Monday, November 9, 2009

Chocolate World

Today my friend Charlotte and I took our kids to Cadbury World in Birmingham for a day out. Charlotte had some vouchers she wanted to use before they expired, and I'd never been. It's almost a two-hour drive from Peterborough, but hey, for chocolate...

It had some neat displays explaining both how chocolate is made and the beginnings of the Cadbury company. It also had lots of chocolate. And a playground.

For those who haven't heard me talking about all of Madeline's various friends before, Tyler is the only other kid in our church here who's Madeline's age. They have a lot of fun together, and Madeline really likes "baby" Liberty, too. So it was nice to be able to all go together.

The kids had a good time, although we were grateful for the portable DVD player in the car. And that we actually managed to get all three car seats in the back of my Astra!

I should have taken more pictures, but oh well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I like Halloween. I like pumpkins. It's probably a throwback to one of my first ever jobs--I worked at a pumpkin farm.
So Friday we went to get "Madeline" a pumpkin for Halloween. I got one too, but that's just coincidence, right?

We got them home, and Bill helped Madeline pick what kind of face she wanted on her pumpkin. She was fine through cutting the top off, scooping all the insides out (she really likes that part), and drawing the face on. But when Bill started cutting the face out, Madeline got really upset: "Daddy, you're hurting my pumpkin!!" We tried to explain that that's how you make a jack-o-lantern, and that otherwise you wouldn't be able to see the candlelight through the face, but she was still extremely concerned. Finally I brought her in to look at all the pictures of us doing it last year, and showed her how they looked when they were all done. That seemed to do the trick, and Bill was allowed to finish the carving. I did mine, too...

And here they are, all lit up. Madeline was pretty happy.

The next day, Saturday, we went up to the Dea's house for the annual ISE trick-or-treating extravaganza. It was so cute to see all the kids dressed up! Madeline was Cinderella, though she didn't want to keep her crown on. She must not have really remembered trick-or-treating from last year (which kind of surprises me, as she has an astonishing memory) because she was saying, "Mommy, they gave me CANDY!" with a rather amazed look on her face the first couple of doors!

Unfortunately, her dress was more than a little too long for her. It wouldn't have mattered, except it had been raining earlier in the day, and I'm not too sure how washable the dress is. We started out having her hold it up, but then she couldn't use her hands to get the candy. So I got to play "bridesmaid". It was kind of cute, actually. I especially get a kick out of the wellies (rain boots). When in Britain...

Happy Halloween everyone!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Disneyland Paris

Okay, so I'm making the pictures for this post a little smaller just to save space, but you can still click on them to see the full-size version...

On Thursday the 22nd of October, Madeline's patience and forbearance throughout the ordeal (to her) that was Paris, finally paid off. That morning we got up, packed, and left Paris for Madeline's first experience with Disney. As you can see from the first picture, she felt it was all worth it! They do a pretty big deal with Halloween at Disneyland Paris--everything was decorated with pumpkins and such throughout the park. It was kind of fun. The very first thing we saw (good timing) as we entered the park was Minnie's choo-choo train parade, which was a neat way to kick things off.

From there we headed to the carousel, then Dumbo, then the tea cups, all of which proved to be big hits, and all of which we ended up doing multiple times while we were there. Especially the tea cups. Madeline LOVES spinning rides. I had to sit out once or twice so she could really spin with Daddy, since too much spinning makes me ill...

But the favorite ride of the park (at least for Madeline) proved to be the perennial classic, "It's a Small World". We went on it three (or was it four?) times in just one day. We've been singing the song in the car a lot since we got back, at her request. Lunch was also a big hit--even the pizza is Mickey Mouse shaped! Daddy had fun taking Madeline for her first time driving a car; although she wasn't quite big enough to reach the pedal, she did a great job steering.

We then went on the Buzz Lightyear ride, where Madeline "helped" Bill shoot the laser gun. We later had to go on that ride again and have Madeline help me instead, so Bill could satisfy his competitive streak and prove that he could get a higher score than his father when he was not being "helped" by a three-year-old. After that we just happened to be in the right place at about the right time for the daily Disney parade. I helped Madeline maintain her spot against the pushy older kids so she could see, and Mary Poppins even stopped for a full dance number right in front of us, which was fun, as that's been one of Madeline's favorite movies lately.

We went on a few more rides, then headed back to the hotel when the park closed at 7pm. We stayed in the Sequoia Lodge, one of the Disney hotels, which was particularly nice the next morning when we headed up for breakfast to find Goofy there meeting kids! I had bought Madeline one of the autograph books on Thursday, but we hadn't used it at all, and I was starting to worry that I'd wasted the money. But Friday turned out to be a big day for us to meet characters, and Madeline really got into it pretty quickly. It was so fun to see how excited she got--she's definitely at the age where it's all very real to her. When we found out Minnie would be coming shortly after Goofy left, she was literally bouncing in line she was so happy!
After that we headed to the parks, and went to the Studios first, to check on the Playhouse Disney show Madeline really wanted to see. Since it wasn't until noon, we caught the Stitch Live show while Daddy and Grandma Hardy went on a "real" roller coaster. After that, who should suddenly show up but the Mouse himself!

After that we went back to the main park, and happened to run into Stitch (and Madeline now knew who he was, thanks to the show we'd just seen, so she was pretty excited), Chip, and Dale.

We went on a few more rides, then it was time to head back to the Studios for Madeline's Playhouse Disney Show. Playhouse Disney is the channel that she watches on TV. It has lots of little animated shows that she really likes, each about 20 minutes long. This show at Disney was a "live" show with all of the main characters in it, and Madeline had been really looking forward to seeing them. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, Little Einsteins, and Tigger and Pooh are below. Little Einsteins is her favorite, and as this was the only place she'd see them at Disneyland, it was one of the main reasons for making sure we didn't miss the show.

The show was interactive, in the sense that they asked the kids to help do things, like "find" one of Handy Manny's missing tools, help Rocket go "super fast" so he could win the race, help "blow" Roo's kite out of the tree, etc. Madeline really got into it, and it was SO fun to watch her during the show. They had leaves fall from the sky when they blew Roo's kite out of the tree, and streamers fell when they yelled "surprise" for Minnie's birthday. Madeline loved her "goodies" and we had to carry them around in her pockets the rest of the trip.
After that we went on the couple of kids' rides that they have in the Studios: there's a magic carpet ride that's a lot like Dumbo.

And there's a Cars ride that's a lot like the teacups. This was another favorite, and one we got to go on repeatedly. When we went back to the main park for a few more rides, we happened to run into two of Cinderella's mice (who actually all have names--did you know that?!).

We split up for a little while then, so Bill and I could go on a couple of "grown-up" rides while Madeline revisited a few of her favorites with Grandma and Grandpa. My favorite ride was definitely Space Mountain. Bill liked the Aerosmith roller coaster best. Again, we stayed until the park closed at 7pm.

The next day, Saturday, we only had a half day at the parks, as our train back to England left in the afternoon. However, it turned out to be just as well, because it was a very, very wet day. Constant rain. And constant crowds--Thursday and Friday really hadn't been bad--no ride had been more than a half hour line. But even with the rain and cold, Saturday was ridiculously busy. So we mostly just found a few of the characters we'd missed that Madeline wanted to see. We had a bad experience at first--we found Donald and Daisy in the Studios, but they didn't have an actual line--it was just a crowd. Madeline kept getting pushed in front of and ignored, and then suddenly Donald and Daisy just left, without any warning--right as she'd finally gotten to the front. I was livid!!
But we got to see Pooh Bear, and the big one she really wanted to see: the princesses. Two of them were even inside the castle, which was nice as it meant less time in the rain. Cinderella and Prince Charming were really sweet--Prince Charming was the best of the princes we met. But the best princess was Snow White. She was amazing--she was outside (under an umbrella, but still...) but she never lost her huge, sweet grin, she was totally in character ALL the time, and she really took her time with the kids, asking them questions and making them feel really special. She was the only one who signed more than just her name in Madeline's book.

Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philip, unfortunately, stood right in front of a window, so we couldn't get any decent pictures of them, but at least we got to meet them. And Donald and Daisy felt so bad about leaving Madeline the way they did that they bought her an enormous lollipop to say sorry. It kept her happy for at least part of the train ride home...!

So there you have it folks. Madeline really wants to go back. I'm sure someday we will, though probably not the same one--we'll do Florida and/or California sometime when we're back home in the USA.

City of Light, City of Love, City of "Do we go to Disney today?"

That's right--I've finally been to Paris! And Disneyland Paris, but we'll get to that...

Bill's parents have made a habit of coming over to visit us in the fall while we've been living here. Something about Bill's birthday being at the end of September and Madeline's the beginning of October maybe? Regardless, we've been using their visits as an excuse to do some travelling. Last year it was Ireland, and this year, Paris.

We left England Saturday the 17th (of October). We went by Eurostar, which was quite convenient. We had booked an apartment for the five of us for our five nights in Paris, as we found that would give us a lot more space for our money than the average Parisian hotel. Plus, it meant Madeline could have her own bedroom--a big plus in my eyes. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures of the apartment, but here's a shot of the outside:

We had the second and third floor, above the brown doors.

On Saturday we mostly just settled in and bought a few groceries, as we didn't arrive until about 3pm. But that night we made the trip over to the Eiffel Tower to see it at night.

Now, my friend Corrina, who'd just been to Paris in the spring, told me that they light up the Eiffel Tower at night every hour, on the hour, for about five minutes. She said this was really special and not to be missed. We got to the metro stop near the Tower at about 8:40 or so, to find that the tower was currently lit up. A little confused by the timing, I nevertheless didn't want to miss our five minutes and have to wait another hour to see it again. So I started power-walking. It was about a five or ten minute walk. We got there, and it was still lit. We walked around, ooh-ing and aah-ing and taking oodles of pictures and being generally amazed, and it was still lit. Maybe because it was the weekend?

Anyway, we started working our way slowly back in the direction of the metro, stopping occasionally for more pictures. Suddenly, it started TWINKLING! Lo and behold, it was 9pm. The twinkling lasted about five minutes. I had a good laugh at myself, but in retrospect, we're kind of glad we didn't fully understand what Corrina was talking about at first--it allowed us to really appreciate the Eiffel Tower as it's normally lit up, before we were blown away by the twinkling. Which, by the way, really IS special and not to be missed! We're glad we didn't.

Sunday morning, Bill, Madeline and I headed to the Louvre. Bill's parents, for whom this was their second trip to Paris, and who had therefore already seen the Louvre, were good and went to church. Even though it was all in French.

I enjoyed the Louvre, but as Bill later said, it would have been better with "More time and less three-year-old." Madeline is a fairly precocious kid in a lot of respects, but fine art is still rather lost on her.
We did make sure we saw some of the most famous of the Louvre's collection (that's the Mona Lisa behind Madeline--it actually is that small...), but we didn't really get much of a chance to truly appreciate them, or to take in much of the rest of the museum. Granted, there's something like seven miles of hallways in the place, but still...

After the Louvre, we walked up to the Musee d'la Orangerie, which is kind of a neat little museum dedicated to Monet's water lilies. There are two round rooms, with four of his paintings in each room. It's a unique presentation, and I thought it was well worth the stop.

After that, we headed to Sacre Coeur to meet up with Bill's parents. We had a gorgeous day to appreciate its beauty.

This was Madeline's favorite part of Sacre Coeur, and what we used to bribe her good behavior with...

Monday we went back to the Eiffel Tower. We tried to get there relatively early, but still stood in line for well over an hour to get tickets to the top. Luckily Madeline found some kids to play with while we were waiting. She demonstrated multiple times on this trip that play knows no language barriers! The view from the top was fantastic.

Once we were back at the bottom again, we found a crepe stand for a quick lunch.

And Madeline found some pigeons to chase. This is one of her favorite pastimes when we're travelling. I know I never bothered blogging about it, but she did a lot of pigeon chasing in Amsterdam, too.

We then went on a boat trip along the Seine. Bill and Madeline shared a "romantic" moment along the way.

After that, it was off to the Arc d'Triomphe. Here Emily and Bryant were rewarded for their good karma by getting to ride to the top in the elevator, while Bill, Stephanie, and Madeline had to take the stairs. Bill got to do them twice. He's in much better shape now. For the full story, ask Bill. I'm sure he'd love to get some sympathy by sharing it with you!

Did you know that many insurance companies specifically will not cover you if you drive on this roundabout? Not that I'd want to...

We walked along the Champs Elysees a bit and let Madeline have a quick nap in the stroller while Bill found a new appreciation for French cars.

Tuesday we had heard that the train workers were going to be on strike, so we had a plan A and a plan B for the day, depending on what all was affected. Since as far as we could tell, nothing was affected, we were able to go with plan A.
First we went to the Rodin museum, which (common theme for our trip) I'd have liked to have had more time at. Sculpture is an art form I tend to enjoy even more than painting, in general.
One of my favorite shots of the vacation: The Three Thinkers...

After that we had a quick stop at Invalides, home of Napoleon's tomb.

Then, after a long walk in the wrong direction we caught the metro to the Musee d'Orsay, where Madeline had a nice nap and the rest of us enjoyed some great art.

Notre Dame was amazing on the outside, but a little too dark on the inside for my tastes. We didn't stand in the line to climb all the stairs to see the gargoyles as it had already been a pretty long, full day. And that's what zoom lenses on cameras are for anyway, right?

Madeline found some more pigeons to exercise, and her favorite part of Notre Dame: the playground! (I bet you didn't know Notre Dame has a playground...)

Sainte Chapelle, while less impressive on the outside, is awe-inspiring on the inside. Too bad you can't combine Notre Dame with Sainte Chapelle somehow!

As our apartment was only about a 10 or 15 minute walk north of Sainte Chapelle, we eschewed the metro for a bit more scenery on the way back. Besides, Madeline was asleep in the stroller again, and we didn't want to wake her up to deal with all the stairs and crowding in the metro!

On Wednesday we went to Versailles. Unfortunately, it was a very rainy and rather cold day, so we didn't spend anywhere near as much time there as we'd expected. We pretty much just did the palace and spent only a few minutes out in the grounds, instead of the full day you easily could use on a nice day. The palace was almost overwhelmingly ornate over nearly every square inch. I was glad it existed for us to enjoy seeing and appreciating today as tourists, but I can definitely see how that kind of opulence would have contributed to fanning the revolution back in the day.

This is the King's bedroom.

And this is the Queen's.

The famous Hall of Mirrors--it's hard to get a picture that does it justice.

Since we got back so early from Versailles, we decided to stop by the Pompidou Centre before heading back to the apartment. None of us are particularly big fans of modern art, but the building in and of itself is kind of neat--they put all the pipes, duct work, escalators, etc. on the outside to maximize space on the inside. Plus it was only about five or ten minutes from our apartment.

We passed these on the way back. I wish we'd stopped...

That pretty much covers our five days in Paris. Thursday we got up and headed to Disney, which was what Madeline had been waiting for the whole time. We did that on purpose, since we figured if we did Disney first she'd never put up with Paris afterward! I'm going to do Disney in a separate post, since those of you who've read this far probably need a snack break before facing the second half!