Ah Paris – beautiful, sophisticated, historic. The city has much to offer just about everyone. We recently spent 5 amazing days there trying to satisfy not only the demands extreme foodies, art and garden loving parents, but also 9 year old Kate, in her first trip to Europe. First lesson: Ice cream cures many ills. Here's what else we learned along the way.
Day 1: Arriving
With jet lag catching up, call it an early night, but swear adamently that we will NOT be eating "tourist hours" (prior to 8 pm) for the rest of our trip.
Day 2: The Sights
|Fun "Street Art"|
Possession of a Museum Pass, while convenient and a good deal if planning to visit several sites, was not quite the line jumper it claims to be. Go early to the Louvre, and there is still a long line out front. We found an alternate entrance in the garden (the metro station entrance) which was less crowded but still required a 15 minute wait.
Every guidebook will tell you that kids and the Louvre don't mix well. We try to combat this with good preparation. We loved reading a series of graphic novels commissioned by the Louvre – 4 different artists were asked to write stories about the Louvre itself. Each had a unique take and provided a compelling story that brought the Louvre to life. We also spent time reading Louvre Up Close, a overview of some of the major art and artists we may be seeing on the trip. To create an adventure while at the museum, we selected 20 standout pieces that we wanted to see, and printed them out as a small "Scavenger Hunt" book to guide our trip.
Admittedly, while all these efforts helped, the Louvre was still overwhelming and a bit challenging for our Kate to enjoy. We lasted an hour and a half, and found about half the pieces we had selected, before we decided to call it quits and get a snack and a souvenier. (Of course, the gift shop held her attention for nearly as long as the museum).
Next stop – a permanent souvenier for hubby, who has an appointment at Abraxas tattoo, one of the premiere shops in Paris. With him committed for the next few hours, us girls head out across the Pont Royal, admiring the locks placed by lovers all along its railings. Our destination a few short blocks south of the Seine is the famous taxidermy shop, Deyrolle. This fascinating collection (it's upstairs of the shop at that address) holds hundreds of animals, from baby elephant to full size lions and tigers, woodland creatures and birds of all types, butterflies and insects. The specimens are for sale if you're in the market for a unique souvenir.
We continue browsing the fashionable St Germain neighborhood before rejoining hubby for lunch at the incredible foodie destination Le Comptoir. While dinner reservations may be nearly impossible (and a challenge to the travel budget) visiting one of Paris's finest dining spots for a late lunch let us in on the experience. The food did not disappoint – impeccable steak tartare, classic escargots bourgogne, a superb sesame tuna tartare were delightful. Organic lemonade and 2 scoops of sorbet framboise for the picky one. The only regret: I should have ordered the Lobster bisque – a neighboring table had to suffer many coveting glances once the aroma hit me.
|The Tower At Night|
By now, feet aching and still feeling fairly satiated from an amazing lunch (and maybe still a big jet lagged), its time to head back to the apartment for much needed rest. Today's the perfect day to stop off at the neighborhood boulangerie, charcuterie, fromagerie to pick up some snacks and a lovely bottle or two of wine for an evening picnic.
Day 2: Palace of Versailles
Today its time to head out of the city a bit to experience the over-the-top Palace of Versailles. It's an easy 30 minute train ride and a short walk to the Palace entrance. This is one day where perhaps it would pay to NOT arrive right at opening, as we did, since it seemed that every tour group on the planet was crammed inside the palace, moving at a snail's pace through the rooms. Does it clear up later in the morning? It certainly could not get worse.
|Le Hameau at Versailles|
Regroup and rest at the apartment for an hour or two (with a nice bottle of Champagne to help you relax) before heading out to a real Parisian dinner. We walked just a few neighborhood blocks to find a busy and appealing street scene with pedestrian-only zones, many bistros and bars spilling out into the street, and irresibtible chocolate shops, wine shops, and fromageries at every turn. First stop, the wine bar Verjus. We then set out in search of one of the hottest reviews in Paris – Frenchie – home to chef Gregory Marchand, considered one of the top up-and-coming talents. Unfortunately, it was closed for the week (and surely we were delusional thinking we could just waltz in and get a table). No worries though, my second choice was just a few blocks away. Les Fines Gueules turned out to be an impeccable selection. Tip for dining in France – any restaurant with a pre-printed menu, in English, is likely to be a touristy also-ran. The real treasures are found behind chalkboard sidewalk menus that highlighted today's choices. I love how the servers bring the chalkboard to your table, prop it up on a chair, and explain what's on offer (even in English if you wish!)
Day 3. Impressionists and Bones
|View from inside the Musee D'Orsay|
We're thrilled by the idea of Velib, Paris' system of rental bikes available throughout the city. Just insert credit card and unlock bike, ride it where you want to go, and check it back into another station. Since we've got a ways to travel to our next destination, the Paris Catacombs, this seems the perfect time to give it a try.
Not quite. The heavy bikes are nearly impossible for 9-year old Kate to ride (ok, their website does say you should be 14), and with busy city traffic and no helmet, it takes less than a block to realize this is a foolish mission. A disappointment to be sure, but a stroll through the Luxembourg gardens and an ice cream cone helps to dispel the gloomy faces.
|Creepy Faces in the Paris Catacombs|
|Fruit de Mer platter - Yum!|
Day 4: In Search of Treasure
It's the weekend, and we're headed to a classic Paris flea market. Les Marches des Puces sprawls up and down several streets and features every imaginable knicknack. We window shop, looking at antique furniture and linens, 70s-style chandeliers and artwork, old books. It's like the world's best garage sale. We're on the hunt for just the right skeleton key as a souvenir and we sort through the offerings at several stalls before parting with our 2 euros.
And we're off. .. the French countryside awaits us for the rest of our adventures on this vacation. But our trip to Paris is not complete without one last amazing experience a week later, as we arrive back for one last night. The Moulin Rouge is a budget-busting splurge, but the amazing vibe inside the theater is an experience we won't soon forget. Friends back home questioned taking a 9 year old and although I had no qualms about the "exposure", I was a bit worried about the late hour (the early show starts at 9, which after a busy day seems to be inviting a nap to me). My fears were unfounded however, as the show entertained from moment one and keep us all riveted and cheering. An memorable way to end an amazing experience in Paris.