London to Paris for Cheap – Ouibus

We went to meet my Father-in-law during our Easter Break, since he had to go to England for work. The trip was wonderful, and I learned even more about the art of traveling with children (it’s an art, trust me). My oldest daughter is obsessed with Paris and since my FIL had taken my husband to Paris when he was 9, and my oldest is 9, FIL asked if we could find a way to get the whole family (6 of us total) from London to Paris for less than eight hundred dollars.

Challenge accepted.

London to Paris for Cheap!

I scoured the internet for the cheapest travel options. There are severals ways to travel, through the English Channel in a giant metro car for cars and buses, by ferry, by train, or by plane. If you find a good flight, they can be as cheap as $120 per person. But flights through budget airlines don’t go every day, and that might not work out if you have a limited amount of travel time like we did. I found a flight for 6 for around 800 dollars, but the days were impossible with our schedule. The next thing I looked up was the train. In general, trains in England are expensive. I learned that when I traveled from Manchester to Liverpool, but outside the country, man… so much money. The train tickets I found on the dates we wanted to travel were around 600 per person. Yikes! I saw an add in London for 20 pound train tickets to Paris, but psh… when I looked them up again online, there were none to be found. I’m sure a few exist, because if not that would be false advertising, but I couldn’t find them. The next avenue I checked was taking a train to a ferry and then another train from the ferry to Paris. This was cheaper than flying or the normal train, but it was still above my budget. Finally, I found a company called Ouibus. I found tickets for all of us for around three hundred dollars. But then I saw they had an overnight bus which was more expensive, but would save us two nights of accomodation expenses. The total for six overnight bus tickets from London to Paris was under 450 dollars. Sweet, right? Little did I know that two late night adventures were in store.

On the bus!
On the bus!

The First Leg… London to Paris

The way there, we got onto the bus at 9. The bus station in London is easy to find, and the seating is adequate. We boarded the bus after they checked our tickets and passports and got ready for sleep. The seats reclined, a lot! The seats were comfy and the bus in general was nice and clean. The only problem was that we left on Friday night, and apparently the top floor of the double-decker bus turns into a party bus on Friday nights. In fact, at one point the couple across from us was watching pornography on a laptop. Thank God the kids were asleep. The paper they give you for the night bus asks you to shut off your devices and stay quiet once 10 pm comes. On the way there no one followed this rule. Maybe bring an eye shade and ear plugs?

The Bus Driver and The Guy He Wanted to Strangle

When we stopped at the border control between England and France, they let me stay on the bus with the sleeping kids while Travis went through passport control and customs (with six backpacks). That was super nice of them. When we went the other way we had to wake the kids up and drag them through the line. Thankfully they insisted we went to the front. That was nice. All the people with kids got to go first. Back to the first leg… so once we got through passport control we were waiting in line for the giant train to take the bus through the English Channel. But there was a mall near the passport control, and one passenger from the bus took an hour and a half walk around the closed mall. Because we had to wait for him, we missed our spot on the giant train which left. Then we had to wait for two more trains because both were full of buses and cars that didn’t miss their reservation. The bus driver told everyone (In French, a neighbor translated for us) that, “Now we have to wait for two hours because of this guy. I would prefer to strangle him, but the least he can do is buy everyone coffee.” He didn’t… and we sat in the hot bus for two hours as we waited for the train. Ok, so the idea that your bus is in a giant train (which reminded me of a giant metro car) is cool. I found the whole process fascinating, but eventually sleep took over and I didn’t wake until we were out of the train thingy. My FIL got out and walked around outside the bus. He said there were even bathrooms in the train. Nice! We got to our Airbnb two hours late, but our host was understanding.

From Paris to London

As soon as it turned 10 pm, a business man next to us asked every person on their phone or listening their music to stop. Score! We were able to rest in peaceful silence. Then we found out the tunnel was closed because of a bomb threat. Instead, the bus drove to a ferry, and we got out of the bus and found a place to camp out on the ferry. By the time we got off of the bus, most sleeping spots were occupied… one lady was sitting on a couch with a bench and five chairs around her. We asked if we could join her and she said, “Well my husband is coming, I need room for him.” I’m a polite person. At least I try to be, but I was tired, and I was dragging three half-asleep children through a giant ferry. I also hate confrontation and I would have just avoided her after that. I think my husband was surprised when I replied, “Well can’t your husband sit next to you on the couch. Even if you both want to lie down, there are five chairs here, can’t we use the chairs?” She rolled her eyes at me and nodded. I guess eye rolling is universal. The kids ate a few pieces of toast and sausage my FIL had gotten them and promptly fell asleep. British people know how to do breakfast. The food was amazing. My hubby got me a fried egg and a piece of wheat toast and I ate, then fell asleep with my middle cutie asleep on my lap. An announcement came over the ferry PA for people to head to their vehicles, and people rushed below to the buses, trucks, and cars. We hopped back on our bus and everyone went to sleep for a few more hours.

In Conclusion

If you want to go from Paris to London, or the other way, and you have lots of wiggle room in your schedule, the Ouibus is awesome. You can’t beat the price. Just remember to bring ear plugs and eye shades. Oh, and neck pillows.

Happy travels,

Kristin

What is Happening In Greece – Guest Post

This was originally posted by my husband on our blog about Greece, http://grace4greece.com. I thought it might shed some light on the situation for all of you out there watching what the news is saying about Greece.

Happy travels,

Kristin

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Slow motion

Right now, Greece has the feel of a slow motion fall from an action movie. Greeks gather groceries like Americans with shopping carts so full, their european sized refrigerators will be overflowing with food. They are also making strategic moves with the limited cash that they have, seeing as most ATMs show, “Temporarily out of service.” As I bought my pills from the local pharmacy today the normal pleasantries from my pharmacist of “good” were broken with an explanation of his situation. He shared how he needs to access change for customers but the banks are closed and are only offering a daily maximum withdrawal of 60€, even though most ATM’s don’t dispense anything but 50€. He told me that he would be fine for a few days, but not for weeks.

greek economic crisis

There is much debate over who is to blame. Can we point to the relentless austerity imposing figures of Germany and the IMF? Perhaps the non-compromising Syriza? Why would they walk away so close to an agreement? Over the last four years we have had a unique vantage point since we have lived in Greece through the midst of these troubles and have seen with our own eyes the pain and frustration that our Greek friends go through. With this upcoming referendum that Prime Minister Tsipras sprung on everyone at 1am on Saturday morning, we have many friends on both sides of the “yes” or “no” vote.

greek economic crisis referendum

On Saturday in the pre-dawn hours I had been awoken by a text from my friend in Kalamata that said, “Go to the ATM and get your money now! SOS.” I quickly googled Greece and found out that Tsipras announced a vote of whether to stay in or out of the Euro. Greece owes an IMF debt repayment on Tuesday of 1.6bn€. Syriza came to power in January 26, on a platform of stopping austerity and bringing “hope” to Greece. Since then he has been negotiating with the IMF to reach a better agreement.

From my perspective it troubles me that there is and has been significant outside influence as to the direction that Greece should take as a nation. Jean-Claude Juncker said four days before the election, “that the commitments which have been made by Greece will be respected by any new Greek government.” (1) Angela Merkel ruled out debt cuts just 6 days after Syriza was elected. (2) “Germany and the IMF are making an example out of Greece so as to warn Spain, Portugal, and Italy not to revolt,” one of my friends told me yesterday. This was not the first time I had heard this opinion from a struggling, hard-working, Greek national. As Syriza has gained more and more popularity over the past few years a common thread has emerged. Every time popular media or the IMF speak of Syriza they mention “Far left” in the same breath. It is quite interesting considering that Merkel and the IMF, with their relentless austerity and measures, could easily be considered “far right.” I suppose what troubles me most is the underhanded (sometimes not so much) way in which they treat the Greek people as a whole: as though they were some lazy society that wants hand outs for all the problems they have caused themselves.

greek economic crisis life

Let us take a look at what some facts have to say about that forgone conclusion. Citing the OECD annual work hours data, Greece worked 2nd overall with 2,037 hours. To give a comparison the U.S. is 1,788 and Germany is 1,388. (3) Greeks are actually very hard workers and do anything they can to find a job and keep it despite an unemployment rate of 52% for 15-24 years old, 34.5% for 24-34 years old, and 26% for 15 years and over (4). In addition to their hard working nature, they are also very generous. Greek people are ingenious and will find cheap solutions to a problem rather than trying to up-sell you. There have been many times I taken my car to the local mechanic where he quickly runs a diagnostic, fixes a small wiring problem, and sends me on my way without charging a cent, despite my insistence. Greece feels like a small village where everyone knows everyone and they want to help each other out.

