5 months to the day from when we climbed on that big plane and flew 4000 miles from those we love the most, the Springharts (my sister- Jen, brother-in-law,Pat, niece-Hope) and nephew- Auggie) arrived! After a long night of traveling and arriving into Paris, Chuck drove the easy 3.5 hour drive from Clermont to Paris to pick them up!
Their flight came in at 10:30 am Paris time and so I stayed back with the boys to get ready for their arrival. All 4 of us were beyond excited, probably the most excited we have ever been in our entire lives. We had all been so looking forward to seeing this amazing family that are not only are our family, our neighbors (they live 2 streets away from us back home) but also our best friends!
When we got the call that they had arrived at their hotel across the square (Jaude) from our apartment, we headed that way. As we approached their hotel, we saw them unloading the car next to the hotel and the kids literally broke into a sprint towards each other. It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen! It was soooo great to be able hug them and just be with them in person after all this time!
Since they were going to be missing Thanksgiving in America (just a regular Thursday here in France), we wanted to them to still be able to have a semi-traditional Thanksgiving meal (turkey!) one night and so, since we would all be in Paris that day, we celebrated that Sunday night when they arrived.
Speaking of turkey, since the French do not typically cook or eat whole turkeys, you have to special order a turkey from a butcher or specialty grocery store AND I’ve been told to always be sure to specify: sans tête (head), plumes (feathers) and pieds (feet)), otherwise, your turkey may come WHOLE 🙂 Luckily for us, there is a fabulous butcher right up the hill from our house who was able to come through for us. I walked right in and placed my order at which point, the woman picked up the phone, called I’m not sure who (probably a farmer?) and made arrangements for a turkey to be all ready for me to pick up the next afternoon at 3:00pm. In rapid-fire French, she told me a few other details (something about size, etc) but I mainly understood what time to show up the next day. I was so excited that things went so smoothly with the ordering part, that I completely forgot to request no extra parts please. I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic, picturing a complete turkey. But when Charlie and I went the next day to pick it up, it was a beautiful, perfectly sized American- looking traditional turkey, perfectly sized.
Somehow, the meal all came together and though the poultry here is much smaller sized (along with everything else food-related) there was plenty of turkey for everyone, thank goodness!
We had such a fun night catching up and we were so impressed with how well everyone rallied despite the jet lag!
Since our dining room table wasn’t quite big enough for all 9 of us, we put the littlest 2 in the kitchen and they had a blast and wasted no time getting a jump start on the pumpkin brownies (little finger prints in the icing:) )
The next 2 days were Monday and Tuesday. Since the boys would miss Wednesday through Friday with our trip to Paris, they needed to be in school both days, so I happily served as tour guide. Unfortunately, many coffee shops and stores typically stay closed on Monday, but I showed them around our little city, making sure to point out the notable things- our favorite outdoor market, bakery, coffee shops, etc. We made sure they did not leave Clermont without the true French mall experience (which we have 2 of within a 5 minute walk). Everyone came along for a leg or two of our to and fro from school so that they could see what school was like. The boys loved showing them what this was all about.
Every Tuesday afternoon after school, there are usually treats for sale in the school courtyard, so we made sure to pick up some kebabs made with our favorite French candy for the cousins!
We had lunch at our favorite crêperie, Le Quinze Treize (which is housed in the Maison de Savaron, an old building literally built in 1513) and we lucked out with a table right by the fireplace. It was super cozy! Auggie and Hope both had crepes and since Auggie ordered the Menu Enfant (which always come with a drink, meal and dessert), there was a fun surprise at the end!
Jen and I snuck out for a few hours Tuesday afternoon and did some shopping and sat at my favorite coffee shop, the Australian coffee house and it was so sweet for me to have this time with her, all to myself! The 4 of us then headed out to dinner that night at a new tapas restaurant near our apartment, Lard et Vive, where we shared a yummy Rioja alongside all types of interesting foods including a giant meat board with duck, pork, beef and various dipping sauces. There was also a savory “cappuccino” made with pumpkin and chestnuts which apparently is typically only served to the men at the table (even though I ordered it, the server refused to set it at my place, so lucky Pat was served this savory concoction instead!??!) Even the toilet paper holder in the bathroom was unique…
The next morning, we packed up and headed to the train station, which, upon boarding the train, we were thrilled to discover that 5 of the assigned seats were in a cabin! The 4 of us got to sit in a separate section of the train- hooray for adult time! Jen was so sweet to bring some American magazines and so, (other than having to hop up a few times to rescue a poor waitress pushing her food cart from one giant order of cokes and candy bars! 🙂 )
The trip was great. We made it all in one piece, with all of our bags and sanity still intact and were ready to hit Paris!
After a long cab ride, and a few hours of getting our hotel room arrangements (Springharts) and Air BNB (us), we were all starving and the kids had a lot of energy to expend. Their hotel was across the street from the Jardin des Tuileries, so everyone headed there and Jen and I set off in search of food. We were so lucky to find a cute little food shop selling the most delicious baguettes and croissant sandwiches. So, along with a few other things including some beignets which the super nice owner was kind enough to give us (for free!), we were finally armed and off we went to feed our crew. Of course, we decided that after a long day of travel, it was wine time (which I stupidly asked the owner if he had a way to open a bottle or cups to drink with, with which he responded “Umm…. do you know where you ARE????”) hahahahaha.
It was so fun to be in this giant, beautiful park at sunset with all of our kids running and playing, a giant Ferris wheel right in front of us and the Eiffel Tower off in the distance.
After the sun went down, it was super cold, so we each went to our places to rest and get ready for dinner. With a party of 9, most people probably would have planned ahead a bit and made reservations for dinners here in Paris, but we decided to wing it (in typical McFadden fashion). I think we have rubbed off on the Springharts a bit…
We met and walked to Montorgueil, a cool area that sits in both 1st and 2nd arrondissements which we had visited back in August. Owen had hoped to return to the same restaurant, César, that we had eaten at at that time. Aside from a delicious Italian meal and super friendly waitstaff, they had a big long table downstairs that was quiet and set apart from the rest of the restaurant. There were candles everywhere and we all thought it would be a great place to come back to when the Springharts came. We even asked the owner how difficult it would be to reserve a table in November when we returned. She was very nice and told us just to call the day of and they’d be happy to accommodate us. Since we didn’t plan ahead that day, we decided to just walk by and check things out. Owen, Charlie, and Hope went in and inquired (in French!) about a table for 9, and they graciously welcomed us in and walked us down to the same table downstairs that we had seen back in August! It was meant to be! We had such a fun dinner with the most delicious Italian food and again, fabulous customer service. It was just a wonderful evening together!
The next morning was Thanksgiving. Jen and I woke up and met for an early morning run (our first together in 5 months!!) and ran down Rue de Rivoli, through the Jardins and past the Louvre. We could NOT get over the fact that there was not ONE person in line at the Louvre! Yes, it was still closed, but it was 7:30am! This had to be historic.
On my way back to our apartment, I couldn’t get over just how wonderful it was to be able to join my sis on a run. We have long been running buddies consistently since the day they moved to Greenville 6.5 years ago and these runs have always been our time. No matter what else is going on in our lives, this was sacred time for us. There were times when we always had a stroller in front of us, pushing babies, stopping a million times to pick up dropped toys or distribute more snacks. Rain, shine, freezing cold. Laughter, tears, bearing our souls. In recent months, it was on these runs that Jen would support, encourage and cheerlead me through the difficult transition of preparing to move to France. There is no question that our runs together were one of the things I would, and do, miss more than anything else.
Reflecting on all of this, I came across a message painted on the sidewalk and it was so powerful in that moment that I had to take a pic. Such a great reminder to me on this Thanksgiving morning in Paris.
For breakfast, we headed to Frenchie’s-to-Go, where we all had yummy fuel for our day ahead. We jumped on the metro and headed to Sacre Cœur, a place that both Chuck and I and Jenny, too have always loved here in Paris.
The kids were troopers with the short hike up to the top and after walking through the church and seeing all the beautiful architecture, we headed out and around back into Montmartre, a cute little village with local artists, cafes and restos. Jen and I both chose a small painting from one of the artists sitting in the square.
After exploring a little more, the kids opted for crêpes, so there was a restaurant with a walk-up window where they could order and watch their crêpes being made right in front of them.
We grabbed a park bench, a little vin chaud (hot spiced wine) from a street vendor nearby and watched the kids chase pigeons while we enjoyed the scenery…
Montmartre was so much more quaint and charming than I ever remember during the other few times we had visited. While it is quite touristy, it seemed in the past to be much more run down and “junky”; i.e.: other than the church itself and walking through to look at all of the art, there wasn’t a wide selection of restaurants or shops.
At this time of year, most of the artists, other than the local artists that live in Montmartre, have left for the season and it was much less crowded. There were many more little shops and places to eat and even Starbucks has found its way up to the top of Sacre Cœur.
We metro’d back to drop off our things and the kids had wanted to go to Champs Elysées to visit the Nike/Adidas stores and look at shoes…something about using the big monitors in these huge stores to design your own dream shoes is more fun….
We had hoped to make it further up the Champs to the Arc de Triomphe so that Owen could get a close up (he has been studying about some of the more notable structures in Paris) but “hanger” started to set in, so we all decided it was time to grab dinner off the main drag.
We found a cafe over near the Opera district (Le Pointheau Café) that was empty and able to seat all 9 of us promptly. Entrecôtes, salad and frites for the 4 of us, (no turkey here!) and Wells and Auggie loved their hot dogs! Everyone was tired from lots of walking, so we went home early. On the way to the metro, Pat stopped to buy water at a stand and before Pat could even ask for the water, the vendor immediately started speaking English to Pat. He asked the guy, “How can you tell I’m American? Is it my accent?” He told Pat that he just “looked” American. 10 min later, we all had a good laugh when a man on the metro asked Uncle Pat if he was German.
The next morning was Friday and our last day together with the Springharts. We had hoped to go to the Eiffel Tower since it was the only sunny/ clear day. Knowing we needed to fuel up for the venture, Charlie suggested Twinkie’s; a great little breakfast spot serving the yummiest American style breakfast. Luckily, again, they were able to seat all of us among 2 tables and it was just great. My favorite thing about this place is the homemade jams; this day the flavors were kiwi-pear, passion fruit and some type of persimmon flavor, all of which are even more dreamy spread across a warm baguette 🙂
The trip was not complete without a quick stop at Stony Clove bakery, an adorable little bakery in the Montorgueil area that Chuck and I have been following for awhile and had tried to visit in August only to discover they were closed for the month. There is something so cute about this place. It is owned by 3 Americans who were living here in Paris and were missing the baked comforts of home, so they opened this American bakery (which continues to be my dream- I will do this in my next life). When we walked up to it, the smells overwhelmed us. There were plates of beautiful cakes (red velvet! carrot!) and cookies everywhere. We stocked up for a mid-day snack.
When we got to the Eiffel Tower, we all had so much fun making funny pics and the kids found a playground to play on. It was FREEZING! The kids are always making fun of how Jen and I do barre and so we decided what better locale than to make our own, off-balance, less- flexible version of the many beautiful pics all over Instagram, featuring younger, more flexible barre students across the globe:)
We also each agreed that we might have just found the world’s nastiest set of toilettes (thank goodness for scarves to cover our noses). While sitting at the park, Pat was the lucky target of some pigeon and when we walked over to the concession stand (where we had just bought drinks) to ask for napkins, we were told that they didn’t have any. 😦
With the kiddos snacked up, we headed to the Saint Germain district. This is such a cool shopping area. Being the Americans that we are, Charlie was anxious to visit the Apple Store (one of the biggest in the world) and me, the Lululemon store (and Chuck!) which we visited after grabbing a quick snack at Chipotle, one of our very favorite quick-type restaurants back home. We were so excited, we didn’t even know they had these in Europe! Some American restaurants here in France just don’t taste the same, not the same. But Chipotle was different. Of course, we vowed we would come back the next day for lunch.
Jen and the dads walked over to a winter carnival that was set up across the street where they were making fake snow and doing all kinds of winter sport expos. There was all kinds of activities for the kids- Auggie and Wells got balloons and rode inner tubes down a slide and Hope and Owen opted for a more daring ski jump type ride.
Jen and I both commented that these kids definitely didn’t get their courage from us. Ha!
At the Apple store, we were thankful to find and replace a few chargers and iPad cases that had been stolen back in October. The kids all had fun playing on the iPhone 10 and iPads, which, back home may not have been an “actual” activity for us, but here in France, Apple stores are definitely few and far between so the novelty still hasn’t worn off for us and especially Charlie. If there is an Apple store in a city we visit, we are there!
We also found a Marks and Spencer market (similar to a Dean and DeLuca) with so many fun culinary finds, I’m sure we could have spent all day in there. But, it was approaching dinner time so we grabbed a few things and met up for dinner. We hope to visit again the next time we come back!
We ate at Margherita, a great pizza place off Blvd Saint Germain that we had spotted previously and noted for its great outdoor seating, tucked away in this quaint alley..
Unfortunately, it was too cold to sit out (for us, the warm-blooded Americans :)) so they were great to sit us right away inside and again, an amazing meal! The kids’ menu was super gourmet! Owen’s Mac and cheese was heavenly. Hope had the most insane truffle pasta (isn’t everything truffle insane) and I truly had the best Chèvre Chaud I’ve found yet in France (and I’ve probably tried every single one, so this is saying A LOT). I almost cried when it was gone:(
During dinner and as we finished up, the dread of saying goodbye to our family really started to set in. We knew that our week together was coming to an end, but first, pinball. Margherita is this giant restaurant with several floors, each one with a separate bar area and fireplace- super cozy! On the top floor, we found some pinball machines, so the kids were nice enough to help the Springharts to get rid of all their euro coins by playing several rounds. Jen and I and the littles even had an impromptu dance party!
We walked together across Pont Neuf towards our hotel/apartments. The view of the Seine at night just does not get old. Being the tourists that we are, we decided to grab one more pic together. It’s nice to have kids old enough to take your pic now rather than having to awkwardly stop another tourist or passerby and ask them.
Unfortunately, a gust of wind came and off went Wells’ beloved white balloon just over the side and down towards the Seine. He was beside himself. As we were trying to (literally) talk him off the ledge, up walked Auggie and handed his (equally beloved) green balloon to Wells. I might just say it was one of the sweetest moments of the whole week. But then, by some strange coincidence, as we stopped to admire amazing view of the Eiffel Tower all lit up, Charlie remembered that the Eiffel Tower twinkles every hour on the hour. We all glanced at our watches and it was 7:57. A few minutes later, as the lights started to shimmer and glisten off in the distance, we all just stood there quietly; half in awe of the timing of this beautiful little gift to us, but also just realizing that for my family and I, there really could be no better ending to one of the best weeks of our lives. Having our family come all this way to see us was incredibly humbling for each of the 5 of us. Their visit has been something we have looked forward to since the day we said goodbye and has gotten us through some tough days and weeks. So to spend such a perfect week creating so many new memories for us to hold in our hearts is the sweetest thing of all.