29 May 2012

Our Paris Accomodations, a review

                                                                          Our Master Suite

The first time I went to France I stayed in the 16th arrond., at the Auteuil Tour de Eiffel Paris within a ten minute walk of the Eiffel tower. Last week, I went back to Paris but this time I was able to experience Paris in a different way.  Nestled within the French countryside  and just beyond Disneyland Paris, is Marriott's Village d'Ile-de-France resort, where Charlotte (my 5 year old) and I stayed for our most recent Paris adventure. 

Staying outside of Paris posed some transportation obligations that I did not have my previous trip when I was within easy walking distance of everything, but they were easily mastered and I will write a separate post on transportation another day. For today, I wanted to share with you some of the photos I took of our accommodations. Seriously, I felt like a movie star's wife, all week.

The Downstairs...consisted of a kitchen, small laundry room, 1/2 bath, dining room and large living room.

                                                            Charlotte made herself right at home...

The kitchen had modern amenities...

The upstairs featured two bedrooms and two full baths...

                                                       The second bedroom, upstairs

The resort featured French flair with the villas designed as houses in a row and the main "street" complete with faux French window scenes.

                                       The main street at the resort, across from the main Lobby

The property included both relaxing areas for reflection, including gardens and duck ponds

and a gorgeous pool area complete with an infinity edge pool.

My top 5 favorite things about this resort were:

1. The resort now has a shuttle that runs to and from the Marne-la-Vallee Chessy train station (this is also where Disneyland Paris and Disney village are located) every 1/2 hour starting at 8:30am and going until 7:50pm for 3 Euros/person. Miss the shuttle do to later activities? You can take public bus #34 from the train station and get dropped off right in front of the property for 1.90 euros a person, up till 1am.

2. The activities personnel. The employees working the activities desk are both friendly and knowledgeable. They were paramount in my being able to coordinate transportation for our trip into Belgium.  Their English was perfect, their manners impeccable.

3.  The bar. The bar in the resort also serves as the resort's only restaurant offering "bar snacks". But these "bar snacks" included fabulous pasta, homemade personal pizzas, and more. After a long day of site seeing, it was wonderful to come back to the resort to eat for three reasons:
     I. It was reasonably priced. Much cheaper than the meals we ate in Paris Proper.
     II. I was travelling with a child who was not impressed with escargot or crepes. Charlotte loved their pasta, pizza and chicken nuggets and when we ate there, she cleaned her plate...each time.
     III. It was a 5 minute walk from our villa and open until 10pm.

4.  The amenities. Amenities included the Marketplace shop (groceries and some souvenirs), a bicycle rental, spa, kid's club, infinity edge pool and more. We only took advantage of the Marketplace, but the resort did offer something for everyone.

5.  The villas are decorated in French provincial decor. From the fabrics to the curtained closet doors, you feel like you are in France, even before you get out site seeing, making for a memorable experience from start to finish.

 and one more...

6. Having a kitchen allows you to save money via being able to eat some meals "at home" instead of every meal out in a restaurant. We stocked up on waters and snacks the first day so we had provisions (especially for Charlotte) on long travel and site-seeing days and this way I was always able to offer her breakfast before each day's journey started

The Disadvantages (if there can ever be disadvantages to being in Paris...):

1. Location. The idyllic setting in the French countryside is beautiful but also means that you will be embarking on a combination of shuttle, bus, RER (train) and Metro) subway to get to and from your destinations. While not difficult, some can find this daunting.

2. Getting there from the airport by taxi will cost you about $120 euros. To get there cheaper, call the resort to schedule you a shuttle for pickup prior to arriving, which will drop the cost to $79 euros, or to save even more money, take the train from the airport which will take you as far as the Marne-la-Vallee Chessy  train station and then from there take a cab the last 3 miles to the resort (19 euros) or cheaper yet,  take bus 34 from the station to the resort (it drops you off in front of the property) which will only cost you 1.90 euros a piece, but you will be transversing your luggage for one more "leg" of your journey.

3.  Expense. Can be pricey. However, if you are going with other people, some of the villas, like the one Charlotte and I had, are  large enough to sleep 6 comfortably, with two bedrooms, a pull out sleeper-sofa and 2.5 baths. They also offer smaller villas as well as 3 bedroom villas which can accommodate up to 8 people.
4. This is not actually a disadvantage; just keep in mind that staying in a suburb of France is a different "feel" than staying within the energy of the city...and you are 30-45 min commute into the city center each day and back "home" each evening.

As I mentioned earlier, Charlotte and I felt completely spoiled the whole week and I told my husband that he made me feel like a movie star's wife the entire week. Who could ask for more? Charlotte said every day "Mommy, we are so lucky". Yes, Charlotte, we surely were.

For more pictures of the property, click here.

28 May 2012

How to pack lightly...5 tips to keep you in one bag

                                      Funny how one bag TO Paris turns into three bags FROM Paris...

In her book, The Joy of Less, Francine Jay devotes a great few pages about the benefits of packing lightly on a trip. As I read this last year, I thought "I could never do that" (pack only a few items for a trip), but then I remembered several instances where I already had!

The first time I had to pack light; I mean really pack light, was a trip I took with my husband and then one year old twins which included  a 4 1/2 hour flight. By the time I had gotten the boys' clothes, diapers, wipes, and numerous  baby paraphenalia (times 2) packed I found I had very little room left for my husband or myself. That trip was 7 days and I packed my husband and I shoes, swimsuits, clothes, toiletries and all in one small garment bag. It was the lightest I had ever packed for a trip ever, and yet I found I was really wanting for nothing once there!

The second time, was by accident. I had packed alot (read: way too much) for my husband and I and our eldest daughter. We were headed to Hawaii. We got to the airport, running just a little short on time and they refused to check our bags. Supposedly we had missed the check in time by, get this, ONE minute.

We only had a few minutes to throw what we wanted to pack into my husband's carryon and then hurry to our flight. While on that trip we did have to purchase a few necessities once we got there, I was reminded that most of the things we don't pack are not missed once we arrive at our destination and start our adventure.
Same thing for our family trips. When packing for 7 days for a family of 7, I limit outfits per person (same for shoes) and am usually able to pack the 7 of us in three bags for a 7 day trip!
When I took my first trip to Paris, I was traveling alone. I was headed to much cooler weather than I was used to here in the Southwest (high50s), but seeings that it was Paris~~ looking stylish was important. So was comfort as I had planned to do at least one walking tour while I was there ( I ended up doing three).  I packed only one small bag, as I did not want to be burdened by heavy or cumbersome suitcases while en route, and especially on the Metro. So, I spent some time on the JourneyWoman site and also on HipParis.com  so that I could read other women's tips on good items to bring, what to leave home, and how to avoid looking like a tourist, which besides being more stylish, was also safer. 

Here are some tips to help you pack lighter:

1. Make a packing list and stick to it.

My packing list for my first Paris trip? 25 items items for 6 days:

  • one pair slacks
  • one pair jeans
  • one black turtleneck
  • one dress
  • one jacket
  • one hat/gloves/warm scarf set (It was chilly)
  • my trench coat
  • 2 sweaters
  • one pair tights
  • black shoes (dress)
  • red ballet flats (casual)
  • 2 scarves(scarves are a must in Paris)
  • socks, underthings, one pair of pajamas
  • one small ziplock back toiletries
  • makeup: face powder, mascara, lip stick
  • small language dictionary
  • travel journal
  • pocket frommer's guide
  • travel umbrella
  • cell phone
  • This list includes the pants and sweater I wore  on the plane so items actually being packed was less!

    2. Pack one main color scheme with pieces that all mix and match.
    For Paris, I stuck with an all black wardrobe for my first trip,  as all the sites I checked recommended a black scheme for Paris. The one exception? my two scarves that were both brightly colored.

    3. Pieces that layer well can accomodate fluctuation in temperature.

    4. Scarves make a great main accessory (leave the jewels at home when traveling alone). Scarves give you a pop of color and in true Audrey Hepburn fashion can be worn in the hair, around the neck, shoulders or waist, or  in place of a necklace or shawl. Tres versatile, no? 
    5. Check the weather forecast before. Don't pack for what-ifs. pack for what is forecasted.

    • Stick with a main color theme. Mix and match pieces are key.
    • Stick with pieces that can layer easily or be worn in different ways
    • I always pack one scarf. A scarf can make the same outfit look amazingly different
    • limit shoes to no more than 2 pairs if trip is a week or less
    • minimalize makeup for trips. Do you really need 4 lipsticks for a 7 day trip. No.
    • If traveling alone, limit yourself to one bag. This is easier to keep your eye on and keeps you more mobile.
    • If you know, for sure, you plan to do shopping on your trip, pack an empty bag within your suitcase to aid you in getting those items home. 
    • Another great tip for light packing is pack old pajamas...ones that you are ready to part with. Leave them there and this frees up room in your suitcase for newly purchased treasures!
    These are not hard and fast rules, but they are helpful to keep you from packing too much. I find myself really bothered when something I packed does not get worn, as that means i lugged it around airports, cities/countries for nothing. Therefore, each piece must be paramount. Especially, If i am packing for us as a family, as space within the bags making the trip is at a premium.
    Are you a light packer or a heavy packer?  If you're weekend necessities and outfits can't fit inside a "weekender" style bag, you might be a heavy packer. Trade that in for freedom and simplicity  at your next destination!
    Happy traveling!

    27 May 2012

    Visiting Paris

                                             Me and my daughter Charlotte, age 5, May 2012

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    There is a funny thing that happens when you go to Paris...and if you haven't been yet, you are just going to have to take my word for it...
    You fall in love with it.

    You find yourself overwhelmed with the beauty and history and awe of it all, but somewhere in the middle of the vacation-high and busy-ness, I promise you at least once you will find yourself on a park bench, or sitting at an outside cafe, or just standing at the outskirts of a garden and it happens...

    it comes over you, one goosebump at a  time; that feeling that

    you are in love.

    With Paris.

    This is exactly how I felt when I went to Paris the first time.

    I just got back from another visit. This time, I saw Paris with my child, through the eyes of my child...

    Who looked in joy and wonder at every view of the Eiffel Tower, the entire week.

    Who didn't really like crepes at all (we will have to work on that),

    and who said to me at least twice, every day, "Mommy, we are so lucky".

    Yes, Charlotte, we are.

    I came back from Paris rested (sort of) and inspired (really inspired). I have so much to share with you. Starting tomorrow, look for new posts on the blog, every week, all summer long.

    Do you have a city/country you are in love with? Tell me where and why!

    04 May 2012

    Real Language Right Away: Your under $100 homeschool curriculum

    So my last post was a giveaway,  and then I disappeared into the abyss of  family and graduate school duties (so sorry...I'm back now!) and I have come back bearing gifts once again! I wanted to share with you a French program that you should take a close look at if you are wanting to teach French in your homeschool.

    Real language Right Away is one of our blog sponsors and a few favorite sites of mine to visit are their blog and their facebook page.  RLRA is a  foreign language learning program that is communicative in nature (meaning you are using it in context right away) that is geared for elementary and middle aged children who can already read English. Level one is suited for children 6-9 who are readers and Level II for children 10-13.  It is available in both Spanish and French. I had the opportunity to look at some of the materials for French and use them with my own daughter, who just turned 8.

    I enjoyed the ease of following along the unit study and my daughter was able to make phrases utilizing the text and pictures in the Conversation book right away. Like any language program, I think RLRA is suited towards the motivated learner. This however is true for any...you are simply not going to be speaking French unless you put some time and effort into it. All foreign language curriculums and tools are just that...curriculums and tools. They are not miracle workers. You will get out what you put it.
    Here is what I feel are the top five features (in no particular order) of the Real Language Right Away Program:

    1. You and your child are speaking French right away. This is a communicative approach; meaning vocabulary is not learned (memorized) in a vacuum but things are learned in context within conversations with a partner (the basis for the program and the text and pictures in the conversation book assure that both expression AND comprehension are happening.. My daughter was super excited about this part of it. Instead of learning colors (boring) She was saying some simple phrases and responding to simple questions/phrases I asked her.
    2. The Audio CD. This comes included in the Complete Level 1 set that is offered, or you can purchase separately. This is ideal for new beginners to hear the pronunciation of the language. This helps give you "an ear" for the language (it features native speakers) and makes it easier for you and your child to know how you are supposed to sound. If you have never had French before, you will want to spend time each day listening to the CD.

    3. The Teacher's Guide and Student Activity Book. I loved seeing some of the extra activities in the teachers guide (our family favorite was the Charades). The record keeping system, if you choose to use it, was also very simple. I love that ALL of the activities in the Student Activity book are interactive in some way. This "forces" you to step out of your comfort zone and use the language from the first lesson.
    4. The Graphics. The graphics are engaging to both children and adults. They ensure comprehension of the phrases being used (even by a younger beginner) and help facilitate learning by including a visual dimension to the process.

    5. Price. As much as every family would love to own a Rosetta Stone Set, they are simply out of reach of many homeschool families' budgets, where as  RLRA is only $99.00 for a Full French 1 set for teachers (you), making it an excellent value. The Full French I Set includes:
    • The audio cd
    • The partner conversations book
    • One student activity book
    • Partner conversations e-book
    • The Teacher's guide
    As a speech-language pathologist with an interest in how languages are acquired and currently learning two myself, I found this approach so much more successful than the rote memorization I am doing currently in my Italian class. I also found I was retaining the vocabulary and phrases better this way by using them right away in context.

    And now if you go to their site and put in the code CAFEKATIE you will save 15% off your order! The code is good until May 10th.

    Don't forget the 15% off sale code is only good until May 10th. Don't miss this opportunity for you and your kids to get started speaking French! To read more about how you can utilize Real Language Right Now in your home or homeschool, click here.

    **I recieved no compensation for this review. These opinions are my own and are unbiased.

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