Once again, it's been way too long since I've written.( I really have to get a better handle on this blogging thing). But for once, it is not for lack of something to say, but an overload of autumnal cultural adventures!
For those of you who don't know, France has a LOT of school vacation I feel like we've just settled into the beginning of the school year (which of course is the real break for most parents) when BAM! there's another vacation. This one falls around Halloween and is called the Vacances de Toussaint (All Saint's Day) and usually lasts around 10 days. This is the time of year when my mother usually comes to visit and since this year she went England first, we decided to take the kids to London for the first time and spend some time with her there.
Travelling with kids is always risky, but I have to say the trip went very well. We got really lucky with the weather and found a charming B&B in Belgravia that only cost an arm instead of an arm and a leg. We walked through the Hyde Park (on the grass! take that, Paris), saw Big Ben and the houses of Parliament, ate some great gastro-pub food and went around Westminster Abbey (which we now NEVER have to do again).
But the highlights of the trip, aside from the pink-painted cupcake shop across the street from the B&B, were visiting the science museum and attending a real West End show. I'm not a huge fan of the science museum here and of course nothing compares to the one in Chicago, but this one was pretty great. It has a self-proclaimed 'object-rich collection' which means in addition to some cool interactive exhibits, it has a buttload of actual stuff.
Highlights included a real full-sized steam-engine, a huge collection of early 20th century airplanes, a full-sized replica of the Eagle moon lander and the actual Apollo 10 command module. If anyone's planning a visit, I'd say skip the 4-D space flight simulator ride, but don't miss the IMAX 3-D film about the mission to repair the Hubble telescope.
Besides featuring fantastic images of the shuttle take-off and Hubble's pictures of the universe, it gave me a whole new respect for the patience and powers of concentration that astronauts must possess. (One of their tasks was to remove over 100 minuscule screws in zero gravity wearing basically oven mitts, a task that would've sent any normal person into babbling hysteria).
My other favorite part of the trip was the chance to see a big West End musical. Growing up in a large city plus frequent trips to England meant that I had the chance to see lots of top-quality musicals, an art form which is not really in the French tradition. (Recently, the Théâtre du Châtelet has started doing annual productions of classic musicals in English, but the prices are so outrageous, I'd have to sell one of my kids to go).
I chose "Billy Elliot" because I'd heard it was great and I thought the subject matter would especially appeal to my son, who is a budding ballet dancer. The show was at the Victoria Palace, a deliciously ornate theater that my wowed my daughter with its gold leaf, red velvet and best of all, ice cream during intermission! I'd paid for close seats, forgetting that London theaters are actually quite small, which means all the seats are good.
The show itself follows the basic plot of the movie - amid the 1984 coal miner's strike, 11 year-old motherless Billy decides to dump boxing for ballet (at which he is a natural). Coached by a local dance teacher, Billy eventually auditions for the royal ballet school and wins the support of his originally disapproving father and brother.
The songs in the musical are pretty forgettable, but the acting was uniformly excellent and the dancing was AMAHZING! I have no idea how those kids do that over and over - I think they all deserve Tonys or Oliviers or Nobel Prizes or whatever. I think the social aspects of the story went over my kids' heads, but I actually thought they were better integrated into the story than in the movie. As I'd hoped, the kids absolutely loved the musical numbers, although I think their favorite part was when one of the kids screamed "Wanker!" at one of the adults. (As curse words go, I guess it could've been worse.)
Three days isn't really enough time to do London properly, but for a first taste for the kids, it was a definite success and hopefully will mean more trips on the Eurostar in the future.
Coming up: Toussaint adventures - French edition!