the Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios Parks just outside of Paris and the long, expensive day was truly a memorable one.

We rushed out of the hotel first thing in the morning to undertake the forty-minute drive, intent on arriving as the park opened at 10 and staying until the last firework burst over Sleeping Beauty Castle at 11 p.m. We rode Le Carousel de Lancelot (1) and Dumbo the Flying Elephant (2) before rendezvousing with our friends Jeannine and Dylan Cavallo. 

The whole group first took a spin on Les Voyages de Pinocchio (3) and then, after a quick lunch, enjoyed the feel-good splendor of It’s a Small World (4). By that time, we were pushing 6 p.m. and decided to hit a couple of rides at Walt Disney Studios Park before that area closed at 7. There we were jostled by the Cars Quatre Rous Rallye (5) and thrilled by Crush’s Coaster (6).

Our friends bowed out at that point but we kept at it after dinner back at Disneyland Park by hitting Autopia (7) where the kids got to drive their own 50's-style race cars. As we left the ride and began figuring out where we were going to set up for the final fireworks extravaganza, we stumbled upon a perfect spot to take in the Fantasia Parade. Disney princesses, heroes, villains and supporting characters streamed by us on shimmering floats and all three kids beamed and shouted as their favorites waved back at them.  

As we headed back toward the central castle with twenty minutes to go before the ending show, I realized that I could get on Space Mountain 2 (which the kids were unfortunately all too short to ride) in just ten minutes - a far cry from the ninety minute wait we had to endure for everything else we rode that day. It was not your father's (my) Space Mountain. An opening blast-off followed by a glimpse of the park at the peak of the first hill, background music and sound effects in the headrests, three inversions, a laser tunnel and the infinite black star field that has always defined Space Mountain made it one of the coolest coasters I've ever ridden. 

If you've been keeping track, that made a whopping eight rides that at least one of us rode during our Disney experience. Combined with parking, lunch and dinner we shelled out about $500 for the day. Still, we were glad we did it - especially since we made it through the multimedia spectacle of the Showtime Spectacular Finale.  

On Friday we left Paris for good to head to the final stop of our odyssey; a seaside resort in De Haan, Belgium. On our way, we stopped in Giverny, France to visit the house and gardens of impressionist master Claude Monet.

The painter and his large family lived in Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926 and the estate has has undergone few changes over the last hundred years. Monet was fond of painting controlled nature and produced countless works of his own gardens with its flowers of almost every color imaginable as well as the adjoining pond with its bridges and famous water lilies. 

The extensive garden was designed by Monet himself and is maintained to this day according to his wishes. Many of the stunning views we enjoyed were evident in paintings on display in the gallery/gift shop and it was worth the price of admission just to see the stunning array of flowers.

Visitors can also tour the house where photographs of Monet posing in some rooms are displayed next to the same furnishings and decorations by which he stands. Unfortunately, once again, no photographs were allowed of the interior but it was a perfect stop on our four-hour drive from Paris to De Haan.


On Tuesday we spent most of the day around the most iconic landmark of Paris…so the day's blog will consist primarily of pictures of us reveling around the Eiffel Tower. 

Erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to that year's World's Fair, the 1,063-foot structure was the tallest in the world until 1930 when the Chrysler Building in New York City was completed. Although the Eiffel Tower was to be dismantled in 1909, its usefulness as a communications transmitting tower saved it from becoming scrap metal - though con artist, Victor Lustig still "sold" it twice for that very purpose.    Many artists and writers expressed outrage over the design, though most ended their criticism when the tower was built. Others remained indignant. The popular writer Guy de Maupassant supposedly ate lunch in the tower's cafe every day. When asked why, he replied that it "was the one place in Paris where one could not see the structure."

The day was made even more memorable when we met up with newfound friends Jeannine Cavallo and her daughter, Dylan (like Quinn a gymnast at TAGS in Eden Prairie) and joined the ranks of the 250 million people who have visited the tower. 

We had a great time strolling and chatting with the Cavallos while the kids rode scooters on the walkways surrounding the tower. After a delectable Chinese lunch, we went to the nearby Trocadéro Fountain where we cooled off by dipping our feet into the water.

We considered joining some local boys who were sliding down the concrete embankment until one of them came out of the water clutching his leg; a piece of glass had sliced a two-inch gash on the bottom of his left foot. I whipped out my omnipresent and imminently useful Dr. Dad First-Aid Kit and was able to provide some assistance until an ambulance came and whisked him away. 

After a return to our hotel room to freshen up, we took the Metro back to the Eiffel Tower area for a sunset boat tour of the major sights along the Seine.

We enjoyed seeing the houseboats lining the banks of the river and listening to the recorded audio guide talk us through the history of the palaces, museums, cathedrals and overpasses. The ornate Alexandre III arch bridge, seen in the background below, is regarded as the most ornate, extravagant span in all of Paris and includes gilt-bronze statues, gilded masonry and wrought-iron accents.

We picked that night to enjoy some fine French cuisine and, ooh la la, enjoyed a very fancy meal and excellent service aboard a floating restaurant with a fantastic view of the Seine and the tower. We finished our Eiffel experience with another stroll over to the Trocadéro to capture some shots of the reflection of the tower in the water before settling on a spot along the river to take in the nightly show of shimmering lights that further accentuated the tower's grace and beauty.

Now that we had become underground travel experts in our third European city, we were determined to ride the rails to hit several must-see Parisian sights on Wednesday. We began by visiting the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica.

Unfortunately photography is not permitted in the interior of the Roman Catholic church, but intricate mosaics made with tiny shimmering tiles laid into the walls make up the stations of the cross and crests of the families that privately funded the building's construction which began in 1875 and was completed in 1914. The popular landmark is located at the summit of the butte Montmarte, the highest point in the city, and afforded an expansive view of the streets below.

Our next stop was the the Peré Lachaise cemetery, the largest and most famous in Paris. Reputed to be the world's most visited cemetery, it attracts visitors from around the globe to the graves of luminaries who lived or died in France over the last two hundred years.

The cemetery is a fascinating mix of very old and very modern memorials. Moss-covered graves with illegible markings are next to sleek, black marble headstones with etched photos of the recently deceased. Many stone slabs and posts have caved in or toppled over, making it appear as if the undead fought their way out or grave robbers pried them open. Row after row of vertical tombs with rusty metal doors, many slightly ajar, invite passers-by to peek in if they dare.

Like most others wandering the narrow passageways between crypts, our primary aim was finding the internment site of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, who died in Paris in 1971. We also made sure to find Frédéric Chopin's final resting place where we sat and listened to the composer's Nocturne in Ebm Op. 9, No. 2, while we enjoyed the peace of the moment. 

Our last major goal was visiting the interior of Notre-Dame (Our Lady) de Paris, the historic Roman Catholic cathedral on which construction began in 1163. Completed in 1345, the building is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and is thought to be the most well-known church in the world. As we entered, we enjoyed looking at the statues of saints and biblical kings adorning the exterior walls, including that of the martyr Saint Denis holding his decapitated head.

The interior is, needless to say, a magnificent work of art that holds a variety of items of historical, religious and architectural significance. The stunning five-foot chandelier below had been lowered to the ground for cleaning.

The stations of the cross and other religious artwork on the walls are massive, morbidly-detailed wood carvings that shine with gilded paint.

Important religious men are entombed in the sanctuary and their crypts are marked with bejeweled stone replicas of their deceased bodies. I am unable to find out more information on this fellow but in all the cathedrals we've visited in Europe, none of the memorial statues had this much finery.

Our sightseeing complete for the day, we walked back to the hotel in search of some crêpes and found a stand near the Georges Pompidou building. We sat to rest our tired legs while we enjoyed our sweet snacks and watched street performers working for change on the busy square before calling it a day.