What a comfortable way to travel! We hopped on a Eurostar train for a quick 2-1/2 hour ride from London to Paris. The kids read, played cards and chatted with a little French boy seated behind us. Do you already know about the Chopsticks finger game? Saved us many times while in line on this trip.
I had booked two adjourning rooms at the Hotel Residence Henri IV which is located at the dead end of a one way street on the left bank just below the Pantheon. Great hotel! It's walking distance to Notre Dame, several Metro stations and most importantly, an Eric Kayser bakery. We breakfasted at Eric Kayser each morning but one. I cannot describe how unbelievably fantastic their goodies are - I still dream about those almond croissants! No other pastries compared to the buttery, flaky ones from Eric Kayser.
Our first full day in Paris, we took Metro to the Eiffel Tower. Boy, were the lines long! We had slept in a bit, lingered over our lattes and arrived with not a lot of time to spare before our 11AM Fat Tire Bike Tour appointment. We decided to explore the Tower later that day after our bike tour.
Fat Tire Bike Tour is an American company that employs recently graduated art history majors, architecture students and France aficionados. Our tour guide was a Rice University graduate who double majored in Economics and Art History and was filling a 9 month gap between college and a job in Beijing. He particularly connected with our older son. ("Hey, ride up here with me.")
We met at the Eiffel Tower, walked a few short blocks to their shop, saddled up and headed out. (BTW, they had helmets for all of us, a backpack for my purse, water bottles and tag-along bikes for our then 6-year-old twins.) There were maybe 20 people in our group. The tour took us to the Tuileries for lunch, passed the Louvre and back in 4 hours with lots of stops in between. Great opportunity to get the lay of the land!
Our second full day in Paris was the 4th of July. We usually attend an annual barbecue at our friends' house on the 4th, so my objective was to distract the kids from missing that party. We had pre-purchased tickets for a Star Wars exhibit at the Cité des Sciences des Industrie. How American is that?
The next day, we ventured to the Musée d'Orsay. Housed in a former train station, the d'Orsay has the largest Impressionist collection in Paris. Be sure to purchase a Paris Museum Pass (available at larger Metro stations and some museums). While it's no big financial deal and kids under 18 get in free almost everywhere, many attractions have separate entrances for pass holders. That's the case at the d'Orsay where they let pass holders in a half hour early. Our Fat Tire guide had clued us in to head upstairs to the 5th floor first to see the Renoirs, Monets, Manets and Degas. It was practically empty (we returned later in the morning and couldn't get anywhere near the paintings.) It was amazing!
The d'Orsay is currently under renovation and many of their most famous paintings are on exhibit at the de Young in San Francisco. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see these paintings outside of France. I hear it will also travel to Nashville, TN, Madrid and Australia.
After visiting the d'Orsay, we went to the Jardin du Luxembourg for lunch and some fun at a big playground. My kids had already figured out about Croque Monsieurs and baguette, butter & ham sandwiches, so they were content. The husband watched the kidlettes while the niece and I headed a couple of blocks away to the Pantheon to see all we needed to see there. A little running around and then the kids were ready to sit and watch the marionette show. Not sure they totally appreciated the French humor, but oh, what cultural flavor!
Midway through our week in Paris, we took the train to Versailles. Fat Tire does a bike tour to Versailles, too. Our friends did it and loved the access to the gardens. When we first arrived, I remember rounding the corner and seeing a HUGE line to enter the palace. Then, I noticed a small sign to the left signaling the entrance for museum pass holders and we walked right in.
What can you say about Versailles? It's absolutely over-the-top and more than you can ever imagine. So glad we made the effort to get there. It was the first time I saw someone wearing a burqa and marveled at how she managed the heat and the less than ideal (read TINY) restrooms.
That evening, we took a sunset boat tour on the Seine from the Ile de la Cite. We couldn't have planned it better - we saw a fashion photo shoot, beautiful architecture and romantic couples on the banks all while traveling the Seine at twilight. The boat turned around at the Eiffel Tower and we enjoyed the City of Lights as we headed back. After we arrived at the dock, we made our way to Creperie des Arts for dessert.
That's our friend, Cherry Man, who worked at the corner fruit stand down the block from our hotel. He spoke not a word of English, so we did a lot of pointing and relied heavily on what little French the husband could remember from high school. We stopped there nearly every day on our way back to the hotel. A couple of evenings, the niece stayed in with the kids while the husband and I enjoyed adult dinners out. Both restaurants were delicious and within easy walking distance from the hotel: Degres de Notre Dame and Les Vignes du Pantheon where they quite literally handed us an French/English gastronomic dictionary!
Our final day in Paris, we started with a quick visit to the Louvre. We had decided ahead of time to try to see only three things: the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo (affectionally known in our family as the "Cinco de Milo") and a Vermeer or two since I had just read Girl with a Pearl Earring and Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Someday, I'll go back to the Louvre to see everything else.
Even though we had a plan, the museum as packed. When we got to the Mona Lisa, there was a huge crowd. We walked to one side of the roped barricade to try to catch a glimpse of the painting. The guards noticed our short little kids and escorted them behind the barricade and directly in front of the painting. I stood behind them and said things like "Do you think she's smiling? What do you think she's thinking about? Look at the background..." Knowing what an amazing experience this was, they turned to look at me. "Don't look at me! Look at the painting!" I know it's a memory they'll have for the rest of their lives.
From there, we headed over to L' Arch de Triomphe and climbed the stairs to the top. What an amazing view! That's where the husband took the Eiffel Tower picture posted above. Afterwards, we walked a couple of blocks away and ducked into Le Do Re Mi cafe for hot chocolate and to escape a sudden downpour.
Finally, we took Metro back to our neighborhood to visit Notre Dame. We were too late to climb the tower (something else for the next trip to Paris) but we did tour the cathedral and enjoyed all the beautiful stained glass.
The next day, we packed up and headed back on Eurostar to London. We made our way from Waterloo station to Heathrow Airport, stayed overnight at the Sheraton Skyline (the kids loved the indoor pool) and flew home the following day.
What a great trip!
Travel books I used for this trip:
Travel books I used for this trip: