Europe with Kids: Our Big Fat French/Italian Vacation

I should introduce this series of posts by saying that we are a Brooklyn based two-mom family of four, embarking on a month-long European holiday.

The players:

  • Chrissy: mom taking a month off of work. Overstressed, overtired, ready to relax.
  • Melisa: SAHM looking forward to a month-long change of scene. Loves travel more than almost anything.
  • Jasper: About-to-be-seven-year-old, rising second-grader. This is his third trip to Europe, but the first he might remember.
  • Magnolia (Nola): About-to-be-five-year-old, rising kindergartener. Second trip to Europe, but again, first she will remember.

Our itinerary:

  • July 2-3: Paris!
  • July 4-7: Montpellier, France- a beautiful University town in the South of France where we have friends.
  • July 8: Italian Riviera, driving the coast on the way to Tuscany
  • July 9-22: Chianti, Tuscany
  • July 23-30: Back to Montpellier
  • July 31-August 1: Paris again
  • August 2: Back to NYC

This particular post, I wrote on the plane. It may, in fact, be of interest only to our family; you be the judge. More to come on Paris.

Illustration by Kevin Dart via

July 1, 2011:

And we begin! Fits and starts- it’s late afternoon the Friday of Fourth of July weekend. The car service calls early to say that traffic is already a bear and they will be there shortly. Do we want to take the bridge instead of the Tunnel? Yes, we do. We make it in record time; probably about 35 minutes to Newark. Supervisors trawl the baggage check line shouting “London 7:20?” and “Madrid 7:35?” We are Paris 9:20, so stand mostly patiently in the line, letting Nola entertain our fellow travelers with a magic trick: close your eyes and she’ll make her baggage handle “disappear,” shouting “voila!” with a flourish. The strangers seem amused.

On to security. Jasper and Magnolia are pros, taking their shoes off, grabbing bins for their backpacks. The grumpy single woman I let in front of us seems a bit abashed as she struggles with her laptop, sandals and bags while we wait.

Still about 2 hours to kill, and we do it with food. And a glass of Pinot Grigio to take the edge off for Melisa and I. Though our edges are pretty soft now that we’ve extracted ourselves successfully from life at home.

We wait for a recalcitrant plane going to Santo Domingo to leave our gate. Finally, even the airline folks realize it’s not happening and move our flight to a gate down the hall. The kids have been pretty good, but at this point we have been to the bathroom several times and exhausted the newsstand. Time to pull out the iPad, loaded for this purpose with HOURS of movies and TV. At last, they call us. And we’re off!

Couple of things about this flight: first, no one EVER stops talking. Not our kids, not the flight crew. We are well-informed. In English AND French. And there are, of course, lots of questions and commentary from the kiddos. There’s not really any point in trying to have an introspective moment about this month-long getaway but I try to sneak a couple in anyway.

Second: what happened to free wine on international flights? Did it go away so first class could have BEDS to sleep on? Seriously, those commercials are for real, there are beds up there. Seven dollars for a glass of red, but Melisa has her card out, and it seems wrong not to have wine on your way to France. Even if it’s 11:30 pm and you’ve been up since 3 am. Which is another story.

Third: a note about food. Second dinner is served at 11:15. I’m not hungry. But I get it anyway. My years as a business traveler made me leery of passing up food on planes. I feel the same way about subway seats. You never know in either place how long you are going to be traveling, so take the seat and when food presents itself on a plane, eat it (or at least some of it). I once got on a plane going to California and had to sit on a runway for 5 hours with nothing but mints to eat. That wasn’t good. And how many times have I circled for hours over Newark? I’m so concerned we’ll be hungry that I overcompensate with snacks from home. Tonight we have enough to share. Anybody want some almonds? Or apple slices?

As an aside, I miss first class. The truth is that it’s pretty wonderful. That time when I was sitting on a runway at Newark for 5 hours eating my weight in altoids? A rare flight where I didn’t get upgraded. And you know what? They served dinner in first class while we starved in coach. Oh yes, the fresh-baked cookies, the cushy seats, the champagne, the cleaner bathroom. Another time, another life.

At midnight, Magnolia has curled into a ball and gone to a fitful sleep. Jasper has finished watching his movie, and now I will coax him to sleep. Melisa just put down her magazine. And I am going to put down the IPad and try to catch some winks.

July 2- we arrive

We are a mere 20 minutes from touching down in Paris! I think I probably slept about an hour last night, but the adrenaline rush from almost being in Paris is giving me a boost. Except I just noticed the iPad clock says 4:38 (that’s a.m.). Feeling tired again.


4 Responses to “Europe with Kids: Our Big Fat French/Italian Vacation”

  1. 1 Melissa from Michigan July 3, 2011 at 11:12 am

    So excited for you, Melisa and the kiddos! Please keep us updated on your adventures!

  2. 2 Katie July 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    I’m so excited that you’re blogging about the details of your trip!! Can’t wait for the next dispatch. Everyone have a great time and eat some crepes for me. Love from DC.

  3. 3 PAT PARKINSON July 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Loving this post! Makes me feel like I’m there with you……. almost. Thanks for the itinerary! Have a wonderful time & keep us “posted” on your adventures.

  4. 4 Martha July 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Keep the posts coming. I’m very interested in all your doings in Europe.

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