If it weren’t for my 25-year-old son, I would not have a photo of the Mona Lisa. At 6-foot-2 inches tall, and with an arm span the envy of an Olympic swimmer, he held my Android phone over the heads of more than 100 gazers at the Louvre, where the Paris museum’s most famous – and surprisingly small — work hangs behind a protective clear box.
Our visit was during a two-day extension following a week-long Viking River Cruise on the Seine from Paris to Normandy.
We went in the fall, on the second-to-the-last Viking cruise on the Seine until the spring. (Hint: Great time to look for cruise bargains.) The weather was changeable, as the crew of the “Neptune” briefed us. Some nights a stroll on the deck was too bracing for some. Early mornings, the mist on the river could be so thick you couldn’t see the shore. Day time temperatures were mild, calling for no more than a light jacket.
This trip was a match for both of us. He hadn’t been on a cruise since he helicoptered over glaciers in Alaska 15 years ago. Normandy’s World War II beaches were on his agenda. My thoughts ran to museums and classic sites on what could well be an once-in-a-lifetime trip. Conveniently located within walking distance of each other at one end of the Champs Elysees in Paris, we did ramble through Notre Dame Cathedral and the Army, Louvre, Orsay and Orangerie museums. Plus, the day before the cruise and the last day of the trip, we were docked a one-quarter mile stroll from the Eiffel Tower, where it’s easy to catch a bus, boat or Metro to other parts of the city. Can’t beat that.
It wasn’t just his long arms that made the trip better. All five of my sons (he is number 4) are great travelers and can strike up a conversation with anyone anywhere. I’ve been able to take each on a trip of his choice for his 25th birthday, which has also taken us to Hawaii once and China twice.
I confess taking a young man on a small boat with 130 passengers — mostly married couples aged 60-plus — has its advantages. You get noticed as the odd couple, and passengers think you are a great mom for taking a kid on a trip like this.
It’s also different for the crew, many of who were near his age. Always gracious and meticulous to all Viking passengers, the crew paid him special attention – slipped him a free drink, told him when the cookie stock was refreshed on the 24/7 coffee bar, gave him hints about what to see ashore.
While he is old enough to go his way, while I go mine, I’m glad he was there to figure out the Metro maps, even though he doesn’t speak French. I would have ended up at Versailles instead of the Arc de Triomphe.
You’d need a week to see everything in the Louvre. We had one afternoon. I picked up Rick Steves’ 2016 guide to Paris the day before we left. He outlines a meticulous path through the museum to see the most popular items. I went from gallery to gallery following his map. Didn’t get lost once.
Fresh baguettes. The “Neptune” docked at small towns along the Seine. We’d go into town at dawn to be greeted by the irresistible smell of bread and pastries baking.
Son number 5 has one year to ponder his 25th birthday destination. So far, he’s thinking of a back packing and hostel trip. I’m not sure about that!