Day One, March 25, Saturday
Took the tube with our luggage to Waterloo and took the Eurostar to Paris. Train travel was where packing light really helps, and it was now that my Mom understood why I recommended she do it all in carryon. We had some mechanical difficulties right outside of Waterloo so ended up being about half an hour late, but otherwise enjoyed the ride with a beautiful view of the French countryside.
Arrived at our aptartment where you enter through very large doors and then through a courtyard. When we were in Italy last March, Lauren thought it would be cool to stay in one of those places-and now we are. We met Philippe, the apartment owner, who showed us around the apartment. We liked it, as it had a few more amenities than we had in our place in London. We rented this apartment from www.parisianflat.com. It was located on rue de Villersexel, close to the Musee D’Orsay and just a half block from the Solferino metro stop. I found Sophie and Philippe very responsive to all my e-mail requests before we left and very helpful while we were there.
We went out to find a place to get a bite to eat. Ended up at Les Deux Musee (5 rue de Bellachasse). It is really just a lunch place, but we had nice salads and sandwiches. (56.40€ for 6)
We decided to just walk around and explore the neighborhood, but it really started to rain so we headed back. When we returned there was a woman standing at the entrance to our courtyard. We asked her where the grocery store is. We communicated in broken English and very broken French. I had been told there was a grocery store called Eight to Eight (those being the hours). Luckily my high school French came in handy as I did remember numbers so was able to tell her we wanted to go to “Huit a Huit.” She said she needed to go there too, so would take us there.
We bought some groceries, then came back- finally the rain had stopped. We planned on going out for dinner, but were so tired that we just stayed home and ate fruit, and watched last week’s Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
Day 2, March 26, Sunday
We had plans to meet with Michael Osman this morning at 9:00 am. Michael Osman is a guide in Paris. He gets rave reviews on the internet, and while he can be hard to get hold of he is definitely worth the trouble. At 8:00 am he called to say that it had changed to daylight savings time so it was really 9:00 but he was running behind. I told him we did not know about the time change so we were fine.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day with Michael. First he inducted us to the Metro. It was very similar to the tube and we thought it would be an efficient way to get around (though does not cover as much of the city as the tube in London) .
We started at Place de la Concorde then walked through the Tuileries to the Louvre. Michael wound us through the highlights, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, Mona Lisa, the original fort etc. His comments were very engaging even keeping our son Michael interested at certain points.
We got through the Louvre in about 2.5 hours so it was time for lunch. We ate at Les Nemoures across from the Louvre. We had a nice lunch with good salads & sandwiches. Walked through the Palais Royal (where Cardinal Richelieu lived.) Michael Osman showed us Diedre Ludot the vintage designer clothing store where Reese Witherspoon bought her Academy Award dress that year. Lauren was fascinated, but it was Sunday so it was closed.
We took the metro to Montmartre and then took the funicular up the hill. It was very crowded at the top with a lot of street artists. We got gelato and Michael had a nutella crepe.
We went through Sacre Couer. This is a newer church finished in 1914- very Byzantine. Michael wanted to climb the dome but no one else wanted to, so I did it with him. 322 steps to the top. It was very difficult for me, since I think my legs were still recuperating from the climb up St. Paul’s, but it did have great views.
We walked down the hill, ending up in front of Moulin Rouge. Personally, I thought a very tacky looking place.
Took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe. We arrived just as they were doing the parade to relight the flame for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They actually stopped the traffic around the Arch as the veterans crossed the street. They do this every day at the same time.
We walked down the Champs Elysee. To be honest not quite as nice as I was expecting but I love the super wide sidewalks and people watching. We said goodbye to Michael Osman – what an amazing day!!
We had dinner at Ladureee on the Champs Elysee. Excellent meal (J & L- lamb chops, M- sandwich) but a bit overpriced. We all had dessert as well. Took the metro back to the apartment. Now we realized how close the metro station was to our apt.- about half a block.
Back to the apartment and we had tea while we watched Late Night T.V.
Day Three, March 27, Monday
We slept in a bit later, still trying to make up for the two hours we lost (one hour time difference from London to Paris and one hour daylight savings time). We took the metro to I’lle de la cite and had breakfast at Le Flore I’lle de la Cite (42 Quai Orealns). We had crepes and omeletes and pastries. Everything was very good. (76.90€ for 6). We walked over to Notre Dame and walked through the church. To be honest, it was very dark inside, and definitely not my favorite church. The outside much more interesting than the inside.