Greece as a nation along with Greek culture extends back into antiquity and has been occupied by various empires, forced monarchy, and military rule via Nazi Germany and military Junta. The fact that Greece has been able to keep their culture is a testament to the very nature of the Greeks and their relentless perseverance. Winston Churchill said, “Until now we used to say that the Greeks fight like heroes. Now we shall say: The heroes fight like Greeks.”

I do not know which way the referendum on Sunday will go. Either way it will certainly bring continued pain and suffering to the people of Greece. If they vote “no” then it will mean the end for Greece and the Euro, but perhaps that will mean financial sovereignty even if it is at a heavy cost. If the Greeks vote “yes” that would almost certainly mean the end for Syriza and their stand against the IMF. It would also mean elections and a further delay for the government in it’s negotiations with the EU. It would also be an unknown in regards to further austerity and measures. I have friends on both sides of the referendum. Being a non-Greek I would ask that you would have compassion on the people of Greece and see them as human beings backed into a corner. They are presently faced with a decision between relentless austerity or the complete unknown of leaving the Euro currency. Let the country that birthed democracy take destiny into their own hands. Please pray for the Greek people that God would give them wisdom to vote. Join us in our prayers that they would see the hope that Jesus Christ gives and that they would walk in that hope.

“Greece is the symbol of the tortured, bloodied but live Europe.. Never a defeat was so honorable for those who suffered it.” -Maurice Schumann (From a message of his he addressed from the BBC of London to the enslaved peoples of Europe on 28 April 1941, the day Hitler occupied Athens after Greece fought a 6-month war)

Please continue to pray for God to guide us as a family, and to guide Greece as a nation.

Thank you,

Travis

For more reading:

Soapbox Greeks, beware of ‘adults in the room’

Europe’s Attack on Greek Democracy

Greek Bailout Fund on Indiegogo

What happens if Greece defaults on its International Monetary Fund loans?

Sources

(1) http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite1_1_22/01/2015_546437

(2) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/angela-merkel-rules-out-greece-debt-cuts-as-syriza-refuses-to-cooperate-with-troika-10015588.html

(3) http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS

(4) http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=36499

Taking Small Children to Disneyland

I have been wanting to write an article about this for a long time, but it was only recently that I was able to go to Disneyland with all three of my children. We went for my husband’s birthday during August. It was amazing! There were a lot of new things I hadn’t seen or experienced yet, and my five year old was definitely in a state of wonder. I could go on and on about every fun thing we did, but the point of this post is to help you do as much as you can during your Disney day without causing the small members of your family to have a mental breakdown. So join me in my journey today as we discuss taking small children to Disneyland, California.

Pick a Park

There are two separate amusement parks, Disneyland and California Adventure. There are amazing things to do at both parks, but there is no way you can do everything in both parks in one day. One of the best ways to check out the parks is to visit Disneyland’s official website here. If you are headed on a family vacation just to go to these parks I recommend the 7 Day Park Hopper passes. They are the best value and you will have plenty of time to do everything in both parks. If you don’t have 7 days, then I would go with the 3-Day Park Hopper. If you are only going for one day, pick one park.

Inside California Adventure.
Inside California Adventure.

Read more

Top 5 International Airports – Guest Post

Happy Friday everyone! Today’s guest post comes to use from an avid traveler and pilot, Christ Oquist (check out his bio at the end of the post). Although I have only been to one of these top international airports, his article definitely makes me want to check out the other four.  Without further ado, here is the article. Thanks Chris!!!

singapore airport

Whether you’re an airline pilot or passenger passing through on your return trip home, you can tell a quality airport from Newark Liberty National Airport. Just take a look around, what do you see? If you see a dirty, poorly-kept airport its service likely matches its aesthetics. On the other hand, if you’ve ever visited Changi Airport Singapore or the Hong Kong International Airport you know which is on the other side of this fence. Here are 5 of the best airports in the world in terms of aesthetics, service, and modernity. Read more

London’s Calling

Imagine yourself surrounded by some of the richest artistic, musical, and literary history possible. A place famous for it’s forward thinking and thoughtful embrace of the past. The smell of fish and chips luring you into a rustic pub as you pass by some of the most famous fashion boutiques in the world. After filling your tummy with delicious, vinegar drenched delightfulness you can hop on the tube and visit the third largest ferris wheel in the world where you get an eye full of one of the most majestic cities in the world, London, England.

traveling to london with your family

A few weeks ago I was invited to enter the VisitBritain Shop blog contest. I was a bit hesitant at first because I felt like if I just wrote a post about an adult shopping trip in London it wouldn’t be accurate, and it wouldn’t fit in with the content of this blog. So I’m not going to write a normal entry about my dream shopping experience without my kids because that is extremely unlikely. If the opportunity arose for me to go to London, I would want to take my kids with me! I love my three little sprouts.

I have always wanted to travel to London, beyond the walls of the infamous London Heathrow airport where I have personally spent many hours between flights. In this post let’s imagine that I have just been handed enough money to transport my entire family to this magical city, and I am planning my dream vacation there. Hey, it could happen, right?

In planning my dream family vacation to London, I would attempt to be very clever about it because I have three small children. There are many things my husband and I would love to see that would bore our children to tears, but not to worry, I have a plan. In situations like these, my husband and I employ the following method:

The Best of Both Worlds

-Look for fun things your children would enjoy.

-Find the things that you and your spouse would enjoy that your children might not enjoy as much.

-Make two separate lists. One with the child centered activities and one with the more adult activities such as shopping or historical tours.

-Depending on the location, pair up one or two child activities with one or two adult activities.

-Use the child activities during the times of the day that your children will be able to enjoy them more, and adult activities during the times when the children might relax more such as nap time or after dinner.

Finding an adult interest located close to a child friendly activity is something that can turn an ordinary family vacation into something extraordinary. We all know that children and adults have different interests, and the most important thing you could do to create the best family trip is to plan ahead.

Here are two illustrations of how this can be put into practice, using our family and London as examples.

We would start with a ride on an authentic double decker bus with the locals, and a feast for the eyes provided by a go-around on the London Eye (both things my children would love). Then my husband and I could enjoy the shops in Piccadilly Circus while our two youngest take a nap in the stroller (i.e. buggy), our oldest daughter holding my hand as we stroll along. Travis and I love vintage items like books and vinyl EPs, and in a historic city like London, there are a plethora of shops to browse for these rare treasures. London is also famous for its fashion, and offers enough variety for any style, including the eclectic preferences of my husband and I. Vintage clothing shops like Rokit and boutiques like Alenka Retro Accessories would be a must. If our shopping expedition took longer than our little ones could bear, we would resort to bargaining, something we only do on rare occasions, by offering them a tasty English treat like a Galaxy chocolate bar. Then we would take the tube to the nearest Browns bar and brasserie, an eatery highly recommended by close family friends.

My university degree specialized in literature so one of my insisted stops would be 221B Baker Street, also known as the Sherlock Holmes Museum. I can guarantee you that my children would not find this very interesting. However, this museum is conveniently located 13 minutes away from the Puppet Theatre Barge, which I know my children would adore! I would plan to attend the earlier show of the Puppet Barge and while the children have satisfied their need for entertainment for the next few hours, they would be able to tolerate the Sherlock Museum my husband and I are dying to experience (pun intended).

people taking photos on abbey road

Assuming my youngest was of walking age, we would also have to stop (after carefully and thoughtfully placing a few traffic cones) for the once in a lifetime opportunity to take a family photo of us crossing Abbey Road. It is actually a very busy street… to watch people attempting to get photographs check out this live website http://www.abbeyroad.com/crossing. It is quite hilarious, and includes sound, so you can hear people honking.

Hopefully the Spencer family will get an opportunity to travel to London soon! And until then, as always…

Happy travels!!

Kristin