Sights new and old

Just outside the Palais Royale is one of my favorite metro stops:


One of the best parts about getting to know a place is finding things like that: the special places you love, not just the places that make the lists in a guide book. Just across the street from the Palais Royale is a Corsican restaurant we’ve loved since we found it in 2009 (after the Tour de France): Casa Luna. It’s another place that doesn’t make anyone’s top ten list of must-sees in Paris, but we go there every time we’re here.

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(This was last year when we went there with friends; no pictures from today’s visit.)

But even through we could fill this week with hitting all the places we love and have enjoyed before, we’re making time for new places as well. Today we went to a small museum that’s currently featuring the urban artwork of Invader, something Evelyn was excited to see. (I wrote about tracking down his work around Paris here.) And we also finally got to the Paris aquarium–which is only a short walk from where we lived when we lived here, but we never got to it.


Evelyn liked the arch of streaming water that we passed through on the way into the aquarium. It was a great time–lots of sharks and seahorses, jellyfish and rays, huge lobsters bullying each other, and all kinds of fish we’d never seen before. We were there for a good two hours.

Then off to Bercy Park–another place we love–and now back to our apartment. Tomorrow: catching up with more friends. Goodnight!


Return to Paris

Bonjour, Paris! It’s our first return since moving back to the States. And what a welcome we got:


Such a gorgeous day to walk around town, taking in some favorite places, like Luxembourg Gardens, the Left Bank, Île de la Cité, and the Marais.

It was especially welcome after so many days in Seattle that have looked more or less like this:



But even better than seeing the beauty of Paris was getting to catch up with some friends at our church that we attended during our year here. And looking forward to getting together with some more throughout the week. But for now, everyone is jet-lagged and ready to crash….

The getaway

I’ve seen plenty of car accidents. I’ve witnessed a mugging. But today I saw something I’d only ever seen on TV: thieves jumping into a waiting getaway car and speeding away.

I had just enjoyed coffee and conversation with a friend on Capitol Hill in Seattle and was making my way to the grocery store to pick up a few things. It’s not one I normally go to since it’s out of my neighborhood, so I was driving slowly down the narrow side streets; I didn’t want to miss the entrance to the garage. I was just coming up on the turn when two guys came flying down the sidewalk, their arms full of something, but I couldn’t tell what. Something wasn’t right. People don’t run like that without a reason. A moment later, another guy appeared in pursuit.

I stopped.

The guys got to a waiting car parked facing the wrong way just ahead of me and to the right. One threw his package into the passenger side window and fled on foot. The security guard chasing them managed to get the package from the other guy—I think. More on that in a moment. The guy got away from the guard—by going around the car… maybe? Then the car started pulling out—right toward me. The thief got in the car. The car sped by me—on my right—and got away, stopping only to let in the guy who had fled on foot. Meanwhile, the security guard made his way back to the store. I pulled into the garage and did my shopping.

I looked for the security guard while I was in the store, but I didn’t see him. I can’t even be sure the thieves had hit the grocery store, since the building has a number of other retail businesses. I mentioned to the checker what I’d seen, and she didn’t sound terribly surprised, saying something to the effect of, “Yeah, it sucks when that happens.”

It’s strange to witness a fast-moving incident, and I can certainly appreciate why witnesses can offer conflicting accounts. I first noticed the guys come running, then saw the car with the waiting driver, then the security guard. When he caught up to them is a blur as one fled while the other dodged around the car. The motion of all that is especially fuzzy. I think the guard recovered one of the items, but I’m not positive. I think one of the guys dodged around the car and then got in. I think they picked up the guy who fled after they passed me. I can’t even recall what kind of car it was.

While it was happening, I wasn’t sure whether to pull over, drive forward, back up—or just sit still and let whatever was going to happen, happen. I sat still. I kept wondering what the guard was going to do when he caught up to them. On TV he would’ve taken the guys to the ground, there would’ve been a glorious fistfight, people would’ve pulled guns, and cop cars would’ve come screaming in with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

None of that happened. The guard seemed content to get back what he could and get back to the store. I did my shopping. The guys got away.

And now life goes on.

Today’s sign that we’re back in America

Tomorrow it will be a month since we got back in the States after a year in France. We’ve been plenty busy getting re-acclimated to life in the USA and so far we haven’t had too much reverse culture-shock. And yet, it still can be hard to believe that we’re actually, really, truly back here to stay. But now I know for sure:

Yesterday the girls started back at their old schools. They saw old friends and had classes with far more students than any of their classes at the International School of Paris. And then they came home with piles of paperwork for us to sign. (That’s right, France does not have a monopoly on bureaucracy.)

Last night our waiter greeted us with a smile and said, “Hi, my name’s Jason and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.” Such a sentence has never been uttered in France.

And today I bought 48 rolls of toilet paper in one package from Costco. Yes, we are so back now.


A very American minivan loaded up with good things from Costco.

More phone fun

We’re back in the USA, getting settled, and figuring out how to live here again. So far it’s been smooth enough. I pretty much remember how to find my way around in the car, although I keep looking for street signs and stoplights in the wrong places. And I’ve enjoyed drinking big American coffees and enjoying salsa that has an actual kick. Although our first baguette, from our favorite bakery here, did not measure up to what we’d grown accustomed to in Paris. No surprise there.

One of the biggest challenges when we went to France was dealing with the business of everyday life in a foreign language. Like dealing with unfamiliar appliances, a landlord that didn’t speak much English, going to the doctor, and figuring out phone service.

Oh yeah, phones–I thought getting phone service set up in France was hard. Well, let me say, if I’d had to go through there what I just went through here… I’d have been stuck with smoke signals.

It all started out so easily this morning: stop in at the Verizon store. Speak English with the nice guy working there. Explain our situation: we need to get two phones added to our account for our girls. We already owned the phones–they had been using them in France–now we just need to get new Verizon SIM cards and get them added to our account.

First phone? No problem. Ah, this is so much easier than waiting in line forever at the Orange store in Paris and muddling through the process in minimal French!

Then the next phone. Hmm. It’s taking longer. The SIM card is in, the phone recognizes it. But there’s a problem. The phone has been flagged on the lost/stolen list! What?

Merideth had bought the phone from one of those place that repairs cell phones and sells refurbished ones. She bought it last fall in Seattle (while the rest of us were in France) after it became clear that one of the girls’ phones was pretty well worthless. We’d gotten it working with some difficulty (yeah, here’s another link to that bizarre experience), but ultimately it got working just fine.

The Verizon guy tried his best, talking to multiple people up the food chain, but nothing could be done; I needed to go to the place we bought it from and solve the issue there. Thankfully, it was only a few blocks away. And finally, after three separate trips there, another trip to a Verizon store and about an hour on the phone with Verizon customer service, we got it handled. Oh, and it also meant we did have to trade the phone in to the store for a new one.

As far as we can tell, the phone must have been reported lost or stolen after we bought it and got it set up in France. Crazy. And getting it all handled definitely took more time than I would have ever guessed–but at least it’s working. And at least I didn’t have to deal with this in French!

Across the Atlantic

Today is already the last day of our cruise. (Pardon me: the Queen Mary 2 is actually an ocean liner, not a cruise ship, and we’re on a crossing not a cruise—or so I’ve been told by some other passengers.)

It’s been a year of firsts in so many ways, and so why not one more? This is the first time I’ve ever been away from dry land for so long. Unlike a typical cruise, a crossing like this doesn’t have any port days, just day after day on the endless ocean, the horizon a flat, blue line line in every direction. Each day at noon the captain announces where the nearest land is, usually some speck of rock and dirt miles and miles away that I’ve never heard of. There’s been little to interrupt the watery view; it was a few days before we even spied another ship, and then only in the far distance. Once we spotted a passing freighter. Luckily, we’ve been in the right place at the right time on two occasions to see big groups of passing dolphins arcing out of the water.

A few nights ago, a tremendous storm woke us at three in the morning when the glassware on the counter in our room all started clattering over. By then we were used to the continuous rocking of the ship, but now it was leaning decidedly in one direction. While we got things picked up and secured, we heard the sound of more things falling over coming from other cabins. The feeling of leaning continually toward one side was eerie. The next day the captain informed us that the nearly hundred knot winds from the storm had caught the starboard side of the ship like a sail and pushed us into a five degree tilt to port. Of course, the girls had slept through the whole thing.