We walked over to St. Chapelle; what a surprise when you walk up the steps! The stained glass was stunning, and I loved the small intimate size of the chapel. We purchased the combination ticket for St. Chapelle and La Conciergerie so we headed over there. It was moderately interesting with a re-creation of Marie Antoinette’s cell.
We walked back across the Seine. It was really starting to get warm now. We headed to Berthillion for some ice cream, but when we got there we found out they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. (Go figure!) No worries, there was an Amorino (Italian gelateria at 47 rue Saint Louis en l’Ille) just two blocks down. While not as good as the real thing, (and we ought to know, as we ate enough of it the previous year in Italy) the gelato was really quite good. Stephen asked the proprietor where he could get a good espresso, and he said “well this IS Paris.” Not the answer he was hoping for, but the guy did give him a suggestion, and also told him how to properly order an Italian espresso in Paris.
We took the metro to the Pompidou Center. Okay, the Pompidou was actually a very ugly building, but we really just wanted to ride the escalators. We took the elevator to go to the restaurant, as we thought we would go up there to see the view, but when the first elevator stopped we just walked on to the escalators. I think we may have inadvertently cheated the system. The views from the escalator were beautiful and it was fun. We walked around the Marais a bit, it was lively with a lot of cafes. It was about 3:30 and we were sure we could not make it until dinner at 7:00pm so we stopped at Pain de Quotdien (18-20 rue des Archives) for a late lunch. You can sit at outside tables or inside at the long communal farm table (it was beautiful). Although it is a bit warmer, not quite warm enough for me to sit outside (although many people were) so inside it was. We had a wonderful lunch – great salads, soups, tartins and incredible bread. This was a great place to stop.
We headed back to the apartment to rest before dinner. Stephen and I went to the grocery store and boulangerie.
Stephen’s brother and sister in-law and their two kids (age five and six) were in Paris the same time we were, so tonight we were having dinner with them. (They live in Florida.) This made a total of 10 people! Tonight we ate at Bofinger (5-7 rue de la Bastille). It was a very large restaurant, easily able to handle our large party. They even had a children’s menu, the first I had seen in Europe. We had a very good dinner with excellent fish, duck, shrimp, French onion soup and desserts. We did not order one but they have these VERY large seafood trays filled with oysters, mussels, clams, etc. that you can share. They looked good.
Day 4, March 28, Tuesday
Michael spent the day with his cousins going to the Jardin Luxembourg, Le Bon Marche, and a Seine cruise. Stephen took him to their apartment and visited with his brother.
My parents, Lauren and I planned to go to the fashion show at Printemps at 10am. However, today was the day that some strikes/protests/riots were supposed to happen. We were not sure if the metro would be running, if things would be open, or if things would be safe. However, I am the eternal optimist, particularly when it comes to my vacation, so we set out and found the metro was running smoothly – and all day we never encountered any problems. We would not have known there were even any protests/riots if we had not heard about them later.
The fashion show lasted about half an hour. It was fun to watch and we enjoyed ourselves. The fashion show here, at Printemps, does not require a reservation, you can just show up, which is why I chose to do this one as opposed to the one at Gallerie Lafayette. It is every Tuesday at 10am on the top floor of the store with the women’s clothing. We did some shopping at Printemps, H & M, and Zara. In Zara I was not allowed to use my credit card without my original passport – no photocopies. Luckily my Dad had cash.
Time for lunch. It was raining out so we just head into a café that looked crowded and good from the window. It is Fructidor on rue de Provence. My Dad and I had salad and quiche and my Mom and Lauren had Tandoori chicken. Everything was excellent.
Next, we went to the Opera Garnier. It was stunning and I think it must have been quite a place to see the opera with everyone dressed up in their finery, back in the day.
We did some more shopping down one of the passages. We took the metro back to the aptartment to rest and made dinner reservations at Fontaine de Mars (129 rue St. Dominique) in the 7th. We took a nice walk down there and had a lovely dinner. Lauren and I had the rabbit, Stephen the cassoulet, my Mom the salmon and my Dad the veal stew. We had a great crème brulee for dessert.
Back to the apartment and to bed. Stephen took the metro to pick up Michael who came home with a giant chocolate egg that Auntie Karen bought him.
Day Five, March 29, Wed.
Today was the day for our trip to Normandy. Before I begin let me just say I agonized for months as to whether we should do this as a daytrip. A month before we left I decided to go for it. I picked a company off the internet with no recommendations other than those on their website. This daytrip turned out to be the highlight of our two weeks! I booked it with www.Paris-trip.com. It was 160€ per person. Since we were more than five people we could schedule any day (they normally only do Normandy on Thursday and Saturday). This also meant we were the only ones on the tour, although the maximum the van can hold is eight, which I consider to be a pretty small tour anyway.
Our driver is right on time for our 6:30am pickup (the early hour is the only negative of this trip). Our driver/guide was Lionel and he was fantastic. He has traveled all over the world and was extremely knowledgeable in French history and current politics. His own family story is quite interesting.
He kept us entertained and informed the entire trip, despite the long drive. We stopped along the way for a quick bite to eat and bathroom stop and probably arrived at our first destination at 10:00am. Our first stop was Ponte du Hoc, Omaha Beach, where we saw the German bunkers and the landing beaches. We were lucky to have very good weather and very few crowds. There were two large tour buses and one other family traveling independently, but from the size of the parking lot, I can only imagine how crowded it can be. Next we went to the monument, the original being very moving. There is a small museum near there that we did not have time to go into, but it had an original Higgins in it that we were able to see from the window.
Next, we went to the cemetery, first stopping at the incredible memorial. It was very moving to be in the cemetery, very beautiful. The kids read several names and worked hard to find a soldier from Oregon.
We drove through some wonderful, charming villages on our way to Arromanches. We stopped and had lunch at Hotel de Normandie. Stephen had oysters that he said were the best he ever had. Lauren and I had excellent mussels and Michael had a ham sandwich.
Across from the restaurant were the mulberrys, so we walked out to look and take pictures. Next we went to Caen and the Peace Memorial Museum. We had one and a half hours to spend there. It was an incredible museum with wonderful and informative exhibits and good films as well. Admittedly, we could have spent more time in the museum, but all in all it was an excellent day, and I would not hesitate to recommend doing it as a daytrip.
My parents were tired so Lionel dropped them off at the apartment while he dropped us off at a restaurant for dinner. We decided to go to Relais L’Entrecote (20, rue Saint-Benoit) for dinner as they do not take reservations. Now, I had heard that Relais L’Entrecote only serves steak, but I did not realize that there was no menu at all. Shortly after we sat down, they served us a nice green salad. Then they asked us how we wanted our meat prepared. Shortly they came out with the steak and fries. Everything was excellent. They do have an extensive dessert menu and we all had wonderful desserts. For the two course salad, steak and fries it was 21.80€ each.
We were right near Stephen’s brother and sister in law’s aptartment. so we went up there to visit them.
Day Six, March 30, Thurs.
After the long day on Wednesday, we all slept in a bit, then headed over to the Eiffel Tower. We got there about 11:00am prepared for some lines. However, there was essentially no line. We bought our tickets right away and waited maybe 10 –15 minutes to get to the elevator (the benefits of traveling in March). We went all the way up to the top where there were a lot of high school kids. It was quite windy up there, and while the views were spectacular, we all agreed we preferred seeing the Eiffel Tower from other locations then being on it looking at everything else. But I am glad we did it. We took the elevator down to the second level and then walked down from there to the first level, as Michael was really enjoying walking up or down any steps. Thank goodness they had stopped letting people walk up and down the 1800 steps at the Eiffel Tower years ago!
After this, my parents went to the Musee D’Orsay, while we went to the Musee Galleria which is a fashion museum. I asked Michael Osman about it before we left as there was limited information about it on the internet. He wrote me and said they were only open when they had a specific exhibit. When we met with him on Sunday, he said they had an exhibit that went through a sort of history of the fashion show. He had gone to check it out just because I had asked him about it and he wanted to be sure the exhibit was something we would enjoy (Michael Osman is great!)
We walked over to the Musee Galleria from the Eiffel Tower. It is right near the Palais Tokyo. It was a very interesting exhibit with a lot of film and pictures from fashion shows. The boys waited outside while Lauren and I went through. We really enjoyed it.
Now, hungry and beginning to rain, we stopped at a brasserie near there, but not a great choice as they seemed to be out of most things we wanted to order. We went back to the apartment and Stephen and Michael rested while Lauren and I hit the streets of St. Germain de Pres for some shopping.
Tonight it was dinner again with Stephen’s brother and sister-in-law and the cousins so we were at ten people again. We had 7pm dinner reservations at L’epi Dupin (11 rue Dupin). This is a small restaurant and at first they did not want to give the reservation to such a large party. But then they said it would be okay if we promised to be out by 9:00 (as that is when they really get busy). We had no problem with that, especially with the kids. This was our favorite meal, it was a three-course prix fixe. Everyone truly enjoyed their meals, some of the favorites being rabbit ravioli, a pink scallop dish (best scallops I have ever had), codfish, and wonderful duck. I must say, they were also extremely kind and patient, even with the kids and group size.
Since it was only 9:00pm, we decided to go on a Seine Cruise. We took the metro over to the Vedettes to Pont Neuf. We just missed the 9:30 boat so got on the 10:00pm, which turned out to be the perfect time, as the Eiffel Tower was twinkling as we headed towards it, ….ah Paris!
Day seven, March 31, Friday
We split up again today as we all want to do different shopping. My parents went to the Marais. We headed back to the Palais Royal to see if Didier Ludot is open. It was, but apparently it is by appointment only, and since we are not Reese, Demi or Nicole, we could not go in. We went across the way to his “Little Black Dress” shop. He has little black dresses in the window from a variety of Alfred Hitchcock movies.
There were a lot of police congregating around the Palais Royal, so we decided to go to another part of town. First, we headed to the Jardin de Luxembourg. Michael was there earlier in the week with his cousins and wanted to go back. He knew the way, and took us straight to the children’s playground. You had to pay to get in. At first, Lauren did not want to go in the playground, so just Michael went in. He climbed the Eiffel Tower rope structure and went on the zip line swing. Finally, Lauren could not resist and joined the fun. There were definitely some fun things even for older kids to play on here.
We walked across the gardens to the beautiful pond area. We stopped at a boulangerie for lunch on rue Vavin where we had noticed a LOT of people getting sandwiches. The sandwiches were very long and very good. Lucky for us there was an Amorino right across the street and we could not resist, so got gelato. Headed over to St. Germain de Pres and the Bon Marche for some last minute items. Then we went to the Mephisto store where they, no kidding, sell Mephistos for about half the price you pay in the States. Stephen bought a pair.
Our dinner tonight was at Bastide d’Odeon (7 rue Corneille). Another spectacular meal was had with pate, escargot, anchovies (Lauren’s favorite),and Dorado, but the best entrée was the prime rib. Michael and I ordered it (two person). This meat was incredible, very thick with a wonderful flavor. It actually reminded me a lot of the bistecca we had in Florence. There was a ton of meat so everyone got to try some.
Back to the aptartment to pack, as sadly, we were leaving the next day.
Day Eight, April 1, Sat.
I had booked a van online before we left with www.paris-airport-shuttle.com. We had one van which would fit all six of us and our luggage out to Charles de Gaulle airport. They were right on time, and the driver was extremely helpful at the airport, going in to check the monitors to make sure this was the right terminal and that the plane was on time, before he unloaded the van. Personally, we found CDG to be poorly equipped to handle the people and security lines, and frankly ugly, with almost no amenities in the United Terminal.
The rest of our flights were uneventful and we made it safely home.
Now that we have returned I asked the kids what their favorite things were in London and Paris. In London they both said finding their way through the tube stations, Mary Poppins, our Astral Tour to Oxford/Statford-Upon-Avon /Warwick and China Experience. Lauren added the London Eye and Michael added the Imperial War Museum and climbing the dome in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
For Paris they both said the Normandy trip, the day with Michael Osman, the evening Seine cruise and the park at Jardin de Luxembourg. Lauren added seeing Didier Ludot (the vintage couture shop), Montmarte and the restaurant L’Epi Dupin. Michael added climbing Sacre Coeur and visiting with his cousins.
Read about the London portion of our trip here: