On Obamas' Europe Tour, The Jolliest of Good Times

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 11, 2009

LONDON, June 10 -- Most kids get a cake for their eighth birthday. Maybe a bike or an iPod.

Being the second first daughter has its perks. Sasha Obama, who turned 8 Wednesday, has been getting a taste of them this week in Europe.

Last weekend, she and her family hopped aboard the family ride -- not a minivan, but a mega-jet, Dad's incredibly tricked-out Air Force One -- for a hop to Paris. Awesome.

She toured the Eiffel Tower and had lunch Sunday with her family at Elysée Palace, the French president's residence, where she was treated to a serenade of "Happy Birthday" by Nicolas Sarkozy.

That's gotta be cooler than a balloon schnauzer tied by Bubbles the Clown.

President Obama went back to Washington, but his family stayed on for a private shopping and sightseeing visit, and popped over to London on Monday.

The White House declined to release details of the trip, but the French and British media, and sightseers on Twitter and other Web sites, have documented an impressive schedule.

Among the first stops was tea with Sarah Brown, wife of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, at No. 10 Downing St. -- yet another world leader's home.

Later Monday, Sasha, big sister Malia and their mom ate at a pub called the Audley in Mayfair, not far from the U.S. Embassy. The girls had fish and chips, while Michelle Obama opted for sirloin steak -- plus one glass of red wine and a cappuccino, according to the pub manager.

On Tuesday, they toured Westminster Abbey, the site of royal occasions throughout the ages, including the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. Tuesday night they took in "The Lion King," causing a stir among the surprised audience members at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End.

As a news story, Michelle Obama's famous style sense rivaled the London subway strike that is causing havoc for millions. She and Carla Bruni, Sarkozy's wife and a former model, wore similar white outfits Saturday in Normandy for the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

By holding her own against Bruni, Obama won big points with European style-watchers. But on Tuesday, the Brits were a decidedly underwhelmed by Obama's choice of tourist garb: a multicolored tunic decorated with flowers.

Many commentators noted that everyone makes mistakes.

"It takes a brave woman to wear pink daisies," remarked Alice Olins, writing in the Times of London. The fashion writer also noted that Obama's tunic looked like "one of those modern, fancy wedding cakes."

"For a woman who established her look on the principles of sophistication and elegance, the detailing is just a bit too sugary," Olins wrote, in one of the kinder commentaries.

But a bit of snarky press didn't derail the magical birthday tour. Wednesday, when Sasha's big day finally arrived, she enjoyed perhaps the coolest stop of all: a visit to a North London movie studio where the final film in the "Harry Potter" series is being shot.

British media reports said the Obamas toured the set and met Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and other stars of the "Potter" films. Later they had a party in the Great Hall -- a key setting for Hogwarts fans -- with the cast and crew.

With some people questioning who paid for the family trip, the White House emphasized that the Obamas' tour was a strictly private visit.

"The Obamas are committed to following all the relevant rules and regulations regarding the reimbursement of travel expenses," said the first lady's spokeswoman Semonti Mustaphi.

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