The people you meet on board

Traveling means meeting people from all over and this has been no exception. Our first day, we met a pleasant couple from a London suburb while we were in the long line to get boarded. And even with thousands of people aboard, we’ve managed to run into them numerous times. Then there’s the thoroughly bronzed guy who looks like he lives his life on the pool deck. And he just might—he told me he’s done this crossing alone upwards of thirty times. We met a family from the UK who always travels to America this way because the wife doesn’t like to fly. And it’s been impossible to miss the large group of Mennonites in their traditional garb, with bonnets for the women and decidedly old-school hairstyles and Abe Lincoln beards for the men.

Let’s eat… and eat and eat and eat

If you want to pad your waistline, there’s no better way to do it than aboard a cruise ship. I can certainly see how people get on board, start eating… and never stop. A variety of restaurants serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you can always get second breakfast or elevensies at the buffet. There’s a pub-style place with good fish and chips, a French restaurant, and a place just for dessert. Each afternoon white-gloved waiters serve tea in Queen’s Room with all of the usual accoutrements. And just in case you don’t feel like following the dress code (I’ve never dressed up this much for dinner in my entire life), room service is available twenty-four hours a day.


Without any port calls, Merideth was a bit concerned that life aboard ship might get a little dull. And while this ship doesn’t have all of the amenities that some do (like rock climbing walls and waterslides), there’s always something going on: there are no shortage of fitness classes, shows, concerts, dancing, lectures, watercolor classes, and more. Last night we enjoyed a great magic show and today we went to a throughly entertaining one-act version of Pride and Prejudice that had us all laughing. We’ve had plenty of time to read, watch the Olympics, and play some throwback board games like Trivial Pursuit and Clue and Monopoly (which is just as brutal as you remember). And spending time at the pool is always a good idea. But there’s no doubt: this ship and this itinerary definitely appeals to an older set. There aren’t a whole lot of other kids aboard, but plenty of people who don’t have a lot of hair left. Sometimes I feel like I somehow ended up at a weeklong AARP retreat.

Worship at sea

On Sunday we attended the ecumenical worship service led by the captain. It consisted of readings, prayers and hymns. We sang a number of hymns, including “Be Thou My Vision” and “How Great Thou Art,” which the Captain described as “a typical American hymn—long and loud.” One of the officers read the passage from 1 Kings about Solomon asking the Lord for wisdom, and one of the entertainment directors read the passage from Luke in which Jesus tells a parable about an arrogant Pharisee (whose prayer is full of pride) and a humble tax collector (who pleads to God for mercy). The Captain read “the sailor’s version” of the 23rd Psalm, which begins, “The Lord is my pilot…” And being a British ship, the prayers included blessings on the queen.

One last night

This afternoon we’re getting packed up once again, and tonight we have our last dinner on the ship. We also get one more night with an extra hour of sleep, which will be quite welcome since we plan to get up around 5 a.m. to see the Statue of Liberty as we arrive in New York in the morning. It’s a bit hard to believe: tomorrow the girls and I will see America for the first time in over a year.

Traveling light? Not this time.

“Did you leave anything at home?” the cab driver teased in his cheerful British accent as he sized us up.

London. St. Pancras Station. We’d just gotten off the Eurostar from Paris and were the last ones to make the short journey from the platform to the taxi queue. Why? Because our family of four was schlepping four bags—each. That’s right, sixteen suitcases and backpacks and assorted bags in all, including a giant, last-minute-purchased duffel bag I hope to never use again. I don’t even want to know how much it all weighed, but our groaning, sweaty backs and straining fingers said it weighed a lot.

Under normal circumstances, we always, always travel light. Under normal circumstances, it means one bag each. Weekend getaway? One bag each. Two weeks overseas? One bag each. Traveling light means you get off the plane and go, you change trains with ease. No waiting around staring at baggage carousels, no looking around for luggage trolleys or elevators. You’ve got it all on your back, you’re agile, you can go anywhere.
But these were not normal circumstances. This was no weekend getaway, no two-week vacation. This time, we were making the journey home with everything we’d had with us in Paris for the past year.

We didn’t entertain the idea of shipping anything home. After all, I thought, we’re not big shoppers. We don’t buy souvenirs everywhere (or hardly even anywhere) we go. Over the course of the year, I’d picked up a new suit, a few shirts, and a pair of shoes. A new-to-me leather computer bag at a vintage shop. Some books. Not much, right? And as we packed up, I threw out my well-worn shoes that had served me so well and taken me to so many different places. I found a nearby collection station and dropped off a load of tired clothes and things the girls had outgrown. I gave away the region 2 DVD player we’d picked up and gave most of the books I’d bought to a friend. We all threw out stacks and stacks of papers and assorted debris that had accumulated.

But even so, we were taking home quite a bit more than we’d come with. Where had it all come from? Oh right—there were those bulky winter coats we’d bought so we wouldn’t freeze in Chamonix. A few games. Art projects the girls had made along with mementos from school. Journals and keepsakes. Some souvenir mugs and new purses for the girls. Even enough Christmas ornaments for a medium-sized tree. (Because if you celebrate Christmas while you’re living in Paris, of course you want a tree, and no, you didn’t bring any ornaments with you, so that means you better buy some, and then you’ll want to take them home so you can decorate next year’s tree with those ornaments and remember your time in Paris, right?)

Take the long way home

Somehow, it all added up to a lot more than we came with. And now we had to get it home—and the journey home was just starting.

First stop? Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar to London. We were leaving Paris, but we weren’t flying home, not yet.

First problem? How to get there. All those bags on the métro would be a nightmare. The taxi service I called was skeptical we could even get it all in one car. Thankfully, our friend Val came to our rescue with her car and we did get it all in. She got us to the station and we survived lugging it all through check-in and passport control and got boarded.

The ride to London was quick (upwards of 300 km per hour) and uneventful. At St. Pancras we found a couple of luggage trolleys, made a few trips on the elevator and found a nice, big British cab with that nice driver who got us to our hotel near Waterloo Station. Merideth checked us in and the girls and I guarded our small mountain range of bags lined up on the sidewalk until a bellhop helped us up to our room. At last, we’d made it through the first leg.

One night in London

With all our luggage stowed in our room like it was a self-storage unit, we headed out to experience our first evening together in an English-speaking country in exactly a year. We looked for someplace for pub food, but ended up at a comfortable outdoor place with tapas and nachos and ribs. Guacamole! Jalapeños! Food with an actual spicy kick! We were definitely not in France anymore. (I think I can safely predict we will be making up for our nacho/taco/enchilada deficit for weeks and maybe even months to come.)

It was a pleasant evening and we took in the views along the Thames: the London Eye, Parliament and Big Ben. In the morning we had enough time to stroll through St. James Park, wave at Buckingham Palace, and take a look at Trafalgar Square. But soon enough it was time to make our second schlep: this time we were on our own to get all those bags to our next train.

Train, taxi, ship

The good news? Our hotel was right next to the station. The bad news? It may have been next to the station, but the walk from the front door of the hotel to station entrance was at least seven or eight minutes—if we weren’t carrying anything. With four bags each, it took more than twice that long. We made it, of course, and shuttled everything up the steps into the station, found the right track (about as far from the entrance as possible, of course), learned there were no trolleys, and shuttled everything to the track and finally, at last, onto the train. And just over an hour later we got off at Southhampton. One more slog (with trolleys this time) to one more taxi stand and at last to the port. We’d made it: our ship awaited.

Twenty-five hours a day

When we started putting out plans together to get back home, we figured we’d fly. How else do you get home from Paris? You get yourself to Charles de Gaulle and you get on a plane, hopefully a nonstop. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of any other option. But Merideth is always thinking.

As we were finalizing our plans, she mentioned that we could take a ship from the UK to New York City and fly home from there. “But I know you’ll want to just get home,” she said, thinking I wouldn’t be interested. Well now, hold on there, wait a minute: we can take a ship in eight days? Cut six out of nine hours of jet lag by gaining an hour most of those days? Catch our breath and take in the ocean views before getting resettled in Seattle? And get to visit some wonderful friends in New York as a bonus? Sign me up!

And so here we are, on the Queen Mary 2. None of us have ever cruised before, not like this. I’ve spent a few nights on a sailboat and a week on a catamaran, but never on a floating city with restaurants and fitness classes and Herbie Hancock performing in the evening. I’ve finished reading a couple of novels and made some progress on further revisions of my own. The girls are enjoying art classes, we’ve met some nice people, and last night we all watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

Before we know it we’ll be packing everything up again for the last legs of the journey, but till then we’ll enjoy the view of the big blue sea and the flat line of the horizon the stretches out in every direction.

(Note: it’s fantastic that we have internet on board, but it’s a bit finicky and slow, so pictures might have to wait till we get back on dry land…)

A final full day in Paris

How to spend one last day in Paris before moving back to America? For us it meant finally getting out to Versailles.


This view is just a sliver of the huge palace.

That’s right; it took us the whole year to actually get out to the grandest château of them all. We toured the main château, enjoyed the gardens and fountains and went boating on the long, narrow pond before taking in the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon–two smaller residences that are impressive in their own right.

During our final days we have some family visiting, and so we’re taking in some of the big Paris sights again (or for the first time on this trip, like Versailles): The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. The Louvre and the Orsay. The Tour de France. The next few days we’ll be traveling a bit before we say goodbye to France for good on Sunday.

Like any big change or move, it feels strange now that it’s finally here. We’ve already got a lot packed up and done plenty of throwing stuff out and giving things away. We’re trying to get through everything in the cupboards and the fridge, but there are plenty of products that seemed like a good idea at the time that we haven’t even touched. C’est la vie.


So: just a few more days. And then a whole new adventure begins: a voyage home… to a new home. More about that to come.

Here we go: let the goodbyes begin

The best part of living in Paris? Without a doubt, it’s the people we’ve met and the friends we’ve made. The hardest thing about leaving Paris? Leaving those friends behind.

Our year in Paris has been a wonderful time of making new  friends: classmates and parents from the girls’ school, people I’ve met playing in a band, and especially those we’ve met through our church, Trinity International.

Yesterday was our last Sunday worshiping there.


After our last service at Trinity, with our friends, Paco and Leslie.

And not only was it our last Sunday, I also got to preach the message. I hadn’t preached since we moved to Paris (other than giving a brief devotional at a missionary retreat in the south of France last fall), but it went well and I even got a few laughs from my jokes—and if I can get my teenagers to laugh, they couldn’t have been too corny.

(Just a brief aside on preaching in an international context: this was my first time having to prepare for a congregation that had a considerable number of people who don’t speak English as their first language. It meant getting my message ready further in advance than normal so that the French translator could prepare. It meant thinking through the language and idioms I use that might be a bit tricky to translate or that could be confusing to some people—because some might be listening who don’t speak English as their first language but don’t speak French either! All in all, it was a great experience.)

From the first, we were warmly welcomed when we found Trinity last fall. Right away we met other expats as well as French people in addition to people from every continent (well, except for Antarctica).

Obviously, simply being in Paris is a wonderful thing, but it’s even better when it means making new friends to meet for dinner, or coffee, or a picnic. It’s meant getting together for game nights, going for a hike, or having a friend to go to a museum with. The girls have enjoyed the youth activities, we’ve done a treasure hunt that took us all over Paris, and even got to go see the Pentatonix with another family. We were welcomed into friends’ homes for Easter dinner and barbecues and pizza night.

Who knew we’d meet such a great group of avid gamers? Terra Mystica, Blood Rage, Code Names, Dead Men Tell No Tales… We had no shortage of good times gaming.

Creative Nights at the church’s Genesis Center were a hit with the girls. I save my creative energies for writing and music, but I always had fun talking it up with other people.

Food–one of my favorite things…


…and something that definitely brings people together.


The fall retreat.


Carolyn and me singing at Music Night.

Finding Trinity turned out to be another great opportunity for music. With only a year here, there was no time to waste waiting around; after feeling so welcomed, I quickly asked about getting involved in the music. Soon enough I was getting chances to play bass and even serve as one of the worship leaders.


Most of our songs were in English, but I’m going to miss worshiping in French!


Thank you for such a wonderful year, Trinity. We’re going to miss you.


A visit to a few French Châteaux

Just two weeks left of our year in France. Two weeks! The goodbyes are hitting hard and we’re notching plenty of “this is the the last time we’ll do this…” moments.

But before we go, we’re packing in a few more places to see. On Saturday we rented a car and strung together visits to three châteaux in the Loire Valley. Along with a leisurely multi-course French lunch, a visit to a medieval fair and plenty of driving through lovely countryside, it all made for a wonderful day trip.


Château de Cheverny

We did have some adventures tracking down a gas station that would accept my credit card and got stuck for a bit at a toll booth that refused accept my card–sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t; it’s a mystery–but let’s get right to the good stuff.

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