Castles, Wine and International Trade in Bordeaux

South from Paris, the train snaked through the French countryside, past an impressive number of Medieval castles. We continued our studies of knights and fortresses, lords and serfs. Boy was inspired enough to create a castle in his Minecraft world, and with some encouragement describe it in a paragraph for a writing assignment.

A week in the city of Bordeaux gave us a good base from which to consider trade routes, and the most famous French export, wine. The “Pearl of Aquitane,” Bordeaux city was named a UNESCO Wold Heritage Site in 2007. It’s river, the Garonne, and it’s proximity to the sea made it a major shipping port from Roman times to present day.

Grapes were brought here by the Romans and the wine of the Bordeaux region has been internationally known since Eleanor of Aquitaine introduced it to the British after her wedding to King Henry II. With Boy included in our travel team, we knew a group bus wine tasting tour would never fly, but a bit of research turned up a local guide willing to drive us through the countryside and organize a private vineyard exploration that was more family friendly. That, and we also unlimited Boy’s use of electronic gadgets for the day. We were able to tour some vineyards, meet a winemaker (who had kids his age), and try some grapes. While Mom and Dad tasted a few of the wines, Boy impressed the vineyard manager, by carefully comparing three different grape varieties. His attention improved by the fact that these grapes were nearly ready to harvest, so he could eat them. “Mmmmm, these are good merlot grapes! You did a good job,” got him a few extra to munch on as well.

After the day in the countryside, it was back to the city. The 18th century La Place de la Bourse dominates the waterfront and reflects off the modern art installation called the Water Mirror. A visit to the Musee d’Aquitane introduced the history of the port from Roman times and included a large exhibit on the port’s importance during the 16th to 18th centuries as part of the triangle trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. While not Boy’s first exposure to the idea of the slave trade, this certainly made the biggest impression of the week, and disturbed him greatly. This gave us much to talk about as we walked through the beautiful buildings along the water.

Our studies:


The Vinyard



The Medieval city gate


A birds eye view

Up the Eiffel Tower and through Notre Dame, we continued our explorations of Paris.

Lunch at the cafe on the 1st level of the Eiffel Tower was a hit with both Boy and grandparents, though neither was keen on climbing the bell tower at Notre Dame. Booking online was the way to go for the Eiffel Tower, without online booking, we would have had another long line to stand in.

After the Tower, we said goodbye to the grandparents, and prepared for a couple more days in the city of lights visiting friends with kids.

Boy is studying art and the French Revolution this week. We’ve been reading about art and architecture in cathedrals, like Notre Dame. Prepping for our visit to the Musee D’Orsey, with a huge collection of French impressionist and post-impressionist painters, we are also reading up on Monet and Van Gogh. We will wrap up the week with a visit to the Place de la Bastille, and some reading on the French Revolution and the guillotine.

Our art books


Notre Dame / Eiffel Tower / Shakespeare and Co. Books





Hunting Through the Louvre

We planned a full day to experience the Louvre while we were in Paris. As we had a multigenerational group, with Boy, parents, and grandparents, we decided to start off with a highlights tour and headed there straight after breakfast.

We booked a Family Scavenger Hunt through
Paris Muse and had a great time.

Our guide met us outside the museum and took us on a 2 hour hunt through the museum. Boy had to look at selected pieces of art, answer questions about the items, and solve a puzzle to claim a treasure at the end of the tour. The art he had to find, just happened to be the things the adults wanted to see, too (Hammurabi’s Code, the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, and a number of other pieces). We were thrilled with the activity, and didn’t even mind the crowds around us.

After our guided hunt, we grabbed some lunch in the museum cafe and then headed back in on our own for a look at some galleries we didn’t have time to see on the highlights tour. The crowds, which were somewhat lighter at midday, began to increase in the afternoon, so we wrapped up and returned to the hotel for a rest and some reading time.

Our book finds at the museum shop:


The Louvre



Sun King Splendor On A Hazy Day

Grandma’s first stop to show Boy in Paris was the Palace of Versailles. We loaded up the family in a van for a guided tour of the palace.

