Thursday, March 5, 2015

(How to Feed) An American Swimmer in Paris

Last summer Hubbie and I came to the startling realization that we have not had a family vacation in four years. I guess with all the packing of suitcases, miles driven, and Hampton Inn breakfasts consumed at away meets, it felt like we were traveling. After all, swim meets have similar characteristics of a vacation, except for the part where you get to relax and have fun. To make up for lost time, we made a hasty and drastic decision to go to Paris for Christmas. The holidays are obviously the best choice, not because of cheaper rates or desirable climate, but because the timing would mean less interference with SwimBoy’s training schedule.

Our trip was planned with precision. Travel dates and hotel accommodations were carefully selected. Paris Passes were purchased in advance and had arrived in the mail. Hubbie studied the Metro system in Paris and calculated exchange rates. And I created a detailed itinerary that would enable us to see all the major sights in Paris along with trips to surrounding areas. By the time we boarded the plane for France, we were feeling pretty confident that all details had been handled. But we were wrong. We had overlooked an essential aspect of traveling with SwimBoy. Caloric intake.

Perhaps it was all the wonderful tales I had heard about the mass quantities of fresh bread and pastries we would consume while we were in Paris? Maybe I thought his appetite would diminish because he was not in the pool for hours everyday? No. The truth is I had not given any thought to how SwimBoy’s appetite would be sustained in Paris. This oversight has taught me two very important truths:

1. Swimmers cannot live on bread alone.

2. A break from training does not diminish a swimmer’s appetite.

Day one after our arrival, we slept later than expected and all woke up starving. We first checked out the hotel’s continental breakfast (priced at 17 euros or $20.15 per person). We descended a flight of stairs into a small basement and there before us was a plate of cold cuts, a bowl full of boiled eggs, and a pot of coffee. All of sudden, those Hampton Inn breakfasts weren’t looking so bad. We politely declined, backed our way up the stairs and stepped out onto the streets of Paris in search of breakfast.

We found a lovely café on Grand Boulevard, only a few blocks from our hotel. Hubbie and I ordered omelettes while SwimBoy made a more adventurous selection by jabbing his finger at the menu indicating his choice. We were delighted by the fresh omelettes and SwimBoy scarfed down what appeared to be a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. Breakfast was done and we could get on with our day!

We were making our way through the major exhibits at the Musée d'Orsay when SwimBoy announced he was not feeling well and needed to sit down. Noticing it had been several hours since he’d had anything to eat or drink, we found a sidewalk café and ordered lunch and three glasses of water. The waiter brought a small carafe of water and three shot glasses to the table. SwimBoy proceeded to continuously refill his glass and toss em’ back like a sailor on leave after a dry voyage. The waiter said something in French and brought a second carafe of water to our table.

Nourished and somewhat hydrated we hit a few more sights from the itinerary. But before you could say, “Vive la France,” SwimBoy began to ask how long until dinner. Hubbie and I looked at each other in that telepathic way parents do. We knew what had to be done so we headed to nearest Metro station. A few stops later and we arrived at that iconic institution, the Hard Rock Café. SwimBoy made a dash for the front door like a refugee escaping political persecution. He polished off the 10 oz. Legendary Burger, fries, and Coco-Cola and for the first time in 24 hours began to act like himself again. I went to bed thinking of nothing but, “How are we going to keep this boy fed for the next seven days?”

Chowing down on the meatiest item on the menu!
The next morning we were heading to Palace of Versailles. The travel book listed a café nearby that offered a breakfast buffet! To hold him over, SwimBoy polished off the last two packs of peanut butter crackers we had brought from home, washed them down with water drunk straight from the lavatory, and we were on our way. A 45 minute train ride later, we headed to an information booth at the station and asked for directions to the café with the breakfast buffet. In excellent English the guide replied, “I have no idea where that could be.” Just when it looked as if there was no hope for breakfast, glowing golden arches appeared in the distance. Yep, we had breakfast in Versailles, France at McDonalds. And it was delicious. It was so good that we ate lunch there too before boarding the train back to Paris! (We weren't the only ones "Lovin' It." Check out these reviews!)

Not quite where we planned to eat lunch, but no complaints.
We nibbled through the rest of the day between landmarks and museums with the thought of where SwimBoy would eat his next meal never far from my mind. Just when I feared this would be the focus of our entire vacation, we made a magnificent discovery! Just one block from our hotel, lodged unassumingly among the shops on the street was a market! When the doors slid open and we stepped inside I knew this was the answer to our gastronomical prayers. We filled our hand-held baskets with perfectly ripened bananas, fresh baked baguettes, and chocolate covered biscuits. Every morning from that day on we stopped by to purchase fruit and croissants for breakfast and freshly made sandwiches for lunch. We stocked up on bottles of water and snacks for SwimBoy to munch on throughout the day. What a relief. Our vacation was saved!

Looking through the dozens of photos we took in Paris, I have great memories of the time we spent together as a family. But beyond the images of our smiling faces in front of the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower, I see a glimpse of gratitude for that little market on Rue Des Petites, Ecuries

Paris Market
 This article first appeared on on January 11, 2015.

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