Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

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Last fall we spent a month abroad where we visited London, Paris, and a handful of cities in Western France. We explored, rested, and learned a ton about ourselves and the world. This is the tenth installment of our European adventure. If you missed it, go to the beginning here.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

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As you might remember, our first experience in Paris as a family had not gone according to plan. Culture shock as well as head colds had hit all the kids. The FishParents were feeling a little “oh-my-word-what-have-we-gotten-ourselves-into” as well. And we had a full week to spend in Paris on the return trip.

One of the interesting/challenging aspects of traveling with a large family internationally is that the reservations are all made and sometimes already paid for. In fact, if you pay in advance, in most cases, and particularly through Booking.com you can save a significant portion on the rate.

Our stay in Paris was already paid for and could not be canceled. So, despite the fact that the kids had pretty much hated it the first time around, we went back, determined to make the most of it. We’d talked extensively with Michele and Jean-Marc, with Delphine, and with the Benoits — as well as the Google — in order to get an array of options on how to make Paris work for our family for a week.

Prior to the trip, FishPapa had described Paris as his favorite city in the world. We returned to Paris hoping that it could reclaim some of that former glory.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

That we were going back to the same aparthotel that we had stayed at previously was a comfort to all of us. While we didn’t get the same deluxe apartment with the balcony, we still had ample space and two kitchens. If we’d had table(s) that could accommodate us all, that would have been ideal.

We knew the neighborhood, the grocery stores, the hotel staff, and the local transportation. We stepped it up a notch, getting to know the Rue Daguerre a little bit more — and finding the best bakery in all our travels.

(In case, you’re ever in the 14th, the Boulangerie Lesiourd with the L’Epi d’Or sign is amazing. We never had such good bread or pastries at any bakery anywhere we traveled.)

We found a closer metro stop with a metro line that became our favorite. The 13 line was almost always empty. Turns out it is normally packed and crowded, but since we were there during the schools’ fall break, it was deserted. Who knew?

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

How to do Paris with kids

All told, we spend ten days in Paris as a family, about three the first time and seven on the return trip. We found ways to make it work for us with many children, young children, and on a budget.

Here’s our family’s collective advice:

Get a Paris Museum Pass for sure.

Our first day back in Paris we headed to the Vistor’s Bureau where they were holding two complementary 2-day Paris Museum Passes and two 2-day transportation passes for us.

Kids under 18 (regardless of nationality) are granted free admission to Paris museums and monuments, so it’s a great idea for parents to buy passes. This is on my must-do list for our next trip. (Yes, there will be a next trip.)

The Paris Museum Passes enabled FishPapa and I to get free admission to all museums and monuments in Paris, including the Chateau of Versailles. Think of it like a ticket to Disneyland: you can get a big bang for your buck, the more that you see.

The transport passes were great! It was amazingly convenient to hop on the metro without worrying about finding another unused ticket. Next time, we’ll look at the pricing for getting the kids day passes for the metro as well. I regret not having done that every day we hopped here and there on the metro.

Go to the park.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

 The carousel at the Jardin des Tuileries

My friend Jennifer (a reader who I met for the first time during our Collioure time) had suggested that we explore the parks in Paris. She was so right. There are some amazing parks throughout the city. We weren’t able to hit half the ones that we had on our list.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

We splurged on the carousel for whoever wanted to ride. That would be the three littles ones (10, 8, and 6). I hopped on for one go-round.

Jen had suggested pastries in the park. I bought cotton candy instead. That’s kinda the treat when we go to Disneyland. Paris, Disneyland, they’re in the same category.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

You can tell by the foliage that it was fall, but not from my girls’ clothes!

This garden/park is huge. It holds a pond, statues, a playground, a carousel, a few restaurants, a rose garden and so much more.

The Louvre is one end and the Place de la Concorde is on the opposite end of the park. From the Place, you can see the Arc de Triomphe.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

I got the idea that we should go to the Arc de Triomphe since we were so close.

Take the bus!

Here’s where my husband interjects that at this point you should take the bus to the Arc. I said, “Oh, it’s not far,” so we walked. Check it out.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

Ha! Apparently the Champs Elysees is over two miles. The kids were troopers, with few complaints. My husband thinks I’m nuts. I’m thinking I must have lost my six pounds in Paris.

We successfully dodged the girls with the clipboards who claim to be taking surveys but are really out to pick pocket you. Jen warned us of that, else we wouldn’t have known to be on our guard. (Thanks, Jennifer!)

The thievery is not something I experienced in France back in 1992. Sure it happened, but I traveled in the off-season. Apparently, Paris no longer has an off season.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

See the Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe is immense. If you’ve ever seen European Vacation, you know that the Arc de Triomphe is in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle which serves as a round point for many boulevards. You reach its foot by tunnels that go under the traffic.

There’s a small area cordoned off from traffic, but you’re basically at the foot of the monument. There are special memorials for lost soldiers of France at the foot of the Arc. You can also pay to go upstairs and walk along the top, but we didn’t do that.

This marks the end of Day 1. Yes, really. As rain started to fall we raced for the metro and took the subway back to the apartment. I’d been grocery shopping earlier in the day. I made chipolatas and potatoes for supper, served with the requisite bread and cheese. We ate really well in Paris.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

Visit Sacre Coeur

Bright and early the next morning after our prerequisite meal of baguette and croissants, we headed out to visit the Basilica of Sacre Coeur on Montmartre. We took the metro to a rather sketchy neighborhood and walked a long way to the church. From the direction we came from you could only climb the stairs, but from the other side of the hill you could take the funicular which the littles and I did on the way down.

It cost a full metro ticket for a 30-second ride, but the kids thought it was cool.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

French religious monuments (like Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame) are free for admission to go into the sanctuary. The basilica is beautiful inside, but I think I would have appreciated it more if we were of the Roman Catholic faith.

It was pretty cold and windy that day, but the sun came for a brief moment when we left.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

By this point we and our kids had all gotten our “sea legs” when it came to riding the metros, so we headed for the station. I love these vintage stops.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

I had read that one of the best places to see the city was from the top of Au Printemps, a large department store. FishPapa was skeptical, but he went with it nonetheless.

There were so many times when I wondered if I was going to be responsible for a wild goose chase. We found the right building and it was beautiful!

Climb the Au Printemps Building

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

You can imagine how nice it would have been on a clear, sunny day. There’s a restaurant on the top of the building — and the food smelled amazing. The restaurant is called Deli-cieux, a play on the words delicious (delicieux) and heavens (cieux). We would have loved to eat there; we were hungry, the view was gorgeous, and the food looked great. However, a hamburger was $20. We just couldn’t justify it.

And of course, here’s where we hit a dilemma. The family is hungry; eating out is too expensive; and I really want us to make the most of being in the part of town we were in. Code for “I really want to shop, people.”

I hadn’t yet got the hang of packing lunches each time we left the house. This outing sealed the deal. My husband and kids humored me once again to hop into a nearby department store that I really wanted them to see.

Visit the Galeries Lafayette

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

This department store is magnifique, as they say in Paris. It’s amazingly beautiful. There are ten floors in the main building with this beautiful dome.

FishPapa knew I wanted to shop, particularly in housewares, but I knew by this time — it takes awhile to climb ten floors — that that wouldn’t be fair to the fam. We headed home, again in the rain.

Have a Parisian date night

That night, however, once we got the kids settled with pasta and movies on all the iPads, we headed out for a real live date! There were plenty of restaurants to choose from just in our street, and we ended up just two doors down from our hotel. (Remember we have a 17-year old, so they were totally safe and they knew where we were.)

It was an amazing experience, and our first time at a table d’hôte. While there certainly was a set menu, the experience was very much like eating as a guest in someone’s home, according to the original definition. Our dinner at APulia was not French, but Italian. The restauranteur hails from Puglia, Italy. When we arrived at 7:30 we were the only people in the eight-seat room. Giovanni sat with us, let us try several different bottles of wine before we chose, and otherwise made us the center of his attention.

Our European Vacation: Paris Again and Better

I didn’t realize until dinner was almost over that it had been a vegan and almost gluten-free meal. There were two choices for each course, so we each ordered something different so we could try everything:

  • Appetizers: a salad with oranges and onions in hot water; a tomato-potato salad
  • Main: a type of white minestrone soup; a tomato-based risotto
  • Dessert: an uncooked plum crisp; and orange-almond cake

All of it was really good, simple, and well prepared. By the time we’d ordered, the other three tables had guests. It was a really nice way to spend some time together with each other, knowing our kids were safe, and enjoying a little bit of Paris together.

This trip came at the end of four years of incredibly difficult work — and four cookbooks! I took a month off work, for reals. I didn’t take many pictures, at least not as many as I would have liked. Remember, bad camera lens, old iPhone.

That said, it was truly a vacation. We had a good time, even though it was overwhelming at times. We were able to redeem Paris and for that I’m so glad!

At 2000 words, the biggest post in history, I’ve only covered two days! I haven’t even told you what we did with our Museum Passes. We didn’t activate them until day three.

Click here for the next leg of the journey: More Great Things to Do in Paris

Disclosure: I received two complimentary Paris Museum Passes, thanks to Paris Info. All opinions are my own.

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  1. I am loving these posts. I am getting ideas for out trip to Paris summer of 2016 (hopefully). My 10 year old daughter is ready to start planning.

  2. I have LOVED reading all the posts from your trip! When I was 14 I walked with my family that same street from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped for a crepe halfway there, I still remember! It is a wonderful gift to give your children these experiences and memories: I treasure having been able to visit there now I am older and have other priorities (family of young children at the moment!)