Well, we are home, safe and sound, and ready to tell-all about our first European trip.
As we said in the last email, Disneyland Paris was wonderful. Everyone was very friendly, including the other guests, and there were lots of English-speaking staff (although this was not universal, which we thought was appropriate).
The Park was decked out for Halloween, and there were two parades every day - one for Halloween and the "regular" one with the Disney characters. The entire "Frontierland" part of the park (where the haunted mansion is found) was re-named "HalloweenTown" and completely redecorated and rethemed as an old-west ghost town.
On one of the days, we took 2 hours to get a detailed tour of the park, which gave us some insights we might have missed (the Sleeping Beauty castle in Paris is the only one painted pink; if you listen to the old fashioned phones on mainstreet you can hear people gossiping; etc.)
We had 7 full days to explore the park, and although the guide books say you can "do" the park in 2 or 3 days, this was much better. We had time to go through each of the areas, ride things 4 or 5 times if we wanted, spend time just hanging out and watching people, etc.
Oh, and Joram learned to walk.
There was a "Mulan Show" put on by a Chinese acrobatic troupe that was phenominal, and we ended up seeing it 5 times (it was also located in one of the less-expensive eating areas, which didn't hurt).
As mentioned in last week's note, "It's a small world" was closed. But we found out on our tour that this is due to the re-decorating for the Christmass holiday, not because of any special curse/blessing on Leon.
One of the new gimmicks the park has is trading pins. You can buy these little pins (disney characters, logos for each of the park areas, etc) and then go up to any employee and trade with them. Each employee gets a set of pins each morning, some with real collectors-item pins on them, and they go through their day trading with all the guests. It sounds hokey, but it was really great. From our perspective, it served 2 purposes:
1) It put the kids in contact with ALL the park employees (and vice-versa). The folks sweeping trash were just as important as the people working the desk at "City Hall" or doing guided tours.
2) During those odd moments when you had nothing to do (or nothing to do yet because you were waiting for a show to open up) the kids were still very occupied trying to find employees to trade with.
We stayed at the Cheyanne, which is the second-cheapest hotel in the park. It served our purpose, and the rooms automatically came with bunkbeds and a queen bed (and a crib on request), so we didn't need an extra room. However the staff was the least enthusiastic of anyone we had met, and the crowds of people staying there frequently acted like manners were unimportant if you weren't in the park. We are still debating whether we would go back there again or spend more on a higher-end room.
One thing we will do again is visit the actual Disney Hotel for dinner! We splurged on Thursday night and checked out their buffet. It was $40 an adult, but it was an all-you-can-eat extravaganza with food that was excellent and non-stop visits by the disney characters. We were afraid that the girls would end up missing dinner, but even that aspect was handled well. The characters visited each table, and "encouraged" the more excited kids to wait until they came around. In this way you got a personal chance for pictures and interaction, and you could eat your meal in relative peace.
There were some low-points to our trip, and we would be remiss in our narrative if we didn't cover it at least a little.
First of all, after Tuesday Leon avoided all trees. Apparently "Disney Magic" does not extend to the digestive tract of the park birds. While waiting to get on the Peter Pan ride (for the 4th time), a rude avian attack fell onto Leon's head. In addition to being disgusting, it made Leon the butt (pun intended) of Debbie's jokes for the rest of the day. Leon is considering writing a letter of complaint and demanding restitution. Although it is unclear what kind of restitution one would get from bird-poop. Even now, days later, reading this paragraph sends Debbie into fits of laughter. Life at home may never be the same. On the plus side, the kids never figured out what Mommy was laughing about. And we'll all keep it that way, right folks?
On a more serious note, after a hard day of pin-trading Friday, Isabelle lost her set of pins 15 minutes before the park closed. Of course, she had finally managed to trade herself into the perfect set of Pooh-themed pins. While we placed a "lost and found" report, Debbie and Leon ended up buying a new set.
The worst point in the trip came at the very end. This comes down to Leon's math skills and both of our inexperience with the military time that Europe seems to run on. One more time for Leon's benefit: "20:42" is NOT "10:42pm"!!! But we thought it was, so we showed up at the train station 2 hours late, and life became very tense.
In the end, everything worked out OK. It was just stressful. We returned to the hotel and got a room (we were lucky it was the "low" season and things weren't very busy) and tried to get some sleep. The girls were exhausted (we had kept them up until 11:00pm at this point!), but the adults had a hard time sleeping. It is one thing to know that, by hook or by crook, you can get yourself home. It is another to feel good enough to sleep when you have no idea when or how you will actually get there.
In the morning, Leon ran down to the train station at 6:30am, and got another train back to Geneva at 7:45am. That meant Leon had to race back to the hotel, wake everyone else up, franticly re-pack and then get to the train station. Which we did, with 5 minutes to spare. Ultimately, we breathed a collective sigh of relief at 2:00pm, when we arrived back at the apartment.
We've spent the rest of our weekend restocking the fridge, cleaning up a bit, doing mounds of laundry, and just de-compressing.
Joram also used his first repeatable, deliberate word with meaning today (Sunday). It was "more" and it was in sign language. And he was asking for more Macaroni and Cheese.
Many people have asked us how things are going here in regard being "Americans Abroad", in regard to the safety of travel, etc. So we thought we'd take a moment and give our perspective.
In a nutshell, things here in Switzerland are very calm and very quiet. While the news does talk about the war on terror, it is not the only story, and is not even the first story. As Americans, we do not feel like we are at risk here in any way (except trying to drive with the other crazy people on the roads here).
In France, the atmosphere was a little bit more tense. There had been rumors of an attack on "a US landmark" on October 18, which could have been Disney. In the park, security had been increased recently, but it was far from noticable to us. Only the park staff could point out the plain-cloths guards, or the changes that had been made.
We know that this is neither the mood or feeling in the US, and we regret every day that we can't be there in person to help out in some way.
Our plans for this week are relatively low-key. On Wednesday the girls have a "Vesting" ceremony for girlscouts, and Heather has a field trip to Berne (a couple of hours away). But otherwise things are quiet. We are slowly decorating for Halloween, mostly with home-made decorations courtesy of H & I Designs, Inc. We believe now that we'll get into the house in Morrens on November 12, which will be a huge thrill for us. So we are making lists of what we need to buy, and are slowly collecting ourselves for the next big push. In our mind's eye we are visualizing ourselves on our couches in front of the fireplace, sipping sweet wine, looking out the windows onto starlit farmlands. Right now this image keeps us going.
As always, we'll keep you all posted.
Debbie, Leon, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram