There’s a reason why Springtime in Paris is a thing. In a city already beautiful and full of life, the Earth is waking up, with the leaves of the trees unfurling, and flowers bringing color to the muted hues of the cityscape. While we were a little sad to leave Provence, arriving to Paris with cherry blossoms in bloom was a pretty special thing and we quickly adjusted to the transition from countryside to city.
Jeff wore the Fitbit, and we averaged 10 miles a day on foot, which is pretty amazing, because it didn’t feel like that at all. If we needed to go further than 40 minutes walking, we hopped in an Uber simply to save time, but mostly we just wanted to see the sights as we went, and walking is the perfect way to do that.
And of course, walking that much, helped burn off all of this, and more
We rented an AirBnB apartment in the Marais, not too far from the new les Halles that just opened up weeks ago. The age-old food markets of les Halles were years ago replaced with a shopping mall, and more recently revamped with a massive steel and glass canopy and additional shops and restaurants. It seems many are not a fan of the new design, though the whole area was extremely busy any time we passed by.
Much more charming, are the predecessors to a modern day shopping mall like les Halles — The covered (and often hidden) galleries of Paris. Here are the girls in Galerie Vivienne, a gorgeous covered gallery that we visited with my Parisian friend Helene.
My favorite building in Paris might be the Palais Garnier opera house. Yes, it’s over the top, but the detail and opulence is simply stunning.
If you visit, and aren’t there for the English tour, you have to be sure to use the audio guide that is included in the admission. It really brings the history of the opera house to life. The girls loved the tour too — especially learning that the Palais Garnier was the setting for Phantom of the Opera.
The ceiling was painted by Marc Chagall.
Another favorite stop of ours, not too far from the Palais Garnier, is the Printemps Department store. The roof has one of the best views in Paris, and the shopping is great too (and don’t miss the fancy bathrooms.)
The other thing we love about Les Printemps is the beautiful glass-domed restaurant. A perfect place for lunch.
After lunch and a short Uber ride later we were at the Eiffel Tower. It was Grace’s birthday and a requirement from her that we get there on this day! We didn’t go up, because we’d done that on our last trip, but we enjoyed some time relaxing in on the Champ de Mars.
I love when they are like this.The official celebration of Grace’s 15th birthday came that night — a dinner cruise on the Seine. The boat was called Le Calife, and I chose it because it was small and I’d heard good reviews about the food. It really was perfect in every way.
And the truth is, whether you are on a dinner boat or in a canoe, you can’t really beat seeing the Eiffel Tower twinkle from the middle of the Seine on your 15th birthday.
On the way back to the apartment we passed l’Académie Française, which my friend Helene had pointed out to us the day before. It’s beautiful during the day, but like many buildings in Paris, it’s simply amazing at night. This is where the French dictionary is created, and standards of the French language are determined by a group of 40 members, serving lifetime commitments.No rest for the weary. We were up and off to Versailles on Saturday. This was our fourth trip to Paris, and we’d never been there. Mostly because there were so many other things we really wanted to see. But it’s Versailles. And it’s an important part of French and European history. And you know… Louis the XVI and Marie Antoinette and let them eat cake, etc., etc. So if you are going to be in Paris (for the 4th time especially), it should probably be on the list. I was really worried about the crowds, as I’d read that it could literally take hours of waiting inline to get into the Palace itself. So we figured we’d check out the grounds and try to hit the palace a the end of the day when things had quieted down. However, when we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find NO line. Like none. (It was about 40 degrees and raw that day, so maybe that’s why). So, we decided we’d visit the palace right off the bat, and then tour the rest of the grounds.
Once we got inside, however, there was no lack of people. The Hall of mirrors was was a sea of humanity and the best view was if you looked up. The audio guide didn’t really keep the girls engaged, and the crowds and pace moving through the tiny rooms was really tiresome. Jeff was interested, but the girls and I couldn’t wait to get out. (I’m not a fan of crowds!)
Ahh…. Once we got outside of the palace, we saw the true vastness of the estate. I mean. VAST. This was the perfect time to eat lunch, and I have to mention that if you go to Versailles, your best bet is to pick up sandwiches at one of the shops right across the street from the Train Station (the RER C train runs right to Versialles from Paris) and picnic on the grounds.
At this point, ten miles of walking a day was starting to catch up with us, plus it was cold, so we hopped the little shuttle train and headed straight to the place we were most excited to see. Marie Antoinette’s Petit Hameau. This was the little village that Marie had built so that she could go off and pretend to be a peasant girl among her perfumed sheep. However Epcot-y it felt, it sure was idyllic, and that’s where I would have spent my time if I were her.
Sunday would be our last full day in Paris, and we decided to head out and wander, first towards the Canal St. Martin. On our way, we came upon the Place de la Republique, and the poignant memorials to the victims of the November attacks in Paris.
The girls fell in love with Antoine et Lili in the Canal St Martin neighborhood, and they managed to finish off the rest of their vacation money here.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering some old favorite neighborhoods like Ile de la Cité, Ile St Louis (with great brunch at the St Regis), and St Germain de Pres.
Luxembourg GardenSt. Sulpice.
Lots of people have asked us about the security in Paris, given the attacks in November and the concerns about terrorism. We even had family tell us we should cancel our trip (um, no). Were we a little concerned after the attacks in Brussels? Yes, I won’t lie. But the fact is, Paris is not a war zone. It’s a huge, vibrant city of over 2 million people, where, for the most part, life is continuing as normal. Even with the threat of an attack, the chances of being in that place at that time are infinitely small. So cancelling was not something we’d consider. Once we arrived, any smidge of concern was gone as we were immersed in all this great city has to offer. We did notice some things were different — for one we were amazed that every single person entering the department stores had to open their bag for security, and we frequently saw groups of three armed soldiers walking different areas of the city (and when I say armed — we are talking military assault rifles). While I do remember seeing armed soldiers in 2012 near Notre Dame, they were much more frequent sightings this time. You can see a group of them in the photo below. Instead of scared, I mostly felt sad that it has come to this, but it’s the world we live in, so I’m going to keep living and traveling with my family. Enough about that. Here is The Concergerie — a former palace, prison, and seat of authority and justice in Paris for almost 1000 years. Makes the oldest buildings in Boston seem like babies. It’s a great place to visit. When we were there in 2012 there was an art exhibit going on too. It’s also right next door to the beautiful Sainte Chappelle. (Ps. This is also where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned prior to being guillotined).
Ahh. The view from the Pont Neuf is one of my favorites
And on the Pont des Arts again. We covered a LOT of ground that day.
After dinner, we just kept walking… this time towards the Louvre.
And finally, the kids and jeff convinced me to ride the Grande Roue. I’d been on it before (twice!) and felt no need to return.
But I went along with it. Just for laughs, I thought I’d share this lovely shot (photo creds to Jeff) of me covering my eyes. Really don’t like heights.
Though I did peek long enough to snap a few photos, because… well…. It is a pretty good view.
And then walking back, we caught one last glimpse of the twinkling tower and I had some fun playing with the shutter speed on my camera..
And the next day we said our sad goodbye.
I can’t end this post without a few photos taken by the amazing Katie Donnelly. Katie is an American Photographer living in Paris. We had been meaning to have our own family photos taken for a while (the last time was 2012!), and as soon as we booked this trip I knew that Paris would be the perfect place to do it. Anyone who knows me also knows I hate to be in front of the camera, but Katie made it so much fun. I knew she was a great photographer after seeing her work, but honestly, I was blown away with how much I loved the photos and I can’t thank her enough!
Our AirBnb: Small, but well located, clean and secure in the heart of the Marais.
This is just a list of where we ate this time, though I will say that really looking hard for amazing meals took a bit of a back seat after 10 miles of walking!
Poulette. Really beautiful space, delicious food.
Relais Odeon. We chose this place simply because they could accommodate a larger group of us as we met up with some friends. It’s a pretty standard brasserie type place, in the heart of St Germain with good food and good service. We had eaten here before and remembered it as a place with something for everyone.
Relais de l’Entrecôte. This was recommended to us for the steak frites (that’s all they serve), and is a great option for families in general though our kids aren’t picky. While the steak frites were delicious (as was the sauce), it was crowded and they definitely get you in and get you out (it’s very old school and charming in that way too). Would I go there again, yes — however, I probably would have opted for something different on our last night in Paris.
Le Saint Régis. Awesome Sunday brunch and excellent service. I’d love to try it for dinner too.
Brasserie Printemps. Definitely great for lunch or even a glass of wine or cup of tea after a busy day shopping.
Next blog post: An unexpected visit to Iceland!