Unimpressed by the size of the palace, Boy was far more interested in determining if the gold on the entrance gates was solid gold, or merely gold leaf, covering a more basic metal. He decided that it couldn’t be solid gold, as he had recently read that the entire world supply of gold, if melted down, would fit into a football field with room left over. Therefore, he reasoned, the gates to Versailles could not possibly be anything but gold leaf. As such, he then dismissed the entire palace of the Sun King, as less than impressive, as it’s just gold leaf. The adults were more forgiving, especially as the gold leaf covered every visible surface.

Boy’s interest remained unmoved, till he heard about the French Revolution, and the beheadings that went along with it. Blood was far more exciting than gold.

Our reading for the day:

The Palace


Along the French Riviera

Since we announced our travels, Grandma has been looking forward to taking Boy to France. She and Grandpa met us in Nice for a few days of beach and sun before we all head to Paris.

We strolled through the flower market and along the Promanade de Anglais, where Boy pointed out all the ice cream vendors, assuming, rightly, that grandparents would say “yes,” where parents say “no.”

The next day, a train took us a few minutes along the coast to Monaco. We enjoyed ogling the fancy yachts, and found more ice cream vendors. Boy was most impressed that Monaco counted as a new country, and spent his math time working out how long it would take a fast car to get from one side of the country to another.

Our studies this week have focused on our French language lessons, but we worked in a bit of French history and social studies as well.

Here are our books:


The beach


Medieval Times in France

From Barcelona, we travelled by train to Southern France, to spend some time visiting with friends who live in the area. The friends have twins, just a bit older than Boy, so he was thrilled to have playmates, again.

Not neglecting our schoolwork, we spent our train ride reviewing the French lessons we took before we left on the trip. Our French books:


After all the running, jumping, and video games the parents could stand in the house, we dragged the boys to the medieval city of Carcassonne. The main walled city and castle dates from the 12th century, with parts of a Roman wall and earlier settlement, included. The boys were happy to move their running and climbing to the towers and battlements, when we arrived. They found the arrow slots, portcullis, medieval weaponry, and armour most enthralling. A few braver members of the party checked out the museum of torture and the museum of the Inquisition, as well. Our schoolwork reading topic? Knights and Castles, of course.


The towers at Carcassonne:




Barcelona, Day 2

Barcelona was an extra stop for us on the trip, and we had not given it our full attention for planning, a fact that became apparent as we struggled through our second day of sightseeing. We decided to view the La Sagrada Familia church, but had not booked tickets ahead. We turned up after breakfast to find a line that stretched around three sides of the cathedral. While waiting in the line, we checked on our phones for online bookings and found that we could only buy an online ticket for the same day at 2:45 pm. As it was only 10 am, we decided to stick with the line, and expected to get in to the church around noon. It was about noon when we finally made it to the ticket window, where we found that the window was selling the same prebooked tickets as online, and our earliest entry would now be 4:30. Had we known that, we would have gone ahead and booked the online tickets back at 10 am!

We took a lunch break in the park and let the boy run a bit on the playground before heading farther into town for the Museum de Xocolata (chocolate museum). Here we perked up a bit when we realized the museum tickets were in fact chocolate bars! You scanned the bar code on the wrapper, and then could enter the museum. The exhibits covered quite a bit on Spanish exploration of the New World, tying in nicely with yesterday’s study of Columbus.

After fortifying ourselves with a few more tastes of chocolate, we walked through the eighteenth century market, and burned some energy in the plaza near Santa Maria Del Mar by chasing bubbles blown by a street vendor. I was quite happy to give him my change for entertaining and tiring out Boy.

Before returning to see Gaudi’s cathedral, we stopped by the Picasso museum. The entrance line snaking around the building was again enough to deter us, and make us wish we had planned ahead. Instead, we stopped in the museum shop and browsed books and reproductions of his works. The shop also had a number of books and reproduction of Gaudi’s work, allowing a quick discussion of Spanish Modernism, and some comparisons between the two artists.

On arrival back at La Sagrada Familia, Boy pronounced that it looked like an alien had built the inside of the church; a succinct description of the Modernist style.



Our books: