Jenss Family Travels: Out of Africa
Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.
Nine months and six days after pulling out of our driveway to start this year-long journey, I found myself back in familiar territory. Since I’m originally from Germany and have traveled extensively throughout the Continent, I feel very much at home in Europe. Even though I had spent just one day in Paris prior to our arrival, there was little concern with logistics or getting oriented to what would be the seventeenth country of the trip. In fact, after spending the last three months in Africa, it felt rather comforting to be here.
With just a few exceptions, we had most of the previous sixteen countries pretty well planned out before we got there. Generally speaking, Asia is not a good place to just wing it with two kids in tow. In New Zealand, we had a camper van to call home, and since Australia is so darn big, we’d have been crazy not to map out a route in advance and make sure we hit the spots we were most interested in. Even traveling across the U.S. required advance reservations if we had any intention of staying within the national parks in the height of summer.
The only problem was that we had just a little more than six weeks to explore Europe before we were due in South America for the final leg of our voyage. The upside was that we didn’t have to subject ourselves to the high cost of being here for very long. Everything seems more expensive in Europe (the weak dollar doesn’t help, even though it’s strengthened about 20% against the euro since we left last July). Car rentals and gasoline prices makes traveling by train a serious option, although that’s not cheap either. We even had to dish out more than 60 euros in tolls just to get from Paris to the German border. Ouch.
Without trying to sound too much like the Griswalds from European Vacation, we embarked on an ambitious plan to cover France, Germany and Italy in two weeks. We picked France because it was pretty much the only choice we had flying from the Seychelles. Besides, we’re talking Paris, so there were no complaints here. Better still, my sister and her family were just a short Eurostar train ride away from their West London home, so they planned to meet us for the long Easter weekend. This meant we had to figure out what to do with four kids, not just two.
Conventional wisdom might suggest that taking four cousins (all boys between the ages of 8 and 12), who hadn’t seen each other in over a year, to a museum might not be the best idea. But this wasn’t any museum; we’re talking the Louvre. I can happily report that the outing was a success and the “Venus de Milo” survived their visit. The boys were probably more fascinated by the crowds that gathered around the ‘Mona Lisa” than the painting itself and didn’t mind getting a heavy dose of Renaissance art, but their favorite part had to be the Egyptian wing, which was as impressive a display as we’d seen, even in Cairo!
We attempted to take them all to some of the other major attractions, by foot of course, so they could burn off some energy. We didn’t make it much past the Champs-Élysées, where we were on a quest for Nutella crepes. After spending over an hour sidetracked in the Adidas store, we eventually found them served at a sidewalk cafe, but remember the thing I said about high prices? On the Champs-Élysées, double it! We ultimately agreed to split up and found it much more manageable to visit the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower as a family of four. It also made the thought of going out for something to eat a whole lot easier. Fortunately for us though, we were invited to dinner by extended family who live in the city, which easily proved to be the highlight of our dining experiences in Paris – as much for the food as the chance to hang with “locals” in a really cool Parisian apartment. Thank you Elliott and Françoise!
- Nat Geo Expeditions
As wonderful as Paris is, we knew we had to leave the city if there was going to be any quality time spent together. Cities can be challenging with kids under any circumstance, but when the priority is to visit with family, it proved a distraction. That’s why the French countryside seemed so appealing a place to spend the Easter weekend. My sister found a perfect self-catered guesthouse called La Sabliere in the small village of Charchigne, near Mayenne. She picked this spot because it wasn’t far from where her friend has a country house, one we would visit while there. Her friend’s home was the quintessential old French farmhouse and barn that had been transformed into an idyllic getaway retreat, perfect for cooking, eating and drinking, something the adults did plenty of on a particularly rainy Saturday. The village, still rich in farmland and medieval buildings, possessed the old-world charm that makes Europe so different from the States. No strip malls or fast food chains found here. Just your local patisserie and church that dominated the village center.
On Easter Monday, we said our farewells, packed up the car and headed for Germany. Looking at a map, Europe appears quite small when compared to the U.S., so it’s easy to be mistaken into thinking driving distances are shorter than they actually are. This proved the case with me, so I had to rein in the expectation that we could cover a lot of ground in a short time and zero in on one locale to spend our time. Since I rejected the idea of visiting Euro Disney, no matter how much the kids might have liked it, I set our target on the real thing instead: the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, which I’ll cover off on in my next post.
Photos: Rainer Jenss